Proper Poultry Litter Management

Litter is a material used as bedding for poultry or to absorb their droppings such as wood shaving, Groundnut husks, Broken Maize cobs etc. litter insulates and help to keep the house dry. Since it is an insulator, it keeps the chicks from the otherwise hard, moist cold floor.

Litter should then be looked after regularly to keep it dry, loose and free from being moldy. It should be stirred always preferably every other day, caked and wet litter should be removed.

Poultry litter or Broiler litter is a mixture of poultry excreta, spilled feed, feathers, and material used as bedding in poultry operations. This term is also used to refer to unused bedding materials.

Poultry litter is used in confinement buildings used for raising broilers, turkeys and other birds. Common bedding materials include wood shavings, sawdust, peanut hulls, shredded sugar cane, straw, and other dry, absorbent, low-cost organic materials. Sand is also occasionally used as bedding.

Quantity of litter required for the chicks is 2-3 inches deep while adults could be 4-6inches deep. Drinkers should be designed to prevent leaking and overflowing of water to wet the litter.

As earlier mentioned above, that litter is a material used as bedding for poultry and for the fact that most of their droppings are mixed with litter, they should be removed fortnightly an replaced with new dried litter.

Read Also: The Nutritional Requirements and Deficiency Symptoms for Poultry Chickens

After this exercise, one would observe that most of the birds will be in a resting position on the litter, enjoying themselves, but if the litter is dirty, they will always remain on their feet. Removing the dry litter is very essential to avoid the risk of internal or external parasites.

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.

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 is 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 two 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 per cent 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.

Read Also: 6 Ways to Enhance Egg Production and Maximize Profits on Poultry Layers

Caked litter also increases house ammonia levels. Negative effects of ammonia on broiler health, welfare, performance, and carcass quality have been well documented by numerous researchers (Reece et al., 1980; Kristensen and Wathes, 2000; Miles et al., 2004).

Poultry are most susceptible to elevated ammonia levels at one to 21 days of age, which is the early brooding period (Wheeler et al. 2008). Ammonia is also a concern due to potential environmental and human health impacts of elevated levels over prolonged periods.

Advantages and disadvantages of various litter material

litter material

Litter material Advantages / Disadvantages
Pine shavings Preferred litter material but becoming limited in supply and expensive in areas.
Hardwood shavings Often high in moisture and susceptible to dangerous mold growth if stored improperly prior to use.
Pine or hardwood chips Used successfully but may cause increased incidence of breast blisters if allowed to become too wet.
Rice hulls A good litter material where available at a competitive price.

Young chicks may be prone to litter-eating (not a serious problem).

Peanut hulls An 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.

Sand Field 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 cobs Limited availability. May be associated with increased breast blisters.
Chopped straw, hay or corn Stover Considerable tendency toward caking. Mold growth can also be a disadvantage.
Processed paper Various 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.

Read Also: Daily Poultry Feed Requirements for each Stage

Factors affecting Poultry Litter Management

There are three factors that have particularly important effects on the litter condition.
a) Litter Moisture
b) Greasy Capped Litter
c) Nitrogen in the litter

a) Litter Moisture 

  • Litter moisture is the key to the burnt hock problem. It is unusual for there to be burnt hocks when the litter condition is friable and dry.
  • Litter moisture is affected by drinker design; air change rate; litter material and depth; stocking density; diet and flock health.
  • Wet litter causes degeneration of the outer scales on the hocks and feet (i.e. on thepressure points). As liveweight increases and mobility decreases the pressure becomes greater and contact with the litter more prolonged. Males are therefore more affected by wet litter than females.

b) Greasy Capped Litter

When there is too much fat in the feed or it is of poor quality, the fat content of the faeces increases. Consequently the litter also has a higher fat content which causes it to lose its friability more quickly. A cap forms and the pressure points on the bird’s legs and breast are then vulnerable to damage.

c) Nitrogen in the litter

Experimental evidence suggests that the worst burning tends to occur when the nitrogen content of the litter exceeds 5.5%. The quality and amount of protein in the feed should be examined if litter nitrogen levels are high. At these times, the moisture content of the litter is also often found to be high.

Read Also: Adaptive Means of Animals Coping with the Environment

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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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