ELECTRONIC ventilated farming is keeping the heat down for broiler chickens and boosting poultry production.
Contracted poultry farmers have been doing ventilated farming for years and the Jamaica Observer caught up with one such farmer, Rose Marie Samuels, a Best Dressed Chicken contracted farmer for over 15 years, and a chartered accountant by profession.
On Samuel's 21-acre farm, in Clarendon, consisting of four ventilated houses, (2) twenty and (2) twenty-five thousand square feet, housing over 30,000 and 40,000 chickens, respectively, in each unit, she explained that if she had to do poultry farming any other way, she would not be a farmer.
"It is cumbersome, it is too much because poultry farming outside of being a contract farmer, you'd have to get sales, you'd have to do your own processing, you'd have to do your own procurement of chicks, which is sometimes very difficult and to the tune of what you want to do maybe you wouldn't be getting it," said Samuels.
Understanding the needs of chickens, for optimal heating and ventilation at all times to be productive, healthy, and happy, has led Samuels to invest in both solar and ventilation technology, making poultry farming more convenient for both her and her chicks.
Ventilated poultry farming is a method of raising poultry in a controlled indoor environment where temperature, humidity, air quality, and other environmental factors are carefully regulated.
While giving the Business Observer a tour of the farm and an inside look at her ventilated house with 30,000 2-week-old baby chicks, Samuels explained that her farm has a control unit which monitors the temperature at all times and regulates the temperature depending on the needs of each phase of the chickens' lives.
"When they are young, when they come, one day old, it [the brooder] lights up like a stove, see the IGL gas out there comes on automatically because the houses are set at a temperature that they grow under," she explained.
According to poultryhub.org, the recommended temperature for broiler chickens for the first day is between 32-34 degrees Celsius, in the first week it decreases to 30 degrees Celsius, and it gradually decreases each week. If temperatures rise above the recommended figures, it's a possibility that the chickens will experience heat stress, leading to less food consumption and, in some cases, death.
She explained that the houses create the optimal conditions for poultry growth and reduce heat stress.
"Any given day, if inside was extremely hot, this [the curtains] automatically opens, fresh air comes in and the fan pulls out the hot air," Samuels said while explaining the process. "The fans pull the mist from the sides straight into the coop and you get an AC feel," she said while showing the fans on the outside of the electronic coop.
Each house has seven functional fans, eliminating the excess of heat and humidity from the sheds where the birds are housed, and guaranteeing comfort and welfare.
However, during the warmer months, the stock density is reduced from 1.5 to 1.4 to ensure adequate ventilation.
The houses use massive amounts of electricity, making solar power non-optional when operating these ventilated farms. According to Samuels, without solar energy a monthly electricity bill can be anywhere from $1 million and upwards and electricity use is paramount. However, should the farm lose electricity, she says the farm has built-in safety features.
"So if there's an electrical problem, the house is set up that the curtains automatically drop to the side, so they will get all the fresh air from outside because the house is no longer operating electrically," she said reassuringly.
The cost to operate can be a lot, especially in rainy seasons, when sunlight is reduced and the farm's electricity demand is too much for solar batteries, leaving it completely dependent on electricity from the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), which cuts into profits.
While traditional open-air poultry farming is common in Jamaica, ventilated poultry farming offers the advantage of disease control and biosecurity. A controlled indoor environment in ventilated systems helps limit contact between poultry and potential sources of disease, such as rodents, wild birds, and other animals. It also improves feed management.
While showing the Business Observer an automated feeding dispenser, Samuels explains that the house has a self-feeding system, consisting of several lines all connected which is designed for all birds to eat and drink at their own leisure as needed.
"They eat 24/7 and drink 24/7," she said. She explained that the feed line allows for better monitoring and adjustment of feed delivery, reducing waste and optimising feed utilisation by having a sensor to measure when food capacity is low and triggering more food to be dispensed.
"Those are the trigger pans, there's a motion on it because the light is there [end of the house] they tend to eat from it quicker than the rest of these [other feeding pans away from the light] so when that empty, it pulls down the feed from this [other full feeding pans] back in the line," Samuels explained.
Along with the feed line is a water drip which is constantly flowing from Samuel's irrigation system which is connected through her canal across from her farm. The water is pumped underground into her tank with water that is treated specifically for the chickens and holds approximately 130,000 gallons of water.
"When the birds are grown to full maximum four-five weeks old, they drink anywhere between five and eight thousand gallons of water per day," she said.
With feeding and water automated, the manual labour for Samuels is reduced to making sure everything is operational, removing dead chickens and checking for leaks. Her sole responsibility is ensuring the chickens are raised healthy and she's compensated by The Best Dressed Chicken per weight of the chickens which guarantees her over $3 million per batch.
Once the chickens are gone, Samuels says within two weeks, her electronic coop is restocked and the process is repeated.