Propane heaters, burners hatching new opportunities in poultry house applications

July 1, 2002 By    

Propane remains the primary fuel for drying and ripening crops, but poultry producers are busy hatching assorted technological innovations that take advantage of its heat-generating properties. Since 90 percent of the propane used is converted directly to energy, it presents enticing economic incentives for expanding its barnyard applications.

According to a University of Georgia study, propane-powered infrared heaters in poultry brooders create a more even and widespread pattern of heat distribution while lowering fuel costs 15 to 25 percent compared to standard forced-air furnaces.

Propane also is in the process of positioning itself as an efficient, yet effective method for controlling the numerous pathogens that nest in chicken and turkey houses. Attracting considerable attention is a patented pilot device pioneered by Frank Wallace of Siloam Springs, Ark. His propane-powered Bio-Burner is being developed specifically to heat-treat poultry litter, which is the floor covering found in such facilities.

While its ability to kill pests puts it at the top of the roost compared to chemical treatments, a few bugs still remain to be worked out before the device is mass marketed, says Wallace, president of Wallace Manufacturing Co. He and other poultry experts report great progress in producing a searing-hot flame that eliminates pests while sparing the plastic piping and side-sheeting typically installed within these structures.

“You’re going on a dirt floor with embers on it,” Wallace notes. “And you’re inside a ‘house’ – so you have to control your exhaust.”

The Bio-Burner’s six propane jets are enclosed in an insulated hood that offers more precise monitoring of the flames’ direction and heat output.

Using research money from the Propane Education & Research Council, Wallace, poultry husbandry experts and engineers with the Texas Railroad Commission’s Alternative Fuels Education and Research Program are planning more tests this year. Additional cost data is needed, and a modified burner design is under consideration.

“Flame treatments have three advantages over chemical disinfectants,” says Steve Jaeger, AFRED’s director of research and technical services. “Flame leaves no residues, the organisms do not develop immunity and there is no question about coverage: If the litter is scorched, the area has been covered.”

Treatments control corona viruses in turkey barns, plus chicken-house problems such as bacterial spores, worm eggs and fungi.

Wallace’s Bio-Burner design already is being used to treat broiler houses. The seven-foot wide unit is towed in the coop by a 35-horsepower tractor. Wallace charges 2 cents a square foot for the treatments. The machine has a 100-gallon propane tank that draws about 30 gallons an hour to create a litter temperature of 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dr. Dudley Smith, a professor with the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University, sees poultry farmers flocking to this technology when Bio-Burners eventually go into production.

“LP gas dealers will have a very key role in this,” Smith forecasts. “Whoever will be buying these will be buying a lot of LP gas.”

The technology is more than biologically sound. Smith notes that the economics fit with the summer slumps that LP dealers experience in markets where winter heating is the biggest source of fuel consumption.

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