Skip Navigation

Improvements from an Energy Audit Improving this Chicken Farmer's Bottom Line

By Christy Morgan, Program Analyst with NRCS in Kentucky

Jerry & Joel SmithJoel Smith has been farming all his life. He and his father operate about 750 acres in Hartford, Kentucky where they produce roughly 300 acres of corn and soybeans and manage about 350 head of cattle.  “When I was a teenager, I raised about 8,000 pounds of tobacco each year and borrowed enough to buy my first cow herd 30 years ago,” Smith said. 

The Smith farm also operates chicken houses for Perdue, eight in all, so the cost to operate the business can be substantial.  Dan Porter with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) service center talked to Smith about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) On-Farm Energy Initiativethat would provide financial assistance for an energy audit and assist him with implementing various conservation practices that could help conserve energy on the farm.  Smith applied for the program to help with the four poultry houses he had at the time.  His application was approved. EnSave, a company focused on agricultural energy efficiency, conducted the energy audit for Smith.  

Raising chickens with a competitive contract means producers have to watch their fuel and energy expenses and at the same time produce quality poultry.  “If the birds are comfortable they have better average daily gains and better feed conversion,” Smith said.  He added, “If the houses are tighter and well insulated they are easier to heat with less fuel in the winter and easier to cool with fans and cool cells in the summer.”

The energy conservation improvements on the chicken houses includes blown in fiberglass insulation and enclosing of part of the soffit opening on the houses to prevent wind damage and protect the chickens from other animals.  This year Smith plans to spray a foam cover to improve insulation on the aged interior walls.  The improvements are already making a difference. Smith said, “I know the houses were easier to cool last summer because the ceilings were cooler than years before and with this past winter being so cool, I could tell a difference with the ceilings not having as much condensation as in the past.” 

On the rest of the farm, Smith is focused on energy savings as well.  “We are basically all no-till,” Smith said.  No-till farming can reduce fuel expenses considerably while improving the health of the soil.  “We (he and his father) plant cereal rye, wheat, triticale, rye grass, crimson clover and austrian winter peas as cover crops on as many acres as we can.”  Among other benefits, cover crops increase organic matter (feeding the soil),  and prevent excess nitrogen from running off the fields.  Smith said these cover crops also provide high moisture forage for the cattle.

Smith purchased four additional poultry houses on a nearby farm so he plans to implement similar conservation practices there to save energy.  He encourages other producers to have an energy audit on their land.  “You can learn a lot.  The energy audit will make you more aware of the condition of your operation and help with an avenue to make needed repairs,” he said.