A hay-burning stove is getting warm reviews from Larry Morrison, a Barry County poultry grower.
When propane costs skyrocketed in 2008, Larry was a step away from getting out of the chicken business.
“I told my wife if we didn’t come up with something (to cut energy costs), we were going to have to shut the farm down,” Larry said. “I had a $17,000 gas bill last year on one flock of birds.”
Gas prices have decreased, but Larry believes it is inevitable they will go up again – and he doesn’t want to be caught out in the cold. He began searching for an alternative heat source for the four poultry houses on his farm near Monett, Mo., and found his answer in a heater designed and marketed by Agri-Flame, a fledgling company in nearby Diamond, Mo.
Placed on a concrete pad outside the houses, the stove is 10 feet long, eight feet wide and houses a burn chamber that is 7 feet in circumference – exactly the right size to accomodate a big round bale. Utilizing a 4,000-gallon hydroponic system, the stove heats the water, which then is pumped at a rate of 120 gallons per minute and circulated through radiators installed in the chicken houses. The one stove heats all four houses.
And does it efficiently, Larry says. Although the system was installed late in the season and he has used it with only one flock so far, Larry estimated the fuel he burned cost about $25 per day – which adds up to considerably less than his normal propane bill for a 40-day flock.
“I saved 50 percent in the first two weeks – and I didn’t even really know how to use it,” Larry said.
While he had excellent support from the Agri-Flame company, Larry said his first month with the new heating system was a time of testing and learning.
“I ran it easy on the first flock,” he said. "In the future, I’ll burn it hotter, and will use even less propane.”
As he learns to operate the system more efficiently, Larry estimates his savings will climb to at least 75 percent.
Much of that will be due to the low cost of the biomatter he burns, material that is readily available in the area, but not much in demand for any other purpose. The stove will easily turn johnson grass, weeds, switch grass and corn, bean and fescue stubble, for example, into inexpensive heat.
“We’re burning the worst hay you can find,” Larry said, adding that a bale costs about $10.
It can be old, it can be mildewed, it can be worthless to cattle. But it does need to be dry. Moisture content should be 15 percent or less to burn well.
“It needs to be kept under a roof,” Larry said. If it is wet, it doesn’t burn hot enough; it just sits there and smolders.”
While Larry started out burning hay, he soon discovered another alternative.
“I found out the slab wood bundles work even better,” Larry said, referring to a sawmill byproduct. The slabs are the outer first cuts from trees, which are tied into bundles that weigh about a ton each. The wood burns hot, and, like the hay, can be loaded into the stove with a tractor.
Thirty to 35 bundles – at $10 a bundle – will provide enough heat for one flock.
“Years ago, the mills couldn’t give it away,” Larry said. “But we can really utilize it.”
The total cost of installing the new heating system was about $21,000 per house.
“And I didn’t do a speck of the work,” said Larry, who experienced some health problems just before it went in. “If had been able to do some of it myself, it would have been even cheaper.”
Even if propane prices remain at present rates, Larry believes it would take less than three years to recoup the cost. But he has an added edge in the form of a USDA REAP grant that will pay 25 percent of the costs of the sytem and its installation. The grants are available to help existing farms convert to more energy efficient systems.
In addition to helping lower production costs, the new system has other advantages.
“We were reallly amazed at the air quality difference,” Larry said.
Whereas propane puts moisture into the air, burning hay or wood results in a drier heat, which is healthier for the birds.
“It was also one of the healthiest flocks I’ve ever had,” he said. “I didn’t lose very many, and they averaged 4.2 pounds per bird when they went out.”
As for disadvantages, “I’d tell you what they were if I could think of any,” Larry said.
“We’re tickled pink we did it,” he said.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here