Geothermal energy could reduce utilities costs for turkey producers, as well as being environmentally and economically friendly, according to Yun-Sheng Xu, a University of Missouri engineer

A prototype geothermal system is currently at work in a test facility, with positive results. “This is the first application of geothermal energy in a commercial livestock operation,” said Xu. “Our first set of performance data suggests that farmers could halve their heating and cooling costs. We have five units installed at the test farm. Other farmers could begin installing units on their turkey farms as soon as next year, for use next winter.”

Heating and cooling is important in turkey operations because the temperature in their enclosure must be kept at 90 degrees Fahrenheit while the birds are young, but lowered to 70 degrees Fahrenheit for older birds. Propane fuel for temperature control units can cost farmers tens of thousands of dollars per year. Propane burners in livestock barns produce humidity and carbon dioxide, which can smother the birds. Humidity in the bird barns moistens the foul waste from the fowl and leads to ammonia contamination of the air the birds breathe.

“Similar systems could be installed in other livestock operations,” said Xu. “It may work even better in a chicken coop, since they use solid walls as opposed to the curtains used to enclose turkey barns. Pig and cattle rearing facilities could benefit from the inexpensive hot water produced using a geothermal system. The system could even be scaled down to keep a doghouse comfortable in the backyard.”

Once a geothermal unit is installed, the operation and maintenance are much lower than operating a fossil fuel powered system. Geothermal systems use the constant 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit of the soil a few feet beneath the surface to regulate the temperature of a liquid flowing through buried tubing. Xu said his design is cheaper to install than other geothermal units. In his system, the tubing is buried horizontally, as opposed to other systems that rely on vertically placed tubes, which require expensive deep digging.

Using Xu’s system, a turkey farm can be both more economical and better for the environment than a farm run on fossil fuels, he said. Geothermal energy produces no greenhouse gases and isn’t dependent on wind or sunlight.