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Using sprinklers to keep birds cool

By Stanley Kaye

Keeping chickens cool during warm weather is a key challenge for poultry farmers all around the world.

One of the most popular solutions is the usage of evaporative cooling. While this is a very effective cooling method, it uses a lot of water and increases the relative humidity within the shed. Humidity makes it harder for birds to deal with high temperatures and may also increase the moisture in their litter or bedding.

In order to examine alternative cooling methods, the Australian Department of Agriculture and Fisheries conducted research to evaluate in-shed sprinkler cooling technology for use by Australian meat chicken growers.

The recently published report concludes that sprinklers can be a useful tool to cool birds, with the added advantage of water saving as the researchers managed to cut water use by half.

The team confirmed that in-shed sprinklers, when used appropriately, reduce the use of evaporative cooling and can save between 200,000–300,000 liters of water per shed per year. The report did not state whether this was recommended as a standalone system replacing the cool pad system, which would be much cheaper, or as an addition to the system.

I have a lot of experience designing and operating systems like this. In my opinion, there are several key issues that need to be addressed:

  • Safety and anti-flood – In my experience, the biggest factor preventing growers from using a sprinkler system is the fear that a sprinkler will become detached, or otherwise burst and cause a flood. This is very damaging, which means that the system must be very robust with little or no chance of a burst or leak. The controller should also have the facility to detect bursts and send out an alarm or be able to turn off the water if desired.
  • Control – The farmer needs to ensure that the pulse isn’t too long as it will cause wet litter, or if is too short, there will not be enough cooling. Therefore, the system needs to have highly accurate controller that can set the pulse time in seconds. The length of pulse and interval needs be varied by the controller based on bird age, outside temperature and humidity, as well as wind speed inside the shed.
  • Areas – If the house is in tunnel ventilation mode, the temperature will change along the length of shed. These results, on the one hand, from the bird heat being pulled up the shed and, on the other, from the amount of water that flows with the wind. Thus, the house should be divided into sectors of no more than 40 meters, with each sector controlled by its own temperature sensor. The controller should open and close the water independently in each sector (the way it is normally done with heaters). This will ensure the best cooling and the driest litter.

Regardless of which project you have, a well-designed sprinkler system should be part of each grower’s toolbox to control the environment in the shed.

The writer is a poultry consultant for Agrotop. He has 30 years hands-on experience in poultry farming. He has an economics degree from Leeds University and an MBA from Heriot Watt University – Scotland.