Three West Virginia Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design researchers want to increase chicken health while using less fossil fuel.

Although propane is often utilised as a heat source in agricultural buildings, it can provide a moist heat that aggravates sickness in poultry.

Researchers Joe Moritz, professor of poultry science, Jingxin Wang, director of the WVU Center for Sustainable Biomaterials and Bioenergy, and Shawn Grushecky, assistant professor of energy land management, are investigating the potential benefits of using a wood boiler system with a heat exchanger fueled by hot water.

A $250,000 USDA Forest Service grant is helping to fund the research.

According to the study paper, water is heated by burning wood byproducts and then circulated via a heat exchanger where a fan blows, producing dry heat. Because of the decrease in the frequent use of antibiotics, hens are more prone to intestinal disorders, which cause wetter conditions in the barn, making dry heat generation even more vital.

“There may be 25,000 to 65,000 hens in one barn,” Moritz explained. “Using propane to heat the barn exacerbates the problems and contributes to even more damp conditions.” The birds’ feet might develop calluses and blisters.“

According to the promising research, the system dries the litter and enhances bird health, as demonstrated by higher foot pad ratings.

“The birds that were grown in those dry circumstances had considerably better-looking foot pads,” Moritz added. “Aside from health, there’s also a profitable commodity that sells in several Asian countries.”

Wang is investigating the energy efficiency and emissions of various wood products, such as chips, pellets, and sawdust.

“Wood is a strategic alternative as an energy fuel source because of the abundance of wood wastes from timber harvesting that can be utilised as wood boiler fuel,” Wang explained. While propane has a better efficiency, it has drawbacks such as increased humidity and ammonia levels. Both are detrimental to the health of birds, according to Wang.

“Wood energy conversion provides a greener, sustainable fuel that retains high energy efficiency while providing better circumstances for developing birds,” he explained.

If the project is successful, the researchers anticipate that state farmers will be able to replace their propane heating systems with a wood boiler system.

Grushecky explained, “We’ve been looking at extending the market for wood items.” “The idea is that as more farmers use this as a source of heat in their buildings, it will become more common.” It’s a new market for wood goods that wasn’t previously explored.”

Farmers must first test the wood boiler system in cooler weather before making the move.