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Poultry Farmers: Watch Out for These 6 Warning Signs to Reduce Large Losses

1. Charring Around Heaters 2. Signs of Pests 3. Damaged or Rotting Trusses or Purlins 4. The Generator Fails to Turn on When Tested 5. Overheating / Continuously Tripping Breakers

6. Your Insurance Hasn't Changed in Years

Accidents are inevitable, but the frequency and size of losses can be managed proactively with regular maintenance and vigilant inspections. For poultry farmers, neglecting warning signs of damage can lead to substantial financial setbacks. In this article, we'll highlight six critical indicators of a large loss headed your way if not promptly remedied.

1. Charring / Soot Around Heaters

Before and after example. The before shows a poultry house with soot and charring around the heaters and the after shows a poultry house that has burnt down.
If a poultry house heater is staining adjacent surfaces with black soot, this is a sign the heater is no longer safe to operate. In the case above, the likely problem is a rupture in the fresh air intake hose, allowing dusty and corrosive air from inside of the livestock confinement space to be pulled into the tube heater’s firebox, resulting in dirty combustion.

As part of our collaborative loss control process, our inspectors flag heaters that show charring or soot around them on ceilings or walls. If you see charring or soot, it means the heater is overworked and is not regulating its temperature properly. The heat produced by the heater is already damaging the structure, and if left unattended, it is only a matter of time before it ignites into something more ferocious. 

Poultry confinement buildings are filled with highly flammable materials such as dust and bedding that make it difficult to contain fires once they start. Act promptly when you notice charring or soot to save your structure.

2. Signs of Pests

Rodent droppings on the floor of a poultry confinement control room.

Damage due to rodents and pests is often excluded in a standard insurance policy, placing the responsibility squarely on farm owners. In the winter, pests intensify their efforts to get inside to avoid the cold. If left unchecked, they can chew through walls and electrical wiring. Farmers must be vigilant in checking for signs of pests such as droppings, gnawed or damaged items, unusual odors, etc. 

If you see signs of pests, deter them immediately by setting traps, sealing entry points, and calling a professional to rid you of the problem. 

3. Your Trusses or Purlins are Damaged or Rotting

Examples of damage in poultry confinement attic including: water intrusion damage on a truss, a broken king post, and two rotted purlins.

Trusses serve as the backbone of any poultry house, supporting the weight of the roof and ensuring the integrity of the entire building. Poultry farmers should be diligent when repairing any issues that compromise structural stability. Have a professional come out and inspect your buildings, paying specific attention to the attic. Look for signs of wear, stress, or damage such as rotted purlins, separated or broken trusses, and other signs of damage. 

When you see issues in the attic, call a professional to remedy them immediately to prevent the collapse of the building. Reinforce weak areas and address concerns promptly to ensure your structures can handle the added weight of ice, sleet, and snow in the winter. 

4. The Generator Fails to Turn on When Tested

Poultry confinement generator

Poultry confinement buildings rely on continuous power for ventilation, cooling and heating systems, lighting, feed and water systems, environmental controls, alarms, and much more. 

Generators are essential to protect farmers and ensure uninterrupted operations when power outages occur. Backup generators should be run under a full and continuous load for several hours each time birds are not present, and a licensed professional should fully service the generator at least once every year. 

With so much riding on power supply, farmers whose generators are not functioning properly can expect a large loss to occur if they do not remedy it quickly. Winter months only exacerbate the likelihood of power outages, so act today.

Alex Shaw, General Manager of Agribusiness Risk Services (ARS) says, “Beyond annual servicing and routine maintenance, we recommend poultry farmers maintain a stock of backup supplies. Keeping parts like oil filters, air filters, fuel filters, belts, gaskets, spark plugs, etc. readily available will help minimize operational disruptions caused by power outages.”

Shaw adds, “Farmers should also be mindful that proper storage for these parts will increase their effectiveness and longevity. In a recent claim handled by ARS, a generator failed due to a broken belt. When the farmer tried to replace it with a spare on the property, the backup broke as well. It is believed that the second belt broke due to either the length of time in storage and/or because it was stored improperly in an unconditioned space, causing a claim that the farmer was on the brink of avoiding.”

5. Overheating/Continuously Tripping Breakers 

Poultry confinement control room where a fan is pointed at breaker panels that have consistently been overheating

If your breakers are overheating to the point that they need a fan, or if they trip regularly without provocation, you likely have a significant electrical issue. These symptoms may indicate overloaded circuits, faulty wiring, or other electrical malfunctions. 

ARU's Loss Control Manager, Ryan Lay comments, “From a fire protection standpoint, poultry farm operations have a very unique risk profile. With the lack of unified fire safety standards surrounding poultry houses and poultry house construction, we continue to see extensive electrical deficiencies in these types of operations. From improper electrical distribution system insulation to overloaded breaker panels, electrical-related fires continue to be one of the leading causes of losses in poultry farms.”

Fire losses are rarely inexpensive so don’t ignore the warning signs. If you suspect your breakers are malfunctioning, call an electrician to evaluate your situation. 

6. Your Insurance Hasn’t Changed in Years

Let’s face it - we can’t control everything that happens and accidents can and WILL occur. The best defense to protect your operations when issues arise is adequate insurance coverage. 

If your poultry insurance has not changed in years, you are likely underinsured due to inflation. Being underinsured can lead to coinsurance penalties and reduced claim payouts that leave farmers without the funds to rebuild if disaster strikes. 

Brokers and insureds must work together to ensure that policies reflect the true replacement cost, thereby mitigating the risks associated with underinsurance. To safeguard your financial well-being, educate yourself and seek expert advice when navigating the complex world of insurance. 

Remember: the least expensive loss is one that was avoided. Poultry confinement farmers must be proactive in their strategies to mitigate risk to protect their livelihoods.

For more poultry confinement updates and loss control recommendations, follow ARU on LinkedIn or visit our blog.

Click here to learn more about ARU and the poultry insurance coverages we offer.

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Please note that ARU only works with licensed insurance brokers. Please reach out to your broker if you would like to obtain a quote from ARU. If you are a licensed insurance agent and would like to learn more about our poultry insurance products and appointment process, please schedule a call with us.


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