Ritz: Litter management begins with previous flock
DENTON, Md. (Oct. 3, 2017) — In the second half of a program for growers held on Sept. 26, Casey Ritz, professor and Extension poultry specialist at the University of Georgia, discussed litter management.
Litter re-use is common, Ritz said. “As the litter goes, so goes the flock.” Potential problems with re-use include moisture, increased energy use to maintain air quality, and pathogen carryover.
Ritz said litter is “a life-form all to itself.”
Management of it begins with the previous flock.
Management between flocks is critical, particularly with antibiotic-free management strategies.
Ammonia is a major issue, since high ammonia levels can result in poor bird performance, which means reduced profits.
Ammonia volatilization hinges on temperature, air turbulence, litter pH and litter moisture. Moisture control starts with a regular check of water systems. Use circulation fans during and between flocks. Divert storm water away from the poultry house.
Floor moisture removal is more important than we think, Ritz said. Litter moisture can cause ammonia burn on paws. If chickens walk on moisture all day, it softens their feet the way our hands are softened in water. Windrowing helps to remove floor moisture. Windrowing is not composting, Ritz said repeatedly. “It is mechanical, thermal processing. It does not sterilize litter.”
The best time to windrow is in mild weather so you can turn on fans. A minimum of 12 to 14 days between flocks is necessary. With less time, “you are setting yourself up for mistakes.”
Windrow within two days after the birds leave to help knock out litter beetles. Six hours after forming a windrow, hit the area with insecticide.
Make the pile 3 to 4 feet high. The volume helps with heating, and heating is needed to kill bacteria. The goal is to sustain 130 degrees for four days. The temperature is hottest in the center of the pile. Below that, there’s not enough oxygen to generate the heat.
After three to four days, turn the pile. Repeating this process more than once is best. When you turn, shift the pile within the poultry house. The floor will dry out. That’s important.
“Ventilate the whole time. Be sure to have tunnel fans on when flipping the pile. Take care of yourself!” Ritz warned.
“Get all the litter from corners.”
Ritz’s slides included the suggestion that a building wash down prior to windrowing would help incorporate any pathogen-laden dust into the pile.
Ritz said he is going to remove that suggestion, but farmers in the audience said litter on the shore is very dry. One said, “Our litter is so dry we cannot achieve heat.”
After an open-forum discussion, it was suggested that carbon might be the limiting factor, with too much nitrogen in the litter.
Level the windrows at least four days before chicks are added, Ritz emphasized. “It is critical that adequate time be devoted to ‘cooling down’ and drying out the litter.” Bedding should be at least 3 inches thick.
It sounds like a lot of trouble, but bird health and immune response are worth it, Ritz said.
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