Poultry CRC project being conducted at the University of New England (UNE) aims to make it easier for Australian poultry producers to reuse litter. The potential benefits include lower costs of production and a smaller ecological footprint for the industry.

According to the Project Leader, UNE’s Steve Walkden-Brown, some producers don’t reuse litter in Australia is because they’re concerned about potential animal health consequences, namely, disease transmission and issues with ammonia levels.

“There’s big pressure on the supply and availability of litter materials,” explained Steve, “and there’s also pressure at the other end of the production process with litter disposal due to potential pathogen risks for human health.”

With the supply and disposal of poultry litter becoming an issue in Australia, CRC researchers were asked to evaluate the consequences of litter reuse. Steve’s team is looking at ways of reusing litter and managing the litter between batches to reduce the carryover of pathogens (specifically, organisms that cause disease in chickens).

“Our focus is currently on viral pathogens, which are difficult to measure in litter, because unlike bacteria, you can’t grow them in the lab directly from litter samples,” Steve explained.

“We’ve developed a tool to measure the efficacy of litter treatments – and how effective treatments are at reducing the pathogen load (or infectivity) of the litter being reused.”

“The rest of the project will explore the potential for using this tool to evaluate various litter treatment methods between batches.”

An estimated 81% of Australian broilers are reared on fresh litter materials following complete shed cleanout between batches. Some countries, including the USA, make more extensive use of multiple batch litter and employ a wider range of treatments of litter between batches (including antimicrobials, acidifiers and drying agents). The team at UNE are investigating treatments while taking into account the geographical, breed, nutrition and litter type variation that exists within the Australian meat chicken industry.

The CRC has also investigated the implications of litter reuse for food safety (focussing on bacteria) in another project being conducted at QDPI&F (Re-use of chicken litter across broiler cycles – managing the food-borne pathogen risk), with the Final Report available soon.