Litter Management: How often it must be changed

When you hear questions like how long can I leave the litter on the poultry floor before changing them? Well this depends on how careful you are in handling feeds and water in the housing so that they don’t spill and make the litters wet. The type of feeders and drinkers being used can also determine this.

Chickens which are kept on floor systems are in permanent contact with the litter they live on. To a large extent this can have an impact on their performance. Quality control and management will help keeping it in good condition.

However, once in two months is not bad and aside from that always change the litter whenever it gets wet or dusty even if it happens the next day after changing it the previous day, you must change them because they can affect you birds. The weather condition should also be considered as the litter gets wet faster during the rainy season. It is also good to change the litter when it is dusty.

Litter is a very important product in poultry growing, because birds are exposed to the litter and its contents (microbes, moisture, ammonia, dust, odour, and texture) from the first day of life.

Badly managed litter may facilitate the spread of certain infectious diseases, and also creates problems which lead to serious economic losses. The “litter problems” have not yet been classified or identified specifically, since they are connected with other management problems as well.

Keeping litter dry is a critical part of overall management on every poultry farm. Litter conditions influence bird performance, which in turn affects profits of growers and integrators.

Dry litter helps control ammonia levels, provides a healthy flock environment, and reduces condemnations due to hock and footpad burns and breast blisters.



Today, frequent use of built-up litter requires greater attention to detail than ever before. Poultry litter consists of bedding material (shavings, rice hulls, etc.), manure, feathers, and other components.

Dry litter is important for the health and welfare of birds, as well as the people who work in the houses. When litter begins to retain moisture it will clump together, which is referred to as caking.

Why dry litter begins to cake is often misunderstood, but it is not complicated. Too much moisture within a poultry house can cause litter to cake—it’s just that simple.

However, it takes a long time (days and in some cases, maybe weeks) for moisture levels in the litter to build up enough for cake to form. Moisture can build up because the ventilation rate within the house is inadequate over a prolonged period (not just a few hours).

Broilers drink about 2 pounds of water for every pound of feed consumed, or more than 50,000 gallons per 20,000-bird house each flock. Only about 20 percent of the water consumed is used for growth; most of it eventually reaches the litter as manure.

To prevent caking, this added moisture within the litter must be removed through adequate ventilation. Once cake starts to form, it is difficult to reverse the process. It usually requires over-ventilation to correct the problem, which can lead to excessive gas use during cold weather and high energy costs year-round.

Caked litter also increases house ammonia levels. Negative effects of ammonia on broiler health, welfare, performance, and carcass quality have been well documented.

There are several types of litter commonly used in poultry houses such as pine shavings, hardwood shavings, pine or hardwood chips, rice hulls, peanut hulls, sand, crushed corn cobs, chopped straw, hay, or corn stover, and processed paper.

Read more: How to Make Money in Poultry Farming

These materials are usually used at rates ranging from 2-5 kg per square meter, and the choice of such materials should be made based on the relative advantages and disadvantages of each under particular farm conditions (Table 1).

Table 1 – Advantages and disadvantages of various litter material

Litter materialAdvantages / Disadvantages
Pine shavingsPreferred litter material but becoming limited in supply and expensive in areas.
Hardwood shavingsOften high in moisture and susceptible to dangerous mold growth if stored improperly prior to use.
Pine or hardwood chipsUsed successfully but may cause increased incidence of breast blisters if allowed to become too wet.
Rice hullsA good litter material where available at a competitive price. Young chicks may be prone to litter-eating (not a serious problem).
Peanut hullsAn inexpensive litter material in peanut-producing areas. Tends to cake and crust but can be managed. Susceptible to mold growth and increased incidence of aspergillosis. Some problems with pesticides have been noted in the past.
SandField trials show comparable performance to pine shavings. Long-term reuse potential with de-caking. More difficult to maintain suitable floor temperatures during cold weather brooding. Need ample time and ventilation prior to brooding to assure dryness.
Crushed corn cobsLimited availability. May be associated with increased breast blisters.
Chopped straw, hay or corn StoverConsiderable tendency toward caking. Mold growth can also be a disadvantage.
Processed paperVarious forms of processed paper have proven to be good litter material in research and commercial situations. Tendency to cake with increased particle size. Top dressing paper base with shavings may minimize this problem. Careful management essential.


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Benadine Nonye

An Agric. Consultant & a Blogger- National Diploma in Agricultural Technology - Bachelor's Degree in Agricultural Science - Master's Degree in Science Education... Join Me On: Twitter: @benadinenonye - Instagram: benadinenonye - LinkedIn: benadinenonye - YouTube: Agric4ProfitsTV - Pinterest: BenadineNonye4u - Facebook: benadinenonye.

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