How to keep chickens cool and save water


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In this Australian first, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland researchers Mark Dunlop, Jim McAuley and David Mayer have evaluated in-shed sprinkler cooling technology for use by Australian meat chicken growers.

Australian growers use evaporative cooling in their grow-out sheds to keep chickens cool during warm weather. While this is a very effective cooling method, it uses a lot of water and increases the relative humidity within the shed.

Just like us, chickens don’t like high humidity – it makes it harder for them to deal with high temperatures and it may also increase the moisture in their litter (or bedding), both not great for their health and welfare.

In this study, funded by AgriFutures™ Chicken Meat Program, the research team worked with growers to install and trial a commercially available low-pressure sprinkler system in two farms in south-eastern Queensland. The system was based on one developed and tested at the University of Arkansas’s commercial poultry farm.

The team confirmed that in-shed sprinklers, when used appropriately, reduce the use of evaporative cooling and can save between 200,000–300,000 litres of water per shed per year, or between 34–56%. For farms with limited water supply, or where water treatment is expensive, in-shed sprinkler systems may be a sound investment.

They also found that the sprinkler system may be beneficial as a backup or emergency cooling system. It is low cost ($4000–$8000 per shed), operates at low pressure, uses an independent control system, can be built with readily available components and is easy to maintain.

The thermal images above were taken before (left) and after (right) using three rows of sprinklers. The purple indicates the lowest temperature, the purple chickens are the ones being cooled by overhead sprinklers activated at regular intervals and delivered as very short bursts.

The key with the short bursts of water is that it evaporates before you add more. This is why the litter doesn’t get wet. The short bursts of water distinguishes this from other sprinkler cooling systems which are either on or off.

In the thermal images, the visible temperature is the temperature of the birds’ feathers not their core temperature.

AgriFutures Australia Manager, Research Georgina Townsend said the AgriFutures Australia funded project addressed a key requirement of delivering safe food and good animal welfare outcomes.

“Innovation is particularly important in the chicken meat industry and this is a great example of an industry being on the front foot by trialling some relatively simple technology with some great outcomes,” Ms Townsend said.

Images: Mark Dunlop, DAF, from AgriFutures Chicken Meat final report August 2018

Download the report from AgriFutures Australia.


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