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New Broiler House Opens For Research
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi State University hasn't entered the poultry business, but it does have a new, state-of-the-art, working broiler facility for research purposes.
The 43-by-400 foot broiler house on the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station's South Farm took in its first chicks in mid-October. The climate-controlled facility is operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service at MSU.
Wallace Morgan, head of MSU's Poultry Science Department, said the university needed this facility to take advantage of the expertise at USDA's South Central Poultry Research Lab on campus.
"This collaboration will allow us to do a lot more than we would have on our own," Morgan said. "It also gives the students in our department an opportunity to get involved with running the house."
The broiler facility can house 22,000 chickens. The chicks arrive one day old and weigh about 1.5 ounces. After seven weeks and 120 tons of feed, the chickens are ready for harvest at 5 � to 6 � pounds, or about 65 times their original size.
Research at the facility is focusing on nutrient management and engineering for environmental control. David May, USDA-ARS research leader for the poultry lab, will be working with environmental control in the new facility.
"A lot of our work studying environmental control has been done in environmental chambers in the lab or at small sites, and you have to make assumptions on how to apply these results in real life," May said. "This facility gives us a chance to test ideas in a full-size facility with real-world geometry."
One of the main concerns is temperature management, and researchers are trying to determine the ideal growing temperature for chickens and how to maintain that in different weather and seasons.
"The house has to be warm when we put the baby chicks in," Morgan said. "As the birds grow, they warm it themselves and we have to look at venting the heat out of the house."
Chickens have an internal temperature of 104 to 105 degrees and cool themselves by breathing out moisture. By market time, the house holds more than 50 tons of chickens trying to keep cool. Fans are needed to pull this hot, moist air out of the broiler house to keep the birds from getting too hot.
As a side investigation, researchers are looking at the economic feasibility of drawing this warm, moist air from the broiler house into an adjacent greenhouse.
The nutrient management side of the research is focusing on bedding material for the birds, comparing traditional wood shavings to sand. Poultry litter is often used as a fertilizer, and sand is being tested as a bedding material to learn its properties.
"If the sand holds more of the nitrogen than the wood does, you have a more balanced fertilizer and it also has more soil- like properties than do wood shavings," Morgan said. "There may be commercial value in landscape applications for this used bedding."
The new broiler house is completely computer monitored and controlled. An alarm system is set to telephone operators if conditions are not in the specified ranges. Records on variables such as temperature, humidity, light intensity, water and food consumption, and average broiler weight are kept so data can be compiled on each batch of chickens.
"If you have a problem, you can go back and look at all the variables and see what was associated with the problem," Morgan said.
The cost of electricity is one of the biggest expenses in running a chicken house. Electricity is needed to run the fans and heating system that keeps the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. May is focusing much of his research on making houses more energy efficient.
"To be efficient, you have to have a tight chicken house so you don't have air infiltration," May said. "Houses are designed as tunnels where air can be drawn in one end and moved through the house and out the other. In many houses, a lot of air doesn't follow this path because of infiltration through cracks and gaps in curtain openings."
MAFES received more than $60,000 in donated equipment to run the broiler house. Companies donating equipment include L.B. White, Diversified Imports, Hired-Hand, Roxell, ChickMates and Southwestern Sales.