Manage Winter Challenges of Protecting Poultry House Litter Quality

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The arrival of winter weather could increase the risk of wet litter in poultry houses, causing health problems for chickens, says Pat Meggs, national sales manager for Cumberland.

He notes that chickens give off the equivalent of 5 to 7 BTUs of heat per pound of bird per hour. They also consume a quart of water per pound of feed eaten, but retain only 20% of the water consumed.

“That makes for a good recipe for potential litter moisture and high ammonia levels in the poultry house,” Meggs says. “In addition, cold weather can cause condensation to form on the bird house ceiling and drip onto the litter. If proper ventilation is not maintained, litter quality can deteriorate to the point of having an adverse effect on the birds.”

Meggs says ammonia can harm the birds’ growth rate and cause blindness, while wet litter can result in poor paw quality and make them more susceptible to disease. “Always follow integrators’ ventilation guidelines to ensure proper inside temperature and recommended air requirements,” he says. “Do not sacrifice bird health and performance by skimping on gas or electric energy costs.”

He also suggests that producers ensure their poultry watering systems are not adding to moisture problems. “That means placing systems low enough for the birds to drink, but not to play with them,” he says. “It’s a fine line, but you don’t want birds pecking at the dispenser, dripping water on the litter and creating moisture problems.”

He offers these additional litter management recommendations:

 

  • Start with good quality litter based on the integrator’s requirements. Be careful to ensure the litter bedding is not wet when brought into the poultry house.

 

  • Check litter regularly for cakes and remove as needed. Follow integrator recommendations regarding the frequency of litter cleanout and replacement.
  • Monitor humidity caused by the different sources of moisture in the poultry house. It is best to keep the humidity between 50% and 60%. Under 50% may indicate over-ventilating if fuel is being used. When humidity exceeds 60%, litter conditions will start to deteriorate.

For additional information, Meggs recommends that producers contact their equipment dealer or seek information from local ag university resources.