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Underfloor heating from green energy keeps Llyr’s hens happy and laying

A North Wales hill farmer is keeping his 16,000 hens happy and laying thanks to underfloor heating from ‘green’ energy stored in the earth.

Llyr Jones, who farms 1600 acres 1,000 feet up in the hills near Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr, is harnessing the power of the ground to keep his hens warm.

Under half an acre of grass on which Llyr’s sheep now graze at Derwydd Farm, Denbigh-based Hafod Renewables have laid over 2,000 metres of pipe to carry water heated by the soil to warm a giant henhouse to 18C.

Hens perform best when they’re toasty and even when winter temperatures in the hills plunge well below freezing that £55,000 advanced ground source system will power the underfloor heating.

Snow and ice may grip the surface but four feet down the temperature won’t drop below 4C and with the help of a heat exchanger that’s enough to keep the hens at the optimum temperature.

David Jones, Managing Director of Hafod Renewables, said:

“It’s a 60-kilowatt system which would be big enough to heat five homes and renewables make a lot of sense for farmers.

“They have the land for ground-source schemes like this and they have the roof area on their barns and buildings for solar power.

“As the price of electricity goes up it is becoming more and more attractive and economic for them to future-proof their energy needs like this.

“Thanks to the feed-in tariff Llyr will have paid for the ground-source system in seven years which will give him a guaranteed 13 years of free power.”

Llyr said: “I need the hens to be happy and warm at 18C so that they use all their energy to lay larger eggs – if they’re cold then they use that energy to warm themselves up.

“When the hens arrive here they’re 16 weeks old and it’s vital that at that crucial stage they are happy and warm so they can put all their energy into growth and laying bigger, better and more eggs.

“I keep records and they show that hens that are underweight when they arrive put on that weight within a week now – at that stage every gram they put on is vital.

“When the hens are happy they produce more eggs and it makes the bank manager happy, that makes my wife happy and that makes me happy.

Llyr’s hens are free range. Every morning the henhouse doors open and they head off for a day of foraging, returning before night falls to their cosy roosts.

The 39-year-old father of two is now in his second year keeping hens. It cost him £600,000 to set up the business and the 15,000 eggs his hens lay every day are picked up twice a week by Tesco.

Llyr is no stranger to innovation – he produces 6,000 bottles a year of Blodyn Aur cold-pressed rapeseed oil and in 2012 updated the hydro-power scheme his father had installed on the Derwedd stream which gives the farm its name.

The move into egg production has meant an investment of £600,000 at the farm which stands on the Ruthin to Cerrigydrudion road and not all the production goes to Tesco – there is an honesty box system with a dozen eggs at £2.

Hafod Renewables have done plenty of work at farms across North Wales – over 100 of them, mainly dairy producers, have had solar systems installed but this was the first system they have put in for a henhouse.

David Jones set up the business in 2010 and it was this year crowned Wales’s Renewable Heating Installer (RHI) of the Year and is in the top three in the UK.

Hafod Renewables now employs nine staff and with a turnover of over £1.5 million has become a key player in the region in the installation of solar and non-solar systems such as air and ground-source heating and biomass.

Most of their clients have been domestic systems but as well as over 100 farms, they have also installed solar power on the new Holywell ‘super’ school, businesses, including one of Wales’s biggest boatyards, and a rugby club.