Litter conditioning? Clean out? Partial clean out? (Poultry Production)
(Editor’s note: Georgie Cartanza is a University of Delaware Extension poultry agent.)
Over the past four years, the transition to antibiotic free poultry production has increased significantly.
This transition has required poultry producers to become much more proactive in their management of the poultry house environment.
Often we focus on the importance of managing water, feed, air and light.
One area that may be overlooked is just how critical litter management is to the health of the flock.
Raising birds on built up litter, ammonia levels and litter moisture must be kept under control.
Minimizing ammonia levels will reduce stress on the birds. When ammonia levels are greater than 25 parts per million, the cilia in the trachea become less mobile.
This reduces their ability to filter out pathogens and dust from entering the respiratory system of the bird.
This increases the likelihood of the birds developing a respiratory challenge.
Litter management is ongoing: during the flock and once the flock moves.
Humidity levels in the house need to be managed by providing enough ventilation to remove moisture.
Litter should be conditioned as soon as birds move.
Layout time between flocks does not really start from a disease management standpoint until litter is conditioned.
Litter may be crusted or windrowed.
Both of these practices will reduce the pathogens in the house.
The caked material has a higher level of pathogens present because they thrive in moisture.
Windrowing litter helps conserve litter material and reduce the pathogen load in the house.
To kill pathogens, the internal temperature of the windrow must reach 130 degrees F.
Controlling the microbial population in the house is influenced by a number of factors: water, temperature, pH, and atmosphere.
Farmers can control these variables in the litter through proper management.
We are approaching a time of year when farms may do partial or total litter cleanouts.
Often we think of the opportunity to clean out as a fresh start.
If there has been a disease challenge then this will be helpful to reduce the pathogen load.
However, we should keep in mind that not all microbials are bad.
The good microbes help reduce the bad microbes by using competitive exclusion.
Some of the worse cases of necrotic enteritis have occurred on new litter.
Consider when cleaning out on an ABF program leaving some litter in the house.
This may be beneficial to the microbiome of the litter and gut health of the bird.
Consult with an integrator if they would encourage this practice.
When doing a partial cleanout or leaving litter material, retain the best material in the house (the driest litter).
The driest litter will be under the radiant heaters. Rather than cutting out the centers, it is most beneficial to remove litter from sidewalls to drinkers, leaving the litter under the radiant heaters.
For houses with three feed lines: Be sure to remove litter as described previously with the addition of removing litter between the center drinker lines.
This will take more time but will give a better result with removing the hard pan and the litter with the highest litter moisture.
Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”
Good litter management is the preparation to “stack the deck” in your favor. Don’t miss that opportunity!
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