Our 1,600-acre family farm near the village of Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr in Corwen, North Wales is a busy, progressive, and eco-friendly farm. Originally a traditional sheep and beef hill farm, it has grown and diversified over the years. We run a flock of more than 1,200 sheep, around 250 dairy heifers and a 32,000-hen free-range egg unit. We also opened a wild camping site in 2021.
The whole site is powered through renewable energy. A hydroelectric plant uses water from our stream to produce enough energy to run 30 homes for a year, a ground source heat pump heats our egg unit, air source pumps heat the farmhouse and holiday cottage, and solar panels also produce electricity exported to the Grid.
We operate a rotational grazing system for the cattle, meaning increased carbon storage, improved soil health and decreased worm burden for the stock – and anything that’s better for the cows is better for my business.
In addition, the business doesn’t use mains water – it’s all harvested from a borehole. I installed a 30KW hydro-electric system, with 24KW photovoltaic panels providing a back-up source of renewable energy when warm weather reduces the flow of water to the hydro system.
An 80KW ground and air source heat pump pumps warm air into the poultry units. Usually, hens would use energy from the feed to produce eggs and keep warm. But my hens don’t need to use feed to keep warm, so it saves 3g of feed per day – and 3g a day for 32,000 birds is equivalent to £20,000 worth of feed saved. My electricity bill for that would be around £2,500 a month, but we no longer have to pay that, so it makes our business far more profitable and sustainable. If you can produce your own energy, it’s a no-brainer.
We have an electric buggy for the farm, which doesn’t cost us anything to run because of the hydropower. When the weather is overcast and the solar panels aren’t working at full capacity, our car will put electricity back into our power supply. If we’re using more than we’re producing, it’ll top it up – it’s a win/win.
My advice to others would be to look at every possible option. Ahead of starting the work, I made research visits to sites across Europe to learn how to improve the productivity of the poultry side of the business and limit its environmental impact. I’ve invested hundreds of thousands of pounds in renewable energy, but I wasn’t worried because I knew the money we’d make would pay it back, so it’s self-funding – we just used the farm as security with the bank. If you’re investing, don’t look at it like how much it’s going to cost, look at how much the repayment is. If the project will pay that back in six years, do it!
There haven’t been any major challenges, but I am frustrated by the fact that I could easily produce at least four times more electricity than I do if we had the infrastructure. We’d happily invest that money, but power lines are so full that if I currently produced more, the Grid couldn’t take it – there are so many farmers around here producing wind, hydro and solar, the power lines are full.
We’re also saving thousands of pounds a year on electricity, which benefits 30 local homes.