Poultry producers well placed to meet energy challenge

The poultrymeat sector faces many challenges as energy supplies become tighter and more expensive, but already has many of the attributes to survive and prosper.

Its success so far has largely been down to the degree of intensification that has been possible, says energy consultant Mike Tyers of Countrywide Farmers. “Time and energy expenditure per unit of output has been reduced and in most cases productivity has been improved.”

Writing in his report for the Temperton Fellowship, he demonstrates how the sector is already well ahead of other forms of livestock in terms of energy efficiency. For example, it takes just 4Kcal of fossil energy to produce 1Kcal of protein in broiler meat, compared with 14Kcal for pigs, 40Kcals for beef and 57Kcals for lamb.

This is one of the reasons that the poultry industry has been able to respond to the rising global demand for protein faster than all other livestock sectors.

But the tightening of energy markets in the years to come will be a major economic driver for further intensification of production.

New technologies

A major part of this will involve technological development and building design. “Technology is constantly improving and, in order to remain competitive, there is a constant need to update facilities and equipment.”

Mr Tyers identifies a number of priorities for achieving future energy efficiency – including the need to conserve.

“Whatever energy source is being relied on, the prime concern must be to minimise unnecessary wastage and loss.” Poor insulation and inefficient fans will increase wastage, while LED lights, heat exchangers and reflective wall coatings will all improve energy efficiency.

“Unfortunately, intervention such as the government’s RHI scheme encourage people to skip this conservation stage, because the short-term economics rely on maximising energy throughput, rather than improving efficiency,” says Mr Tyers.

Another priority is to look at existing equipment on the farm, such as heaters and fans, to see if they can be upgraded. And then there are the alternative sources of energy, which may offer more sustainable means of generation.

Mr Tyers warns that turning a blind eye to new technology and new management practices could expose the business to failure – and he urges a similar open-minded approach for new buildings. “Investment in buildings and equipment is long term and what is being used currently is largely out of date, or designed and built on tradition.”

Genetic potential

As well as continued intensification, the poultry sector needs to focus on breeding birds that are able to respond to more modern management practices. “This area of intervention is perhaps the most significant in terms of deriving greater energy efficiency for the sector.

“Poultry geneticists claim that, within the next few years, it will be possible to rear a broiler to current standard weight in about 21 days,” says Mr Tyers. “This provides the opportunity to either achieve greater live weight from each individual, or greater throughput through the shed.

“New or novel feed ingredients, especially GMO plant crops, could also prove critical in providing energy efficient diets from resource limited areas.”

Energy use

The report also looks at ways in which the poultry sector can reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, for example as a direct source of heat.

Noting that micro-generation of energy on farms is less efficient than large power plants, and that electrical grids are commonplace throughout the world, Mr Tyers suggests modern poultry systems may need to make greater use of electricity.

“The electrical energy industry will adopt cleaner technologies, including carbon capture, renewables and nuclear. The poultry industry must be prepared to use this new form of energy.”

Overall, Mr Tyers believes the industry will need to demonstrate how it can deliver protein from increasingly intensive production systems, while maintaining public confidence.

And the traditional division of operations such as hatcheries, production sites and processing could become even more integrated, providing biosecurity issues can be overcome.

Rising cost of oil

With oil stocks disappearing at 6% a year, if no more reserves are discovered, the world will run out in just 25 years’ time, says the report*. “When it takes more energy than a barrel of oil to extract a barrel of oil, the exercise is futile.”

Clearly the cost is set to escalate. The International Energy Authority estimates that a barrel costing $100 today will reach $177 by 2035 – a 77% increase.

“But we must put this in perspective,” says the report. With fuel and electricity accounting for just 5% of the costs of production for a standard broiler, such a fuel price increase would only raise overall costs by 4% directly.

* “The challenge for the poultry sector in meeting the demand for protein when energy is limited” is available from Harper Adams University College for £15. Contact Mary Early on 01952 815 275

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