Litter quality

Broilers do not perform to their genetic potential in a poor environment. The quality of the in-house environment is highly dependent upon litter quality. The litter environment is ideal for bacterial proliferation, ammonia and odour production. The two factors that influence litter conditions most are manure and moisture. The manure portion is largely out of a grower’s control; however, growers can and must control litter moisture.

Excess moisture in the litter increases the incidence of breast blisters, skin bums, scabby areas, bruising, condemnations and downgrades. The wetter the litter, the more likely it will promote the proliferation of pathogenic bacteria and molds. Wet litter is also the primary cause of ammonia emissions, one of the most serious performance and environmental factors affecting broiler production today. Controlling litter moisture is the most important step in avoiding ammonia problems.

Litter that is too dry and dusty can also lead to problems such as dehydration of new chicks, respiratory disease and increased condemnations. Ideally, litter moisture should be maintained between 20 to 25 percent. A good rule of thumb in estimating litter moisture content is to squeeze a handful of litter. If it adheres tightly and remains in a ball, it is too wet. If it adheres slightly, it has the proper moisture content. If it will not adhere at all, it may be too dry.

Many factors affect litter moisture. For instance, if new litter is not stored properly and becomes damp before it is spread in the broiler house, wet litter problems would likely be unavoidable. Nutrition also influences litter quality. Certain dietary ingredients (especially salt), when fed in excess, cause broilers to consume and excrete large amounts of water and result in wet litter conditions. Some drugs also stimulate excess water consumption and excretion.

Environmental conditions such as wet and humid weather, condensation or very cold temperatures can cause wet litter if the broiler house ventilation system is not able to eliminate moisture effectively. Drinker lines, foggers and evaporative cooling pads, if not managed and maintained carefully, can contribute greatly to wet litter problems.