Evaluate the Efficiency of Raising Pastured Egg Layers in a Compost Heated Hoophouse Over Winter and Their Influence on Compost Quality

Progress report for FNC22-1325

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $9,716.00
Projected End Date: 01/15/2024
Grant Recipient: Sleepy Bison Acres
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Craig Fischer
Sleepy Bison Acres
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Sleepy Bison Acres is a family owned operation that raises bison, pork, and eggs with a pasture based rotational system. We also grow a small amount of row crops. The pasture system changes depending on the supply and demand of the herds, which usually follows the seasons of the year. Depending on the time of the year, we may utilize strip grazing, high stock density grazing, rotational grazing, or resting pastures completely. The farm began in 2013, and operates primarily on 100 acres.
Before receiving this grant we were MN Water Quality Certified.


Too often chicken houses are too dark, cold, and smelly during the winter season creating conditions that make egg production expensive and less than optimal for the farmer and hens. 

By utilizing a modern hoopbarn to optimize sunlight, protect the flock from extreme cold weather, and utilize waste heat from compost generated from our bison bedding pack, we can evaluate the profitability of a limited energy inputs egg laying flock. Simultaneously, while reducing potential nutrient runoff into the water cycle. CO2 and NH3 levels will be the key air quality gases monitored. Carbonaceous bedding will be routinely added to ensure air quality for the farm workers and hens as well as proper C:N ratio for compost. The compost will be tested before fall season hoop house piling and before spreading on family farm fields in the spring for nutrient quality.

Quality of life for the farmer will improve in part to the limited inputs and reduced time spent to clean dirtied eggs, increase in saleable unfrozen eggs, and quality of life for chicken flock. The hens will be removed from farm fields in the muddy seasons of spring and fall, potentially avoiding soil health damage during dormant seasons. 

Project Objectives:

Evaluate the Efficiency of Raising Pastured Egg Layers in a Compost Heated Hoopbarn Over Winter and Their Influence on Compost Quality through:

  1. Evaluating compost heat as an energy source to maintain a chicken flock profitably through winter.
  2. Evaluating Compost Nutrient Quality before and after hoop house utilization as a salable product for the farm.
  3. Decrease risk of nutrients leaching by stabilizing nutrients through compostable bedding



Materials and methods:

A hoop barn was chosen in order to allow beneficial light for the poultry, while simultaneously collecting and retaining heat from the sun. It is believed the building depreciation will be minimized from livestock since the building materials are not as susceptible to corrosion.

Since the research is yet to be fully conducted, the process will be updated further at a later date.

Research results and discussion:

At this point, research has not been conducted, as we are in the process of weather proofing the building and expanding the flock to meet or exceed target numbers.

Participation Summary
1 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Tours

Participation Summary:

1 Farmers participated
Education/outreach description:

A Sustainable Farming Association tour has been discussed with the MN River Chapter organizer for 2023.

Learning Outcomes

2 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

It is better to build a hoop barn in warmer weather. Ours was finished right before the weather turned cold, so the tarps did not have time to work and settle. After settling into place, we were advised to strap the ratchets tighter when the weather warmed up. Due to the unpredictable weather timing of Minnesota, we endured high winds, snow events, and a 3 day blizzard in a short time period. This increased the snow load on the building, due to the nature of the storms, as well as the fact that the tarps were not retightened with warm weather. This meant there were places for the snow to collect, and add stress to the structure. Until that warm weather comes, we will continue to assist the structure in shedding snow.

Our hoop barn was purchased with a "clear" cover. When free of snow cover, the clear cover lets a noticeable amount of sunlight inside.

If your hoop barn is not sealed tight, it is hard to get or keep the building warm. Concrete floor and concrete sidewalls would help seal the building better, but come with a higher cost.

A taller building gives the advantage of more flexibility in storing necessary equipment, maintenance equipment, or compost buildup.

The disadvantages of our building have thus far focused on weather, primarily susceptibility to wind drafts. These could be fixed by pouring concrete to create the floor and end walls. Concrete requires extra labor and a higher financial investment. A taller building also makes it more difficult to build and maintain heat at ground level.

Another consideration to keeping the building warm is the type of animals that are kept inside and how much heat they generate. Other livestock producers that have kept cattle inside report the cattle generate more heat and keep the building warmer. While our building is not fully sealed up from drafts of wind, which it will be when weather allows, it is our current assumption that more chickens than were originally planned would be needed to keep the building warm, as chickens don't generate a lot of heat. Heat on the inside will also help the building shed snow faster.

The prospect of increased labor efficiency continues to be promising, but will likely be realized fully in the winter of 23-24.

Project Outcomes


Strongly advise farmers have building built, sealed from weather, and filled with desired compost in the fall, after a warm rain, and before weather turns cold.

Having adequate heat generated is not only going to help the birds' egg production totals, but will also help maintain building integrity.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.