Wet Litter in Broiler Houses: Causes and Control

Broilers were selected to grow fast. Before you can tap into their full potential, it is very important that you keep their environment clean. One major way to achieve this is by keeping the litter in good condition.

Litter consists of droppings and bedding materials. You should ensure that the litter is always in a dry and loose form (25-35% moisture content). Wet litter occurs when the moisture content in the litter is high. This can cause the litter to cake up and trap water in it. Wet litter is common around drinkers and under leaky roofs. Below are few consequences of wet litter.

To assess the moisture level in the litter, squeeze a handful. If it forms a cake, the moisture level is too high. If it crumbles into fine dust, the moisture level is too low and the litter will be dusty. When the moisture level is optimum, it remains as a loose mass.

Effects of Wet Litter in Broiler Houses

i. Harmful bacteria thrive in wet litter, so the birds will be exposed to them and may become infected.

ii. Wet litters emit ammonia gas which is dangerous to birds. If its level in the air exceeds 25 ppm, the birds will be subjected to various stresses like irritation of the eyes and nasal membranes, poor feed intake and growth rate. The birds will also be predisposed to coccidiosis and respiratory diseases like coryza, bronchitis etc. Even levels well below 15 ppm still have bad effect on birds.

iii. Insects such as flies will become a problem.

iv. Wet litter result in dirty feathers, foot pad lesions and breast bruises/blisters. Affected parts of the birds will be rejected during processing.

Causes and Control of Wet Litter

1. Drinker Design and Adjustment

Ensure that drinkers are not faulty and that they’re properly adjusted to prevent leakage. You’ll find out that litters around drinkers usually get wet and caked. Replace them often with fresh bedding.

2. High Humidity:

When humidity is high, most of the water in the litter will not evaporate and so the litter will be wet. This is common in cold seasons and in humid areas. If high humidity is accompanied by high temperature, the litter condition becomes worst and the birds will be very uncomfortable because they cannot lose enough heat.

Prevention & Control: Ventilation helps to lower humidity. Install fans in the broiler house if humidity and/or temperature are high.

3. High Stocking Density

Stocking density is the amount of floor space required per bird. If there are too many birds per square meter (overcrowding), the litter will be overloaded with water and it may become wet. To prevent this, use recommended stocking density which will depend on:

i. target live weight and/or age at slaughter

ii. climate and season

iii. type and/or system of housing and equipment, particularly ventilation

You can find the recommended stocking density for both cold and hot climate at FarmersJoint.com.

4. Watery Droppings (diarrhea):

Watery droppings will overload the litter with water. It can be caused by temperature, nutrition and/or diseases.

a. Temperature

Increase in temperature is accompanied by increased water intake and this can lead to wet droppings.

Prevention & Control: Keep the temperature in the broiler house low. Optimum temperature for broilers is about 18-25oC. Temperature can be reduced by lowering the stocking density, using fans, using stone-coated roof, placing plants such as palm fronds or straw on the roof, constructing the roof in such a way that sun does not enter the house, putting ice in drinking water etc. A more detailed article on how to keep the birds cool in high temperature can be found here and here.

b. Nutritional Causes

i. High intake of minerals like potassium, phosphorus, sodium, magnesium, sulfate or chloride can lead to excessive water consumption and wet droppings. Soybeans and molasses are high in potassium.

ii. When protein is too high in feed, there will be increased production of uric acid which can lead to wet droppings and high level of ammonia in the air.

iii. Water source that is high in sulfate and magnesium can also lead to watery droppings.

iv. Rancid fat or poor quality dietary fat can lead to wet droppings.

v. Using feed ingredients such as wheat, barley, rye or cassava (tapioca or yucca) without enzymes will often result in excessively wet droppings.

vi. Moldy Feed: Moldy feed contains mycotoxins which can damage the digestive tract and affect the kidney and this can cause wet droppings. Feed can become contaminated through ingredients, feed handling equipment (grinder, mixer, pelletizer) etc.

vii. High Fiber in Feed: When the fiber content in the feed is greater than 7% without enzymes, watery droppings will occur.

viii. Broiler breeders are usually place on restricted feeding program to prevent excessive weight gain. This will make them to consume much more water than usual to feel full and the end result is watery droppings. Prevent this by limiting the time water is available to them.

ix. Some organo-arsenical growth promoters like 3-nitro-4-hydroxy-phenylarsonic acid and 4-nitrophenylarsenic acid may cause toxicoses with nervous symptoms and diarrhea.

x. Feeding crumbled feed can increase wet droppings.

Prevention & Control: Make sure that salt is not in excess in feed. Prevent mold contamination of feed by using only high quality feed ingredient and periodically washing and disinfecting feed processing equipment (if you make your own feed). When using feed ingredients like wheat, barley, rye or cassava to formulate your feed, add enzymes like xylanases, phytases and βglucanases that will help prevent these ingredients from causing wet droppings.

Check water quality in a laboratory to ascertain the level of minerals in it, especially sulfate and magnesium.

Acidifying the birds’ gut using apple cider vinegar and other organic acids will help prevent watery droppings by making the gut unconducive for pathogens.

Using antibiotics in feed or water at sub therapeutic doses (i.e. small doses) will also help.

c. Disease Causes

A lot of diseases can also cause wet droppings. Few examples include necrotic enteritis Escherichia coli, Camphylobacter jejuni, spirochaetes etc. Worms can also result in wet droppings.

Control: Practice strict biosecurity and carry out proper vaccination (consult a vet) to prevent diseases from occurring. Regularly deworm your birds.

d. Bedding Type

A good bedding material is not toxic even when consumed by the birds. It must be cheap, available in sufficient quantity, able to absorb water and subsequently release the water to the atmosphere. Quality soft wood shavings like pine shavings are good quality bedding. Straw, rice hulls, groundnut hulls, shredded corn cob can all be use but they are not as good as soft wood shavings.

Control: Use built-up litter. With this, you start with a layer of fresh litter. When that becomes soiled by droppings, add another layer of fresh litter on top. Continue it this way until you reach a height when your head will want to touch the ceiling. At that point you’ll remove a layer of old litter and replace with fresh one.

Maintain the litter in a dry and friable condition by raking it when necessary. Replace any caked litter with fresh bedding.

If after raking the litter remains wet, add more fresh bedding. Ammonia level can be reduced by adding super phosphate at 2 kg per 10 m2 area.

5. Some ionophorous anticoccidial drugs like Lasalocid and Maduramicin can also cause wet droppings.

CONCLUSION

To prevent wet litter, the farmer should ensure that quality feed and water, adequate ventilation and optimum temperature are provided. Leakage of water from drinkers or roof should be avoided. Also, good bedding material like soft woods should be used if they’re cheap and readily available.

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