Energy Experiment

A Missouri turkey farmer helps test a new heating method for livestock barns.

By Amy Bickers | Photos By Dr. Yun-Sheng Xu

Geothermal heating

Geothermal heating

Chris Holliday says the typical propane-based method for heating and maintaining his turkey brooding operation is like a dog chasing its tail. “You heat the barn with propane. Propane creates a lot of water. The humidity in the barn is bad for the poultry. That’s why you have to ventilate so much. Then the ventilation causes the barn to cool down. Then you have to heat it more.”

About 18 months ago, Holliday’s Booneville, Mo., farm became the prototype facility for a project that could change commercial livestock operations. Five geothermal energy units developed by University of Missouri engineer Dr. Yun-Sheng Xu were installed on Holliday’s property.

Temperature maintenance is a big part of turkey operations. A turkey enclosure must be kept at 90°F for young birds, at 70°F for older birds. While Holliday’s houses use a combination of propane and geothermal, it could still save him about half on his average yearly gas bill. Also, because geothermal energy produces dry heat, it reduces humidity levels in many types of barns.

“We had to design a system to specifically handle the environment of the turkey house, the dust and feathers,” Xu says. “We realized that the geothermal method doesn’t just save energy, it improves air quality. It reduces the moisture. It reduces the ammonia in the air [that comes from moisture in fowl waste].”

Geothermal systems use the temperature of the soil a few feet beneath the surface (a consistent 55°F to 65°F) to regulate the temperature of a liquid, such as water and antifreeze, flowing through buried tubing. Xu’s design keeps costs down by burying tubing horizontally. Other geothermal systems rely on vertically placed tubes, which require expensive deep digging.

Xu says the method could work in chicken coops, for pig and cattle-raising facilities, or even to keep a doghouse warm. Holliday says installation is expensive; his system was installed through a grant from the university. But that is the only drawback he sees. “It makes perfect sense if you take advantage of everything that’s better about geothermal energy.”