Electronic poultry house controllers have come a long way in a relatively short period of time. What started out as electronic curtain minders or vent actuators have evolved into minicomputers which can be programmed to operate all of the ventilation, heating, cooling and lighting equipment in the poultry house. Controllers can also record information on the systems that they operate. They now routinely collect data on water consumption, fan run times, house temperatures by zone, and heater run times. There is a wealth of data on controllers, but, in most cases, this data is not being put to work.
Mike Czarick, extension engineer, University of Georgia, has been using PCs and modems to collect data from poultry house controllers for a number of years. His research has led to some interesting findings and has helped to spur interest among poultry integrators in the value of linking the controllers on their contract growers farms’ to a central computer to allow for analysis of data collected on the farms.
Czarick envisions a day when the individual house controllers’ data will be gathered via wireless links to a central PC or server on the farm which then transmits data either via phone lines or wirelessly to a server at the integrators grow out office. The data would then be analyzed so that each morning the service people and growers would have exception reports e-mailed to them. This information would help the service people prioritize the stops that they make during the day and would help growers better manage their houses.
Czarick said that comparative data could be used to show growers how well their evaporative cooling was performing versus other farms. Growers could also be shown gas usage on their farm versus similar houses, or if they have curtain sided houses, show the gas usage of similar sized closed houses. The data could be used to evaluate ventilation strategy, fan settings, and how well the birds are distributed in the houses.
Before data sharing between poultry farms becomes a reality some issues have to be resolved. “There several different manufacturers and models of controllers and this creates a major hurdle to integrating the farms into one data collection system,” Czarick said. Currently, controller manufacturers are not using a common communication protocol. One reason for the success of the Internet is that common protocols are used so that communication occurs seamlessly. If integrators and growers begin requiring controllers that can communicate universally this will force controller manufacturers to agree on a common protocol. This has already happened in a number of other industries.
Czarick explained that the impetus behind developing on-farm data collection systems may not come from within the poultry industry. “The driving force might be something like a customer,” Czarick said. “For animal welfare reasons, we might want to have a record of humidity, ammonia and temperature in your houses. You could get immediate feedback on this if the controllers are integrated into a complete system.”
Several integrators are exploring the potential for on-farm data gathering, but none have implemented a system complex wide, according to Czarick. He said, “Everything is on the edge of being ready to take off. It needs something to push it over the edge.”