Biomass heating for poultry project reduces costs, improves flock production

Viking Company of Albany, MN, along with partners Clean Energy Resource Teams and the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, are pleased to announce the findings of the Advantages of Wood Heat for Poultry [PDF] field study.

The demonstration project field-tested a 1.65 million Btu (British thermal unit) wood chip furnace in a live commercial poultry operation. The wood furnace demonstrated considerable fuel cost savings against historically low liquid propane prices, saving an average of $8,029 per year against liquid propane prices just above $1.00 per gallon. As anticipated, fuel cost savings from using woody biomass were highest in the colder months when thermal demand is greatest.

Viking Company observed additional flock production benefits beyond fuel cost savings, including reduced bird losses and improved feed conversion. These indicators point to an effective cost savings for poultry producers and their integrators. Though beyond the scope of this energy project, future studies that prove out these benefits could make this technology a “no brainer.”

About the field study: The project, funded by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation Program (AGRI), spanned 23 months and 12 flock rotations. Viking Company, an experienced poultry growing operation, hosted and operated the wood furnace in its two-story broiler chicken barn as a test. An identical barn heated with liquid propane immediately adjacent to the test barn served as an experimental control to observe differences in operability, fuel costs, and flock production

Following the successful pilot project, Bill Koenig of Viking Company is actively pursuing the design and financing of a more universally applicable biomass heating plant in their remaining conventionally LP heated chicken barn. “Lessons learned are telling us the overall initial cost can be significantly lower while retaining the positive benefits realized in the prototype system and securing safety and insurability,” Koenig noted.

Results and future use: This project provided detailed insight into the use of wood heat to meet the thermal needs of poultry production. The data collected demonstrates woody biomass is a viable, cost-effective fuel for producers looking for alternatives to liquid propane. According to Koenig, Pilgrim’s (home of Gold’n Plump and Just BARE brand chicken) continues to show interest in biomass heat exchange as a desirable choice of poultry house heat and Pilgrim’s is in discussions with Viking Company to develop ways to provide support and collectively benefit from the outcomes.

Farm tour and presentations: On May 19, 2017, the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) and AURI (Agricultural Utilization Research Institute) hosted a group of 30 at Hillcrest Restaurant in Albany, MN to hear presentations on commercial biomass heating and then headed out to the nearby Viking Company farm for a demonstration tour of their biomass-heated poultry barn. Click here for overview and presentations.

For more information about the project and technology applications: Click here to download the final report. You can also download a press release about the project.

About the Project Partners:

  • Viking Company: Viking Company is a broiler chicken growing operation in Albany, MN. It is a limited partnership family farm, owned and operated by managing partner Bill Koenig and his family. Mr. Koenig has been raising broiler chickens for over 36 years, primarily as a contract grower for the Gold’n Plump and Just BARE brands owned by Pilgrim’s.
  • Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs): The Clean Energy Resource Teams are a statewide partnership with a shared mission to connect individuals and their communities to the resources they need to identify and implement community-based clean energy projects. CERTs partners include University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, Great Plains Institute, Southwest Regional Development Commission, and the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.
  • Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI): The Minnesota Legislature created the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute to generate economic impact in Minnesota by helping develop new uses for agricultural products through science and technology. AURI accomplishes this by helping businesses take advantage of innovative opportunities in four focus areas: biobased products, renewable energy, coproducts and food. AURI’s mission is to foster long-term economic benefit for Minnesota through value-added agricultural products.
  • Becker Fireplace Center (dba EvenTemp Biomass): Becker Fireplace in Becker, MN was the vendor for that project. 

Photos from the project:

Select photos with captions below. To download full-resolution photos and find more images, visit the Flickr album.

Photos from the project

To see more images, visit the Flickr album.

We encourage reuse and republishing of this story. All Clean Energy Resource Teams stories are made available under the Creative Commons Attribution license, meaning you can share and adapt the work as long as you give us credit. We'd also love it if you link back to the original piece. Have questions or want to chat? Drop us a line.