Innovations in poutry housing units

Attic vents and evaporative cooling are some of the many US innovations being used on one UK unit. Richard Allison visited the first Hired Hand installation

Three years ago Suffolk broiler producer Dominic Parker was starting to consider his options having become disillusioned with the poultry sector. But this all changed after setting up a management company (PML) and turning over day-to-day management of his growing business to it.

He established PML with fellow Suffolk broiler grower Andrew Boyce and they brought in Robin Spooner as managing director. He has extensive experience of the wider industry, as prior to joining PML, he had been the senior production manager for Grampians’s southern region.

Mr Parker’s next task was to look at renewing his sheds which were nearing the end of their life span at Ilketshall Hall. And he took the bold step of replacing them with a greenfield development of Hired Hand buildings. Although widely used across the globe, he was the first in the UK to install the full system.

The choice of system started with Mr Spooner’s visit to Romania to see an evaporative cooling system operating during temperatures in the high 30s. “But by the time I got there, it had cooled and was raining. However, I did manage to see a Hired Hand building in operation. They are good modular buildings which you can build yourself and can be adapted for each poultry unit.

“It was all working well despite the workers not being as skilled as those you see in the UK. I saw that it had great potential back in the UK and offered good value for those wishing to invest in new buildings,” says Mr Spooner.

Mr Parker started building his first shed in 2008 with his first crop placed later that year. “The buildings are 100% steel with no wood or plastic construction. All tin is zinc coated so that it can resist attack from the ammonia, as well as the disinfectants and cleaning products.

“It was relatively easy to construct and any producer can construct the shed themselves. The modular design means it is adaptable for any site coming in a range of widths from 40ft to 80ft.”

Hired Hand buildings proved to be relatively easy to construct.
For Mr Parker, he opted for a building with 2300sq m (25,000 sq ft) of rearing space and measuring 110 x 21.3m (360 x 70ft). Birds are reared under the Co-op’s Elmwood system, housing 38,000-39,000 birds. Buildings also have windows providing natural light, equivalent to 2.5% of the floor area.

Performance has been better than his older sheds. “Litter quality has dramatically improved.” Laboratory analysis of litter from his old and new buildings show it being drier at 72% dry matter versus 63% in his older sheds.

Another key benefit is energy use. Mr Parker estimates that he has seen a 40% reduction on peak electricity demand, mainly down to the evaporative cooling system. As do most producers, he initially viewed evaporative cooling as an expensive technology that was only required in hotter climates.

“But as with many other producers, I was so busy that I did not have the time to investigate it properly,” he says.

Many now recognise tunnel ventilation as a means of overcoming high mortality rates during hot, summer days. But it often results in large demand for electricity to power the huge gable-end fans.

He was the first UK broiler grower to install the US-built cooling technology. Reducing the peak electricity demand has saved Mr Parker £40,000 by not having to upgrade his power supply and £15,000 to upgrade the generator.

Mr Spooner explains that evaporative cooling is a simple system whereby water is pumped over a rigid fibre pad. Air then passes over this before entering the shed and the water cools it.

“Tunnel ventilation works on the cooling effect of wind speed whereas evaporative cooling actually cools the air and is, therefore, more efficient and uses less power.”

Experience has taught Mr Parker that he uses it quite a lot, not just when the outdoor temperature is very high. “We use it to cut electricity use, as fewer fans are required to ventilate the house.

“In the past 20 years I dreaded the heat – even with tunnel ventilation. Now it makes no difference, and birds thrive on hot days. There are no longer any days when we have to go off the curve for temperature, so maintaining growth rates.”

Consequently, he reckons that the evaporative cooling system will pay for itself in just one year.

Another feature of the buildings is the Rollseal doors with Velcro which ensure the fan vents and doorways are well sealed when not in use. “When the system needs to open a vent, it first opens the roller and then the fan kicks in.”

As Mr Spooner stresses, draughts are the cause of most poor starts in day old chicks and cause an uneven distribution of birds within the building.

As well as the building, Hired Hand has developed the Evolution computer operating system. One novel feature is the secondary sensing system which monitors the main computer and if anything goes wrong, it has the ability to switch off the main computer and take over running the shed. It then sends an alarm to let the producer know that it has failed.

“Both are synchronised and it, therefore, takes over using the same programme and settings as the main computer,” says Mr Spooner.

Another feature is the feed management system where ultrasonic sensors like those found on trawlers for finding schools of fish monitor how much feed is left in each bin. “It is really useful for monitoring feed, how much goes to which shed thereby allowing you to calculate bird performance.

“You can set up an alarm when there is only a certain amount left. The visual display means there are no longer any excuses for running out of feed. It works via wire or wifi, sending the information back to the office.”

Unlike many other poultry sheds, the Hired Hand buildings have a drop ceiling and a roof space above where all the utilities are housed, such as water pipes and electricity cables.

“This means that engineers can access everything without having to enter the growing area and disturbing birds. This helps producers maintain biosecurity, as well as having health and safety benefits as engineers don’t have to use a ladder to access the water or electricity.

The roof space is also part of an unique attic fan system. “As the sun shines on the roof, the air space becomes warmer through solar gain, even on sunny days in winter. In winter, this means the ventilation system can draw in the pre-warmed air from the roof void as part of the minimum ventilation,” says Mr Spooner.

The computer takes two factors into account when deciding whether to use the attic vents – the outside temperature and the age of the birds. “If there are young chicks and the outside temperature is cold, it will use the void air while for older birds and on warmer days, it would not use void air.

“It’s a cheaper system than heat exchangers as it is already designed into the building while still offering energy saving benefits.”

Mr Parker is so impressed with the first shed that he will soon have three operating. The second shed is set to received its first birds in mid January and the third shed several weeks later. “It is more cost effective building the new shed than renovating my existing, older buildings.”

His next move is to help other producers gain the benefits of Hired hand systems with UK distributor BPS Equipment, which he established with Mr Spooner and Mr Boyce. And by running his own unit, he hopes to offer his experience from using it to others.

Flock performance 


Crop 4 

Crop 5 

Crop 6 

No chicks 38,430 38,430 38,520
Feed used (kg) 141,860 137,900 132,960
Age at slaughter (days) 39.2 37.5 36.21
Total weight (kg) 84,399 83,899 78,442
Average weight (kg) 2.25 2.32 2.10
Feed conversion 1.68 1.64 1.70

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