For two experts, the tens of thousands of gallons of water that wash off poultry house roofs each year are more than just a casual manifestation of nature. They represent an enormous squandering of cost savings for poultry growers, not to mention, of water stewardship.

How enormous? A four-house poultry operation typically uses 1 ¾ to 2 million gallons of treated water each year, leading to annual operating costs of between $4,000 and $10,000, depending on prevailing water rates. In fact, water, along with electricity and propane, are the primary factors rapidly eating away at poultry growers' profitability and, ultimately, their prospects of staying in business.

Containing water costs has been a major preoccupation for Gene Simpson and Jim Donald, the two Alabama Cooperative Extension System educators and Auburn University faculty members who head the Auburn-based National Poultry Technology Center (NPTC). They knew there had to be some cost-effective way to capture rainwater and put it to work on behalf of poultry growers. Time and again, they came up empty-handed in their search for an effective system. "We had looked out all over the Internet and through our academic journals and could find all kinds of instances of people catching rainwater but never on a commercial chicken farm," Simpson recalls. 

Then two years ago while attending the International Poultry Show in Atlanta, they happened on the information booth of Blue Ridge Atlantic Enterprise (BRAE), a North Carolina-based company specializing in rainwater collection systems.

That chance encounter changed everything. BRAE immediately set out helping the two develop a rainwater collection prototype for commercial broiler growers — one that has the potential of changing the face of poultry production in the Southeast.

Under the BRAE-designed system, rainwater from collection tanks located directly beneath poultry house gutter spouts is channeled through a pumping system that filters and treats the water before sending it to poultry houses, where is used as drinking water for the birds and to operate the evaporative cooling systems. The storage tanks can hold as much as 60,000 gallons of water.