While browsing through the latest industry magazines, the diversity of topics covered in each issue was noticeable—from tips for antibiotic-free production and managing necrotic enteritis to best brooding practices for chicks and poults. While the articles varied significantly, one common thread could be found in each. Litter.
It’s no surprise. Litter serves as the foundation of every poultry operation, and its management can affect bird health and performance from day one. What did the various knowledge leaders have to say about poultry litter management?
- Don’t clean out. Cleaning out litter after each flock is actually one of the worst things you can do for antibiotic-free operations. There is evidence that suggests necrotic enteritis is more of a challenge for birds raised on cleaned out litter. Some think this is because built-up litter has beneficial microbial populations. Through pH manipulation, beneficial bacteria can be maintained while creating an environment that is unconducive to harmful bacterial populations. In addition, new litter is not as absorbent as used litter.
- Keep it dry. Well-managed litter should be dry to help ensure health and welfare, which will aid in raising performance through fewer condemnation and higher carcass yield. Dry litter also contributes to healthy footpads and improved air quality through lower ammonia concentrations. Wet litter serves as a large evaporative cooling pad and can reduce litter temperature by as much as 10ºF.
- Warm things up. Maintaining dry litter at a depth of 6-8 inches works to help protect birds from cold floors, which can keep birds from eating and drinking. Warm floors encourage natural behaviors and reduce stress on the bird.
- Give it time. At least 14 days of downtime was recommended in between flocks to allow microbe levels to decrease and the disease threat to lessen.
While each knowledge leader made different points about litter and its role in production, all agreed that proper litter management is critical to broiler welfare in both conventional and antibiotic-free programs.