Chickens won’t cluck at this: Aside from making life more comfortable for the hens, Agrotop’s henhouse incorporates wind and solar power, recycles wastewater, and even processes chicken waste into biofuel.
Chicken is a consumer favorite all over the world, but many people aren’t happy with the way chicken arrives at their table – both from a humanitarian and an environmental point of view. Most of the poultry you buy in the market is raised in factory farms, where the birds contend with overcrowding, disease and worse.
To correct this foul situation, beginning in 2012 the European Union (EU) will require farms to provide more space and more fresh air – and even a mattress or a pillow – for each bird. To comply with these regulations, farmers in the EU and in countries like Israel that sell poultry products in Europe are going to have to upgrade their henhouses. Israel’s Agrotop is poised to help, with its award-winning “henhouse of the future.”
For Agrotop, “award-winning” isn’t just corporate marketing fluff. The company really did win an award from the Ministry of Agriculture this year for its new industrial chicken coop design, which not only meets the new EU standards, but is also completely “green,” says Gaby Pelleg, one of Agrotop’s partners and directors.
A clean, green, aesthetic, humane coop
“We designed the coop to physically match its surroundings, so that the natural beauty of the area where it is built will not be compromised. Plus, we use wind and solar power to generate electricity, recycle the wastewater for use in the coop, and in addition we process the chicken waste to manufacture biofuels. Farmers can sell the power to the electric company, and thereby enjoy an additional stream of income,” Pelleg tells ISRAEL21c.
Chickens had it rough before, but the new EU regulations, which cover all fowl that are raised for food – and which Israel is planning to adopt as well – will make life much more pleasant for them.
Henhouse cages must provide at least 116.25 square inches of space per bird (nearly double the current standard) and provide enough space for birds to move around in freely, with access to fresh air and natural light, enabling them to flap their wings, etc. Cages will be equipped with natural or artificial grass or sand, imitating the birds’ natural environment, and each cage will even be equipped with soft material – a sort of ‘mattress’ or ‘pillow’ – for the birds to rest on.
The regulations were developed in part because of the impact of the animal rights movement, but polls show that most consumers, including those who don’t consider themselves animal rights activists, prefer to see animals well treated.
How green is your coop?
The Agrotop coop complies with the new EU rules and does them one better – by turning the coop into a model of green technology and environmental responsibility.
Industrial chicken production has also been the bane of environmentalists for years. For example, chicken manure has high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, which when discharged into the water “steal” oxygen from fish. Many areas with large poultry production facilities report occasional “fish kills,” where large numbers of fish die off, with scientists connecting their deaths directly to manure levels in the water, and environmental activists demanding that henhouses be closed down.
So in addition to being a boon for animal welfare, Agrotop’s henhouses are good for the environment, too, “The coops are built of recycled material wherever possible,” says Pelleg. “In Israel, most of the coops are in the Galilee, so we designed a low-slung building for Israeli farmers to fit in with the natural topography. The coop is raised off the ground, built on piles, ensuring that it remains a closed system that does not affect the surrounding environment – not even the grass or topsoil on which it stands.
“The roof of the building has wind turbines and photovoltaic cells, for the production of [solar] electricity. And we recycle the birds’ manure, turning it into a methane-based gas,” Pelleg continues.
While the energy produced by the coop could be used to power the building and its equipment, Pelleg says he recommends to farmers that they sell the energy back to the electric company, because they can make more money that way. “So besides lessening the birds’ impact on the environment, our coops provide farmers with an additional income stream,” he contends.
Long-lasting henhouses ready soon
It was these green innovations that pushed Agrotop’s design to the top of the Agriculture Ministry list, says Pelleg, enabling the company to beat out four other competitors for the crown. Although there was no cash awarded for the prize – just recognition – Pelleg believes that the honor will help the company to sell more henhouses, both in Israel and Europe.
Agrotop, which has been in existence for decades, is Israel’s largest manufacturer and builder of turnkey poultry production systems, and has clients in 35 countries. In Europe, Agrotop’s chief partner is Germany’s Big Dutchman, one of the world’s biggest animal husbandry companies. According to Pelleg, European customers of Big Dutchman are itching to get their hands on Agrotop’s coops. Production has just begun, and the first coops will be ready to ship at the beginning of next year.
Changing their entire production system to comply with new government regulations is expensive, and both Israel and the EU countries will be subsidizing the cost of the new henhouses.
“Our design is engineered to last a long time, because we know that even with the subsidy, most small farmers are going to have a hard time finding the funds to buy a new coop. On average, farmers buy a new coop maybe once every 20 years, and we want to ensure that the coop they buy from us lasts at least that long,” Pelleg says.
(This story was written by David Shamah and first published on ISRAEL21c – www.israel21c.org)