Barn aims to make the energy it uses

Alberta Hutterite Colony uses solar panels, insulation and LED lighting to reduce environmental footprint

BRANT, Alta. — The 12,800 laying hens running free in the Brant Hutterite Colony’s new barn are oblivious to their role in an energy experiment.

They are calmly laying eggs, perching and dust bathing while highly technical equipment monitors energy output and input with the goal of matching energy ex-pended with energy produced.

It’s called a “net zero” egg layer barn and is an initiative of Egg Farmers of Alberta, Alberta Agriculture and the Brant colony.

The public was invited to see the new barn and learn about the concept July 25.

The barn has not yet achieved net zero because some elements of the design have yet to be fully implemented and data from a full production cycle must be collected and analyzed.

However, the experiment is underway, and the colony has a new pullet and egg laying barn that benefited from a $250,000 grant from Growing Forward 2.

Darrel Mendel, the colony’s egg manager, admitted he and other members were initially skeptical about undertaking the project and being the first operation in Canada to attempt net zero egg production.

When first approached in 2014, “we weren’t really considering it,” said Mendel about seeing the application.

“It was something that I took and maybe just put underneath a stack of books or something,” he said.

“I didn’t really care for it at the time, honestly.”

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The colony had plans to expand and change its production methods, moving from a conventional caged system to either fully enriched or free-run.

Free-run won the day when major food companies announced plans to transition to eggs from cage-free systems.

In the meantime, EFA had selected Brant colony as the best candidate for the net zero experiment.

Agreement would mean use of energy efficient technology, providing internet access for energy monitoring, having a camera in the laying barn for remote viewing and a live feed via the EFA website and allowing public tours.

“By agreeing to work at overcoming the obstacles and to share extremely detailed information about their facility and its performance, Brant Colony is serving the industry, acting as stewards and knowledge brokers,” said EFA industry development officer Jenna Griffin.

“Years down the road, when we report back on the industry’s energy and carbon footprint and discuss the progress that we have made, there is no doubt that these efforts will have made an impact.”

Griffin said on-farm energy use represents 15 percent of agriculture’s climate change impact in Alberta.

In egg operations, energy makes up about 50 percent of a facility’s carbon footprint.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier attended the open house and applauded Brant colony and the net zero initiative.

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“Though it is true that greenhouse gas emissions that agriculture in Alberta produces is only about eight percent of the total that Alberta produces, whatever we can do makes a big difference and the colony here has taken that leap of faith with some grant funding,” said Carlier.

“They’re able to do something that is truly wonderful.”

The barn uses solar panels on its roof capable of producing 25.5 kilowatts of energy and also has thick floors, heavily insulated walls and a heat recovery ventilator.

Kelly Lund, a research engineer with Alberta Agriculture who is heavily involved in the project, said various conversion factors are involved in determining whether net zero is achieved.

Ventilation, dust collection, humidity management and instrumentation are all major project factors.

Griffin said whether or not net zero is achieved, much is being learned in the attempt.

“The egg industry was and is continuing to grow in Alberta with a number of farmers building new farms and looking at sustainable technologies,” she said.

Mendel had a similar outlook.

“There’s always new ideas to explore, and it is truly an adventure being an egg farmer.”

Aspects of net zero barn

  • six-inch concrete floors with in-floor heating in office and manure room
  • eight-inch thick exterior stud walls
  • Styrofoam insulation on exterior and interior of stud walls
  • heat recovery ventilator
  • 16 air inlets, eight per barn
  • heat diffusion through hot water that runs through aluminum system
  • LED lighting
  • 100 solar panels on roof
  • three-section attic with 14 inches of insulation

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Source: Egg Farmers of Alberta