Blake Jennings was just a teen when he went the eco-friendly route a decade ago, by installing wind turbines for his family’s hennery in Masstown.
He’s now eyeing solar panels for an even bigger barn.
“Ten years in, the windmills have paid for themselves and we don’t have a power bill for the barns,” said Jennings, the 23-year-old co-owner of Bayview Poultry Farms. “Now, one of the barns needs to be replaced and we’re talking about putting solar on the roof.”
The two barns that house Bayview Poultry Farms’ approximately 14,000 egg-laying chickens – there are another 7,000 younger birds in yet a third barn – are filled with energy-hungry equipment, including conveyor belts to move eggs and feed the chickens. Then there’s the buildings’ ventilation systems, lights and computerized equipment.
In 2007, the Jennings turned to wind power to replace their electrical bill for the hennery, investing $60,000 for three Skystream turbines with a capacity of about 12 kilowatts.
Jennings was then 13 years old. But he got in there, working hard to set up the turbines.
“Every day, I would come home from school – or stay home from school – and pour the concrete and lay and tie the rebar,” he said. “As time went on, another farm down the road wanted to install wind turbines too and I was asked if I wanted to help.”
The 45-ft. tall towers with their sky blue, roughly 10-ft. wide, four-kilowatt turbines are still producing enough energy to run the Bayview Poultry Farms operation today. Their shelf life, though, is coming to an end.
And as one of the barns on the farm is getting old, the Jennings want to replace it with a bigger structure to accommodate the much larger and now legally required, enriched poultry cages. Enriched cages give chickens almost twice as much room to walk around, a nesting area to lay eggs, and places to perch and scratch. With those amenities, the chickens are healthier and, according to farmers, happier.
The Jennings already converted one of their barns to this new system three years ago. It is roughly 70 per cent longer than the old one.
“We switched to the enriched system before it became a requirement because we believe it is the best system for the birds,” said Blake Jennings. “We have a much lower mortality rate and feed consumption. They’re not eating too much or too little.”
For Jennings, a fifth-generation farmer, the future of the Bayview Poultry Farms, which was founded by his great-great-grandfather Stephen Jennings in the 1930s, is clearly tied to the use of green energy.
In the coming years, Blake, who operates the farm with his father, Glen, wants to buy more egg quota, expand his barns with more chickens, and eventually grow the food for his chickens and process it in a feed mill yet to be built.
Their operation sells approximately 14,000 eggs daily through Nutrigroupe's Maritime Pride Eggs business unit in Amherst.
There’s bang for the buck with solar
The replacement of the remaining barn for Bayview Poultry Farms will likely see the Jennings switching over to solar from wind energy. Although he’s happy with the wind turbines, Blake Jennings says they failed to provide as big a return on investment as expected.
Bayview Poultry Farms’ plan to harness the power of the sun comes as Kentville-based Nova Solar Capital gears up to launch a program for big solar-energy systems for Nova Scotia farms.
Amanda Brulé, the marketing director for Nova Solar Capital, said in an interview in mid-March the company was hoping to roll out solar systems capable of producing up to 100 kilowatts.
Wednesday, the company’s president and chief executive officer, Dr. Andrew Bagley, confirmed the company is already in the process of recruiting someone to launch that program of solar systems for commercial users, including farms, before the end of this year.
Even though many people may think Nova Scotia is too far north to get much of a bang for the buck out of solar systems, Bagley said they work great in this province.
“We’re far more south than people believe,” he said. “If you look at Germany, they’re at 54 degrees (latitude) and they produce seven per cent of their electricity by solar power. We’re at 45 degrees. It’s actually a better place to produce solar power … It’s very cost effective.”