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Low-carbon farming business uncovers new ways to save energy

New heat boxes installed in poultry shed just the start of latest changes.

Sixth-generation farmer Craig Nicholson has made extensive energy-efficiency changes to his business.

His commitment to renewable technologies is matched by his dedication to the livestock he rears under Red Tractor standards.

For his latest project, the owner of J S Nicholson and Son approached us for a free and impartial assessment of his premises at Hollows Mill, Canonbie, Dumfries and Galloway.

A big part of Craig’s work involves rearing thousands of day-old broiler chicks for around seven weeks at a time in a poultry shed that requires adequate heating and ventilation to ensure the livestock remains healthy.

Craig wanted to improve the efficiency of the heating system in the shed as consistent heat and lower moisture in the air has proved to benefit the health of the chicks.

An independent consultant who visited the farm saw first-hand the changes Craig had already implemented. A 10kW solar PV panel array was installed on the roof of the poultry shed in 2011, and a 15kW Archimedean screw hydro turbine was subsequently introduced in 2015. These measures reduced the business’s reliance on electricity from the grid by almost 80%.

Even with these technologies already in place, the report prepared for Craig identified further changes he could make, with forecast savings of £1,590 and a further five tonnes of CO2 cut from his emissions.

The report recommended replacing the existing 10 radiant brooder heaters with three larger box heaters, which would be more powerful and more responsive, allowing the shed to be brought up to the correct temperature in less than an hour, around 23 hours quicker than the original set-up.

The blown air would also help reduce the moisture.

The report also recommended changing the ventilation from being manually controlled by Craig, when there were changes in the temperature, to an automated system that would allow the new box heaters to adjust their output without the need for intervention.

With a £10,000 investment and a payback period of just over seven years, plus access to a Scottish Government interest-free SME Loan, with cashback, Craig made a start on introducing the changes.

As one set of improvements started, Red Tractor brought in new legislation requiring windows to be added to poultry sheds. Craig was keen to maintain his high standards of care, as well as following the new guidelines, and after further consultation with our team, he is now planning to install windows before his next batch of chicks arrive later in the year.

Around 10% of heat can be lost through windows, so he wants to ensure that the hard work in fitting the appropriate heaters and ventilation system doesn’t go to waste.

Craig, who manages the farm alone with relief workers when needed, said: “The new heating has been up and running for a number of months. I feel it gives a more efficient heat in the shed, although I am still learning the new system now it’s controlled by a computer.

He admitted that the SME Loan made a big difference when it came to funding the projects and he is hoping for a second one for his windows.

“Without the loan, it’s hard to say if I could have done all the work. But with Red Tractor’s regulations, I had a lot to do to achieve their standards. The loan has definitely helped me. The whole process has been very good. My advisor has been very helpful. It has all made a big difference.”


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