Plenty of animal welfare and no emissions

Ulrich Graf is the poultry master with a CO2-neutral fattening shed. A flying visit to a pioneer project in Swiss agriculture in idyllic Uttigen near Thun.

Swiss meat means that we take care of our livestock on our family farms.
Ulrich Graf, poultry producer

A pretty brown farm house in the beautiful Bernese Oberland: green window shutters, flowers, animals in the meadow and a sensational view of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. On Ulrich Graf’s farm in Uttigen the romance of the traditional family farm is still intact – at least for the most part. This picturesque farm is run by an innovative farm with a pioneering character. There is no trace of pitchforks and old tractors. This modern farmer uses the latest equipment and especially his mobile phone. “I have all the data for my farm in this. I can look at it all, study the development and, of course, check the market situation”, grins the 53 year-old.

Micarna – Ulrich Graf, poultry

Perfect care and consistent quality

The farmer had the idea for this project around three years ago. “I wanted to do something with poultry earlier, but did not have the farm space. But when that changed we looked around for new revenue possibilities that are ecologically and economically sustainable and which could integrate well into our existing operation.” Through a colleague he learned about poultry rearing in partnership with Micarna. “Shortly thereafter I came across an advertising which said that Micarna sought Optigal masters.” It was not long before I met with Renato Feyer from Micarna for the first time to talk about our project.” The farmer was especially impressed by the good planning, the close supervision and support during the construction phase as well as while looking after the livestock. “As part of the poultry value creation chain, at Micarna we profit from a high and especially consistent livestock quality, the feed is always good and thanks to the collaboration with Krummen Kerzers, we even get support when it is time to load the animals.”

Micarna – Ulrich Graf, poultry

Perfect care and consistent quality

The farmer had the idea for this project around three years ago. “I wanted to do something with poultry earlier, but did not have the farm space. But when that changed we looked around for new revenue possibilities that are ecologically and economically sustainable and which could integrate well into our existing operation.” Through a colleague he learned about poultry rearing in partnership with Micarna. “Shortly thereafter I came across an advertising which said that Micarna sought Optigal masters.” It was not long before I met with Renato Feyer from Micarna for the first time to talk about our project.” The farmer was especially impressed by the good planning, the close supervision and support during the construction phase as well as while looking after the livestock. “As part of the poultry value creation chain, at Micarna we profit from a high and especially consistent livestock quality, the feed is always good and thanks to the collaboration with Krummen Kerzers, we even get support when it is time to load the animals.”

Micarna – Ulrich Graf, poultry

Good shed quality provides dirt on the roof

The animals also seem to feel comfortable in the shed that spreads out over 600 square metres. They do not notice the nearly 100 solar panels on their roof and enjoy the warm rays of sun in their well-lit conservatory. They have never had to freeze as a result of the pioneer project. “We have never had any problems”, emphasized Ulrich Graf. Only when it comes to the placement of the facility would I do it differently today, but not due to the actual harvesting of energy, but do to the dust. “We have the equipment directly below our ventilation. This means that for everything to function well and to have no problems with moisture in the barn, the animals kick up dust, which goes through the ventilation and lands on the roof and thus on the solar panels.” This coating of dust impacts the measurement figures, as a peek at the data on his mobile phone shows. “It is not really all that bad, but it does mean that we will have to soon clean the panels.” That is a job that Ulrich Graf, as well as some of installation work, intends to take on himself.

Pioneer project as financial gamble

The trained farmer did not come up with the idea of designing his chicken shed to be CO2-neutral on his own. “I assumed that we, as is usual for such barns, would install gas heating. Then a good friend who is specialised in heat pumps came up with the idea to produce the heat needed in the shed ourselves.” The initial idea was followed by detailed calculations and feasibility studies. “The challenge was that there were no comparable projects. Many questioned our plans: it cannot be done, will be much too expensive, is not safe enough. As for me, I was convinced that we could do it. I can stand here proudly today and say: everything fits perfectly; the project was more than well worth it.” Not just from an ecological perspective, but also financially. “Of course, it would have been cheaper to install customary gas heating instead of a heat pump. But for pioneer projects you have to have the courage to spend a bit of money. And today we live significantly more inexpensively with it. I refinanced my facility in less than five years.”

Family support on the farm

Not only does the innovative facility pay out for the family, the raising of chickens is a lucrative supplement income. The demand for Swiss chickens continues to grow and the work it takes to look after them during the fattening period fits perfectly with other work on the farm. That also goes for Ulrich Graf, who in addition to poultry fattening, also raises mother cows and cultivates crops and fruit. The trained farmer farms 13 hectares of land together with his wife and occasional support from his father and predecessor. “I took over the family farm around 25 years ago. My father and my grandfather lived here before me. It is wonderful to be able to continue such a tradition.” Whether one day one of his three children will take over the farm is still written in the stars. The interest in farming is there, but first they should stand on their own two feet and complete their educations. “We will work for ten more years, then we’ll see. But sure, it would be nice if the farm were to be taken over by the next generation and continue running.”

Pioneers will also be needed in the future

And who knows, perhaps the following pioneer generation will manage the next step towards even more sustainable agriculture: the possibility to store the heat generated as energy. “That remains the great challenge of our time. We generate energy today with sustainable raw materials, but how will we manage in the future to store the surplus energy that we produce in sunny weather so that we can use it at night or at a later point in time?” That is the challenge that confronts the entire energy industry. “It simply takes courage to progress and to risk something”, of that the 53 year-old farmer is convinced. Courageous people like Ulrich Graf and his family with the first CO2-neutral chicken shed in Switzerland.