From the rapid rise of antibiotic-free production to the development of innovative technology, change has become the norm in the poultry industry. Despite the adoption of new ideas, production models and tools, many still push back against the idea that ammonia challenges persist in summer months and that birds’ biological ability to produce ammonia is the same year round.
In hot weather, litter still has to cure, releasing excess ammonia. Even in the thick of summer, chicks are not in full ventilation 24/7, which is why data collected over decades has proven ventilation during brooding is insufficient for the elimination of ammonia.
In a five-state survey of 240 commercial broiler houses (mostly on used litter), ammonia readings were taken when the average temperature was 89F. The highest ammonia levels recorded were observed within 48 hours of chick placement and were due to a lack of pre-heating, causing litter to cure with chicks in the house.
In houses running intermittent fan time, 73% of the houses had ammonia levels above 25 PPM: levels high enough to cause decreased weights, increased feed conversions, and respiratory damage.
Even with continuous fan time, 37% of houses recorded ammonia levels above 25 PPM.
In 2009, when the industry had shifted to growing bigger birds on older litter, a similar study of 251 houses was conducted. A significant number of producers had come to realize that production changes demanded more frequent use of litter amendments. As such, PLT® was used in 42% of the 251 houses tested and ninety-eight percent (98%) of those treated houses had ammonia levels below 25 PPM. In the untreated houses, only 32% of house had ammonia levels below 25 PPM with 27% at more than 50 PPM!
Data collected during 2017 told much the same story. Summer air quality surveys were conducted at more than 300 houses and only 37% of those tested had ammonia levels 25 PPM or less. Furthermore, 53% of houses were above 50 PPM. None had been treated with a litter amendment.
Addressing the Continued Ammonia Challenge
Data collected over decades clearly shows that ammonia in summer months is a reality. One that costs producers untold amounts in lost performance and detrimental impacts to health. Stopping ammonia-caused losses can be as simple as 1-2-3.
Manage litter during downtime
Pre-heat and properly cure litter
Make the most of downtime.
During downtime, close houses tightly as soon as birds leave the house. Ventilate during the days when air mass is at its driest (not at night) only if houses begin to sweat. Remove cake without disturbing any more of the litter than necessary. Then, close houses to retain core litter temperature. Forty-eight hours prior to placement, start pre-heating to purge ammonia.
Pre-heat, pre-heat, pre-heat.
A minimum 48-hour pre-heat to 90 degrees is vital to cure litter evenly and deeply into the litter pack. Without curing, ammonia will still be purging at chick placement and continue for several days. Fortunately, pre-heating in summer is easier than during cold months since brooders will barely cycle to achieve and maintain air temperature. Remember to only ventilate enough to prevent the house from sweating (about 5 minutes run time every hour).
Apply a proper rate of PLT®.
Two to 24 hours prior to bird placement, apply PLT® evenly on top of the litter. DO NOT TILL. Recommended rates are based on typical broiler litter. Therefore, rates may vary based on house conditions, litter quality, and ammonia and moisture content in the house. Extreme conditions such as windrowing, tilling or special circumstances will require higher application rates.
Application rate guidelines:
- Broiler litter 1 year old or less: 100-125 lbs./1,000 sq. ft. (37-49 kg/100 m2) of floor space
- Broiler litter older than 1 year: 125-175 lbs./1,000 sq. ft. (49-73 kg/100 m2) of floor space