Pellets for Pullets project changes the energy production game

By on May 14, 2019

Since 2013,
the North Carolina General Assembly has appropriated funds to support the
development of energy production from North Carolina agricultural products
through the N.C. Bioenergy Research Initiative. The initiative is managed by
the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, which awards grants
each year for projects aimed at energy production.

For the last
few years, Carolina Land & Lakes Resource Conservation and Development has
been one of the organizations to receive grant money as a part of the NCDA&CS
Bioenergy Research and New and Emerging Crops Initiative.

Carolina
Land & Lakes RC&D was awarded $85,400 for a project that worked to
install a wood pellet heating system on three existing farms to replace propane
furnaces.  Carolina Land & Lakes
RC&D applied for and received funds from this grant for four years and is approaching
its last year of funding. In total, Carolina Land & Lakes Resource
Conservation and Development has received $400,000 to fund its Pellets for
Pullets project.

“Pellets for
Pullets has been well received by farmers and we believe it will do incredibly
well moving forward,” said Melissa Patton, executive director of Carolina Land
& Lakes RC&D.

In a recent
visit to Taylor Farms, a poultry farm located in Connelly Springs, Andy Taylor gave
a behind-the-scenes-look into exactly how these wood pellets could be a
game-changer for farmers everywhere. These new wood pellet furnaces replaced
propane heaters in an effort to reduce the mortality rate in chickens and
increase the bird’s weight due to a cleaner house.

Wood pellets
used are a blend of soft and hard wood that are free from additives. According
to Lee Energy Solutions, a wood pellet manufacturer, the wood used in the
pellets comes from reusable wood scraps and grown fiber. Wood pellets do not
come directly from trees or cause deforestation. In fact, this heating source
is a sustainable and renewable resource. 
These wood pellet furnaces were manufactured by Lee Energy Solutions,
located in Crossville, Ala., and sold across the United States.

The wood
pellet furnace helps farmers reduce the cost of heating their poultry houses
significantly. Through the study, Taylor learned that the wood pellets cost him
about $1,280 compared to $5,000 for propane. While the cost savings is good and
real, it is the bird health and final mortality that is the most significant. “Humidity
can cause respiratory issues in chickens, that can result in higher mortality
rates,” Patton said. In one week, when using propane, a farmer experienced
double the loss in chickens compared to when wood pellets were used as the
source of heat.

“The wood
pellets have helped the mortality in our chicken houses. When using the
propane, we experienced 12 to 14 losses in one house, but the house using the
wood pellets only had five,” Taylor said.

The wood
pellet heating system is cost-efficient, healthier for the animals, but also
helps farmers, too. “When the wood pellets are used, chickens tend to weigh
more due to a decrease of ammonia and humidity in the air,” Taylor said.  When there is less ammonia and humidity in the
houses, this helps the chickens weigh more and, in turn, help the farmers earn
more per chicken.

The wood
pellet heating system is located outside the poultry house, similar to the way propane
tanks are positioned. The wood pellets are available for farmers to pick up at
various dealers locally where they can place custom orders of wood pellets. “This
large furnace requires upkeep and cleaning to ensure that the wood is being
burned properly, but is incredibly simple to use,” Taylor said.  

The wood
furnace is attached to a wood pellet storage unit that allows the pellets to move
into the furnace. Once the pellets are in the furnace, they burn in a
combustion chamber outside the poultry house, which then creates heat that
flows into the poultry house.  Propane
combusts inside the house creating more humidity.

“The study
shows the wood pellet furnace allows for higher efficiency and lower costs than
other heating systems,” Patton said. The wood pellet heating system provides
heat for one house and reduces the need for ventilation times per house.

“When we use
the wood pellet heating system, we find that we don’t need to use the fans as
much since the wood helps with humidity in the houses,” Taylor said.

Even though
propane is used as a back-up heating system to the wood pellets, the more
energy efficient, cost efficient and animal friendly option is the wood pellet
heating system.  “We encourage farmers to
explore their options and how they can help the environment and their animals when
considering heating systems,” Patton said.  

These grants
are incredibly important to not only help N.C. farmers, but also to support
initiatives such as renewable fuels. Through time and research, these grants have
given farmers more environmentally safe options in the agriculture industry.

“The Pellets
for Pullets project in particular has been successful and has been a good
representation of what we wanted to see from this grant,” said Sam Brake, agricultural
program specialist from NCDA&CS.

In the
beginning stages of using the wood pellet heating system, farmers were hesitant
to invest in the installation of the wood furnace. Propane tanks don’t require
farmers to pay for installation, but are costlier to operate month to month. However,
to help farmers move to wood furnaces, the USDA is offering a grant to help with
25 percent of the cost of the equipment for the wood pellet heating system.

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