COLUMBIA (AP) - A central Missouri turkey farm is being used to test a heating system that uses warmth in the soil to keep the birds warm and could help trim farmers' utility bills.
Geothermal heating uses the soil to control the temperature of water flowing through buried pipes.
The water then transfers the ground's heat into the building.
Yun-shen Xu, an engineering professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, thinks this is the first application of a geothermal energy system at a commercial livestock farm.
Xu developed a design that buried pipes horizontally instead of vertically as in a traditional geothermal unit. That made it cheaper because it required digging shallower holes.
The heating system is being tested at Chris Holliday's farm in Cooper County, west of Columbia.
Holliday said heating is an important element in raising turkeys - hatchlings require temperatures around 90 degrees while adult birds need it to be about 70 degrees.
Holliday is using a combination of propane heating and the geothermal system for his brooding houses during the testing phase.
He estimated that heating can cost $70,000 when propane exceeds $2 per gallon. He said that if the fuel costs were to climb to $3 a gallon, he could not turn a profit.
So far, Holliday said the experimental heating system seems to be working and that he thinks it could help him save money.
"It's a more stable energy cost," he said. "Propane bounces around from $1 to $2 to who knows how high it could go. For me, it means the difference of whether I can afford to raise them or not."
The first test of the heating system has focused on turkeys, but Xu said it could be used more broadly in animal husbandry.
"It may work even better in a chicken coop since they use solid walls as opposed to the curtains used to enclose turkey barns," he said. "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."