Calhoun County poultry farmer Joel Cobb has been counting his energy savings more than his chickens these days.

Cobb was recently awarded a $35,000 federal grant to partially reimburse him for energy efficiency upgrades he’s made in recent months at his poultry farm just outside Anniston. The award was part of $694,000 in federal grants to farmers across the state this year to help them reduce their energy use and costs.

“There’s already been a big difference,” Cobb said of the upgrades. “It was money well spent.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded all the grants through its Rural Energy for America Program. The program, which started in 2008, assists farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses use renewable energy and make energy-efficiency upgrades to their operations.

Cobb, who produces about 900,000 chickens annually, was the only farmer in Calhoun County to receive the grant this year. Farmers and small businesses  in Baldwin, Conecuh, Cullman, Elmore, Escambia and Marshall Counties also received grants.

Some of the upgrades in those counties include buying and installing solar panels and LED lighting.

To get a grant, applicants were required to spend at least 75 percent of the total project cost.

“This program is very successful in helping farmers save money,” said Chris Beaker, Alabama state office director of rural development for the USDA. “Some energy efficiency improvements will reduce the farmer’s power bill by more than 25 percent — renewable energy systems, such as solar panels, have reduced the farmer’s energy costs by more than 50 percent.”

Cobb’s upgrades included installing energy-efficient LED lights and new stir fans.

“Those fans circulate heat back down so that the building still has warmth,” Cobb said.

The USDA estimates Cobb’s upgrades will realize $25,929 per year in savings. The improvements will also save 345,056 kilowatt hours per year, enough electricity to power 29 homes, the USDA estimates.

Cobb said he’s had the upgrades since February.

“I was saving $800 every two weeks on propane during the winter,” Cobb said. “Then on power I’m roughly 70 percent of what my normal power bill used to be.”

Cobb said he plans to use his savings to further upgrade his poultry operation.

“I hope in the near future to upgrade more of the farm and do more energy efficiency upgrades,” he said.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.