By Lilian Schaer for Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

An innovative minimum ventilation system for poultry barns is improving bird health and reducing energy costs for farmers in the process. And it comes with some environmental benefits too – lower ammonia levels and better dust control.

In 2013, Jack Van Ham and his son Jerry were able to secure cost-share funding from the Implementation Funding Assistance Program under Growing Forward 2 (GF2) to become the first poultry farmers in Ontario to install an air-air heat exchanger developed in the Netherlands specifically for the poultry industry.

The Van Hams farm in Oxford County where they have two farms with identical broiler barns built between 1999 and 2003, and grow 2.3 kg birds in an eight week cycle.

“We knew this technology was available in the Netherlands, where farmers can recoup heat from dry manure in layer barns, and they are seeing overall savings of about 50 per cent in energy costs,” says Jack Van Ham.

The system evolved out of a European Union regulation that restricted ammonia output from poultry barns.

It uses the energy of the warm air from the barn to heat the cold, fresh air coming in from the outside, replacing the propane or natural gas farmers traditionally use to heat poultry barns, and reducing on-farm energy costs.

Warm air from the barn enters the heat exchanger, passing through tubes where the cold outside air absorbs the heat before being circulated into the barn. A computerized control system manages air flow and fan speeds, adjusting for fluctuating outside temperatures according to the season.

The bigger the differential between inside and outside temperature, the more heat the system will recoup, says Jack.

The minimum ventilation system improves the air circulation to rid barns of humidity, allowing manure to dry more quickly. This minimizes ammonia production and reduces its output into the environment from the barn by fans.

The drier inside air also means a better environment for both barn workers and the birds, with the Van Hams, for example, noticing fewer foot lesions due to better quality litter and improved overall bird health. This has meant a reduction in healthrelated expenses on the farm.

The Van Hams made some changes to their systems to adapt them to the Canadian environment, such as switching the electrical work to Canadian standards, and adjusting the computer software to account for Canada’s winter temperatures, which are much colder than they are in the Netherlands.

Due to its unique status of being the first of its kind in Ontario, the project qualified for additional funding under GF2’s innovation designation.

“We might not have done this project without the grant as it’s a big investment,” admits Jerry Van Ham, but adds that it has yielded a lot of environmental benefit, as well as decreasing their natural gas costs.

“The air quality is tremendous. We saved a lot on energy last winter, but the air quality for the chickens has really improved,” adds Jack, explaining that although the system has raised their hydro costs somewhat, the natural gas savings more than make up for that increase.

Industry interest in the system has been high, and the Van Hams are no longer the only farmers in Ontario using the technology.

They’ve shared their learnings with poultry specialists from the University of Guelph and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), as well as with fellow producers.

“This system would be especially ideal for barns with birds in them all year long, like broiler breeders, as it can be hard to get the dampness out,” says Jack.

GF2 is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative aimed at encouraging innovation, competitiveness, market development, adaptability, and industry capacity in Canada’s agri-food and agri-products sector.

The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) delivers educational workshops and funding assistance supported by GF2 to farmers.

More information about GF2 funding opportunities for farmers is available at or by contacting the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association’s Regional Program Leads at

For more information, please contact:

John Laidlaw, Program Manager


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