Smart Steps to Decaking Litter for a Healthier Environment
De-caking poultry litter between flocks is the most accepted, practiced and simplest litter handling technique. However, if done incorrectly, it also has the propensity to create serious effects in your poultry houses.
The key to proper poultry bedding de-caking is to only remove the layer of cake in each house while conserving the litter base below. This will release the moisture and ammonia that has been sealed in the bedding below while minimizing surface area. And since surface area is the only driver of ammonia release you can affect without inhibiting bird performance (floor temperature being the other), optimizing this process becomes even more vital.
Steps to Proper Poultry Bedding De-Caking
- Close houses tightly immediately after the birds have been caught. Shut end doors, curtains, and inlets. Only run enough fan time to prevent condensation. Usually running one fan for 5 minutes each hour is sufficient. Once the house quits sweating (24-48 hours post movement) shut fans off completely.
- Walk each house to evaluate the depth and location of cake. Adjust your de-caker blade based on this depth (usually 2”-5”). Remember, only remove the cake—don’t disturb the good litter underneath. This should be done within the first 24 hours after birds have been caught to maintain core floor temperature and maximize ammonia release form the litter.
- Only drive the cruster where cake is present, not the entire house. For corners and sidewalls that equipment can’t reach, use a pitchfork.
- Level litter where you removed cake to allow for a uniform height adjustment of water lines and feeders. The best tool to level litter and minimize litter disturbance is to use a piece of chain link fence with the weight of a log or blocks attached to the upper side. Drag lightly.
- If your have concrete footers or inadequate insulation due to darkling beetles, add an extra inch of litter along sidewalls to prevent future caking.
- Immediately close the house back up until further work is needed and restore minimum ventilation. This maintains floor temperature for the next flock while the excess moisture and ammonia is purged from the poultry bedding.
Why You Shouldn’t Till Poultry Litter
Tilling poultry bedding creates a large amount of surface area, which causes an explosive release of ammonia that cannot be controlled once birds are placed in the house. It is not unusual for ammonia levels to be well over 600 PPM in houses that have been tilled. The fine, overly dry litter created through tilling prevents moisture from wicking off of the litter surface increasing cake formation.
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