chicken litter

Poultry production: Manage chicken litter for profit

Decent bedding material and well managed chicken litter in the broiler house can make a real difference to profit.

Chicken litter consists mainly of bedding material with waste feed, waste water, chicken manure and feathers added.

Water holding capacity is an important quality to look for when choosing bedding for poultry. Managing chicken litter is really about keeping the moisture content between 20% and 30%. More moisture must drain away than is deposited on the litter surface.

For a good moisture standard, squeeze a handful of litter; if it sticks together tightly it’s too wet; if it sticks lightly it’s acceptable; if it won’t stick at all it’s too dry.

‘Well managed litter in the broiler house can make a real difference to profit’

Bed down on quality

First prize when it comes to bedding is pine wood as coarse sawdust, or as shavings. It absorbs moisture fast and releases it quickly.

Processed paper, groundnut shells, chopped wheat- and hay- straw and sunflower seed shells are also used for bedding, especially when quality sawdust is unavailable or unaffordable. These materials compact and cake more easily, and tend to make wet litter management a bigger challenge. When litter cakes it builds up solid masses of material that cannot absorb water. When the moisture content gets too high the poultry farmer may lose production and profit.

Disease control and maintenance

Many factors from feed to management style can lead to a high moisture content in chicken litter.
Litter is an ideal breeding ground for various pathogens (germs) so it’s best to keep strict biosecurity rules in place to stop diseases coming into the chicken house.

Viruses, bacteria and parasites may be responsible for pathological conditions causing a variety of gut diseases and disorders.

The most common pathogen is the protozoa Eimeria which causes coccidiosis, while bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Clostridium perfringens and various Salmonella and Campylobacter species also cause diseases in broilers. The pathogens damage the gut lining and reduce its ability to absorb nutrients. A faster throughput of feed, leads to watery faeces. For good gut health, microflora maintenance is important.

Keep water and ventilation systems in good working order and maintain them. Leaky water lines do not help to keep moisture under control. Where there has been a spill, or a leak, the litter must be removed and replaced with dry bedding.

Stock the broiler house according to the recommended density. High stocking densities mean high levels of litter fouling which increases moisture. When bird populations are too high even small changes in moisture output can cause major wet litter problems.

Keep water and ventilation systems in good working order and maintain them.

Genetic improvements in the past decades have made it possible for birds to increase their food and water intakes, which also means increased outputs of urine and faeces.

High mineral content in the feed, a pH that is too high and too much bacteria in the drinking water will all cause watery faeces.

Diet plays a role in faecal, and therefore, litter moisture. Too much nitrogen in the feed, non-soluble non-starch polysaccharides, oxidised fats, over- or under-heated soya and an increase in dietary cations (sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium) are all potential causes of poor quality litter.

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