Who says size is important? With just 48acres of land, broiler farmer, Robin Price, knew his business had to be built from the ground up, and with no fewer than six poultry sheds installed across the site and up to 318,000 birds reared on a 48-day cycle, he's certainly achieved it.

Site manager for a new build farm at Meadowland, in Sleap, near Shrewsbury, Robin also realised automated temperature control and ventilation, coupled with speed of the build process would prove key to the farm’s productivity.

“Once you have committed to the large-scale capital expenditure needed to construct a new broiler farm from scratch, it’s vital that the first lot of chicks are in as soon as possible, so that the farm can start delivering a return," he said.

However, despite building delays leading to an extremely tight system commissioning period, engineers from agricultural ventilation specialists, Hydor, were on hand to provide round the clock support to ensure the sheds were ready to receive their first flock on time.

According to the company's commissioning engineer, Shaun Morris, there are several key considerations when specifying for a new broiler farm: “One of the major changes in recent years is the need for ridge ventilation fans rather than wall mounted, so that dust particles are ejected from the shed high up and dispersed, rather than being concentrated in one place.

“Meadowland Farm operates to Red Tractor standards, which require a documented ventilation plan to be in place that ensures the inside temperature does not exceed 3°C above the outside temperature when it is 30°C or more in the shade. It also requires concentrations of ammonia to be below 20ppm (definition) and CO2 to be lower than 3000ppm at the level of the birds’ heads. Furthermore, the average relative humidity measured inside a house during a 48 hour period should not exceed 70% when the outside temperature is below 10°C. It is also a requirement to have an alarm system that alerts staff to increases and decreases in temperature within set parameters.

“These standards offer a useful guideline, but it’s important to remember that no two broiler farms are ever the same. At the start of each project, we make a calculation based on the amount of air movement needed for each bird, as well as undertake meetings to determine the exact requirements of each shed. One of the unique advantages of utilising a control system from Hydor is that each one is built to the needs of the individual farmer.”

Having commissioned his own sheds 27 years ago, one of the biggest changes Robin has seen in his latest project is the huge advance in automation. The sheds at Meadowland monitor and adjust to the changing needs of the birds automatically – ensuring the temperature and ventilation levels fluctuate depending on the needs of the birds.

Commenting on how the system works, Shaun said: “The computer system will instigate a temperature curve, so while we may say that the temperature needs to be 34°C on day one and 28°C at day seven, the computer will ensure a gradual increase in temperature over the set time period to allow the birds to adjust over time. Where this system really comes into its own however, is through the ability to adapt to real-time changes in the atmosphere and in particular CO2 and humidity levels – removing the need for the farmer to do this manually.

“At Meadowland, each shed is divided into five zones with different definitions each with its own monitoring probes and heating and ventilation systems. As you would expect, zones one and five will have different requirements to two to four, as they are at the ends of the shed, so will need their own localised control. Humidity treatment starts at humidity level 50 or above for two minutes or so, before the ventilation fan [link] jumps up a level to draw more air in.”

Robin added “Controllability on these sheds is a world away from the ones I’ve been used to. Remote monitoring and control is a huge advantage as I can interrogate these computers wherever I am and adjust settings remotely. It’s also useful from a technical support basis, as Shaun is able to access and change the same settings as needed.

"Every second counts with chickens and being able to make changes to the system instantaneously is a huge benefit. We also know that if there are any issues someone from the company can be on site in a couple of hours.

With so much at stake, backups have been installed throughout the new development. Primary and secondary control panels include built-in alarms that issue alerts for any spikes in demand for heating, cooling, water consumption and food, while a temperature alarm ensures staff are notified if it drops below or rises above set parameters.

Robin concludes: “While we recognise that an automated system shouldn’t necessary be expected to replace any manual input altogether, but our system really does help us to keep every shed running exactly as it should, without the kind of pressure you might expect on a six shed farm.”