Ventilation's impact on flock performance is often under-realized in modern poultry feeding operations. Poultry farmers who neglect this aspect of their operation can cause untold harm to their businesses and the livestock that sustains them.
Moreover, improvements in ventilation techniques, particularly with regards to more powerful, efficient fans, along with air velocity, static pressure, air quality and humidity monitors have allowed farmers to keep more poultry in tighter spaces, thus greatly reducing cost per unit when managed effectively. The air flow, however, needs to be carefully regulated and assessed through informed means to ensure the best health of the birds throughout each grow out cycle.
Therefore, it's essential to check one's ventilation at the beginning of an operation, then to keep up a regular monitoring / maintenance schedule so as to be well positioned to quickly adapt to changing ventilation requirements as and when they arise.
What To Check
Before receiving bitties, ensure that the vent boxes, equipment, and fans have had all loose dust and debris removed with a blower; a backpack blower or PTO driven blower pulled behind your tractor works best. This ensures the area is relatively free from any a buildup of dust and debris that would otherwise interfere with good air flow, and also allows farmers the opportunity to check each and every vent to ensure they're working precisely as intended. If a vent box isn't working properly, it's essential that the issue is resolved before beginning operations.
Because of their importance, vent boxes should be the main target area of blowing. Once the screens are clear, they should be closed and checked for gaps, vent by vent to ensure perfect working order. A handy trick is to use a smoke test with vent boxes, for instance using a bee smoker or commercial smoke stick outside the house will show any leaks in the structure, whether vent box or otherwise. Any discovered leaks should be immediately sealed with commercial sealer to ensure proper static pressure is maintained and also prevent undue heating loss.
Once the vents are repaired and adjusted, be sure to enable the controller before leaving. Chicks should never be placed in a house before all equipment and systems are known to be safe, secure and in proper working order.
The main purpose of ventilation, at least in the beginning (but certainly throughout) is to remove ammonia. A flock’s growth rate can be stunted through the grow out cycle by excessive levels of ammonia, leading to a loss of profits through poor flock performance, high mortality, and in extreme circumstances the loss of the entire house.
While a certain level of ammonia is unavoidable, excessive levels can lead to ammonia blindness in chickens, or respiratory problems that greatly inhibit feed conversion. Ammonia meter test papers are cheap, efficient, and quick; they should be used when setting up a house to receive bitties. Ammonia levels should be stable below 20 ppm at floor level before receiving the flock.
Other considerations to take into account relating to ventilation are humidity and litter conditions. High levels of moisture (from humidity or a leak) when combined with the nitrogen in the litter generate ammonia, so one of the main goals in properly ventilating a chicken house is to evacuate built up ammonia and excess moisture, particularly in cold or high-humidity environments. So, while inadequate ventilation results in wet litter conditions and high ammonia levels, excessive ventilation results in increased heating costs, particularly throughout the winter months.
And finally it's important to keep in mind that during the summer months, in most geographical locations you're going to be working with high pressure, long fan run times - literally an almost continuous use of ventilation fans, whereas in the winter months it gets a great deal more complicated due to the house being sealed up for the chickens' comfort, particularly to retain heat. Unfortunately, there's quite a balancing act required in this situation to maintain the health of the birds with low pressure, short fan run times, as reduced ventilation quickly results in trapped humidity, odors and gases, all of which have to be managed continuously.
Maintenance and Cost-Saving Tips
1. As peak flock performance is your number one aim, never skimp on ventilation equipment, whether fans, timers or air quality monitoring tools. Good fans and top notch monitoring units are expensive, but carefully planned investment here goes a long way toward ensuring healthy, high-producing chickens for years to come.
2. Both vents and fan louvers should be cleaned regularly. This isn't a particularly difficult task; simply sweeping dust and feathers away with a soft brush is enough to keep them in excellent working order, although a more thorough cleaning is advisable between flocks.
3. Fans are meant to last for years, but there are inevitable breakages. Fans that are running slow or stop working must be immediately adjusted, repaired, or replaced to maintain proper air velocity and static pressure in the house. Furthermore, regular checks and investigation can assure the fans are in top working order at all times, and alert farmers when they need to be fixed, replaced or upgraded to new technology.
4. As previously mentioned, the number one way to save money on ventilation is to ensure the foundation is properly sealed. A caulking gun should be kept on the premises at all times to seal leaks as they happen, which once again can be easily tested using a bee smoker or commercial smoke stick outside the house.
5. Beyond fan maintenance and foundation sealing, there are a few other ways to ensure the operation is financially fit. One is to check the attic insulation to make sure nothing has shifted or moved, which also helps to ensure air leakages aren't reoccurring.
6. Many operations have been adding solar panels to reduce the electricity costs associated with long fan run times. As it happens the extended run times of fans during the summer months coincide with peak solar panel output, helping offset cost when you need it most. While alternative energies (including solar) are a long way off from being a first choice option, recent grants are making them more appealing for farmers working in certain states and counties.
Fans, controllers and air quality monitoring tools are the life-blood of any profitable poultry operation. By keeping a close eye on ammonia and moisture levels, farmers assure their chickens remain top producers, year round. Regular cleaning and maintenance are the keys to keeping the fans and associated equipment working perfectly throughout the summer and winter months. Beyond this, farmers who are fully committed to doing everything they can for their flock, stay attentive and keep up on the necessary daily work can expect rich rewards for years to come.