Speaker: Litter care ‘sets stage for everything’
OCEAN CITY, Md. — “There’s not enough emphasis on litter today,” Blake Gibson, senior account manager for the Jones-Hamilton Company, told an audience of growers and flock supervisors at the annual National Meeting on Poultry Health, Processing and Live Production on Oct. 10.
“Litter quality sets the stage for everything in the grow-out cycle. Everything — bird health, performance, economics — goes back to the floor,” Gibson said.
He said there is a greater focus on the environment of the bird with the move to antibiotic-free production. Philosophy related to litter has changed, too. “Thirty years ago, we cleaned houses after every flock. In the mid-’90s, new techniques in litter management began with decaking.”
Now, he said, the objective is to extend the life of the litter with proper manipulation.
He listed the functions of litter, each of which, he said, is essential to get the maximum genetic potential out of every bird. Functions include providing a comfortable surface, satisfying dusting instincts, diluting fecal material, absorbing spills and insulating the house.
He explained litter is one of the four most crucial components of a successful flock, along with temperature, water and feed.
Preventing paw burns is important because, Gibson said, “If a bird has sore feet, it won’t eat and drink freely.” Healthy feet, however, lead to better feed conversion and weight gain.
But he reported, “We are seeing paw lesions at four days; it used to be longer.”
Managing litter can reduce condemnations and downgrades as well as restricting the proliferation of pathogenic bacteria, he said.
Management of ventilation, waterlines and bird density can impact litter quality.
“You must control air moisture in order to control litter moisture. You need to micromanage waterlines; they should be leveled with string on days 1, 3 and 7.
“Birds are like insulation on the floor. You need to move the flock around to manage ammonia and water in litter,” he advised.
The costs of poor litter management, Gibson said, include bird health and performance, high concentrations of ammonia and other noxious gases, and poor control of pathogens and pH levels.
Management between flocks is as important as when birds are present, Gibson emphasized. “The floor is a living, breathing organism. Don’t let it go dormant between flocks. Keep the house closed and the fans running. Use the heat from the last flock to kill off some of the pathogens.”
He encouraged decaking or windrowing, explaining they remove areas of high moisture and ammonia while reducing microbial stress and load.
Gibson advised decaking only to the depth of the cake, usually about 2 inches, and cautioned against stirring up problems.
“Do not disturb the anaerobic microbe bed,” he said. “The bird is only in contact with the top of the litter.”
He described “smart decaking” as removing all the cake, but “there is usually no need to do the center of the house.”
“Pretty litter doesn’t grow a good bird,” he said, explaining that the litter should not be tilled, a practice he said only feeds bacteria that challenge the flock.
Windrowing can heat litter to a level to kill pathogenic bacteria, Gibson said, but the temperature must reach 135 degrees and kept at that level for 3 to 4 days.
“If the temperature is not achieved, microbial activity will not be optimized,” he said. Even at 110 to 120 degrees, all good and bad microbes replicate rapidly.
“When the birds leave, the floor is 100 to 105 degrees. Use that heat,” he suggested.
The impacts of good litter management are “far reaching,” Gibson cautioned, advising growers to make sure all components are in place for effective windrowing and to seek a third party evaluation to advise on the process.
The meeting, presented by Delmarva Poultry, Inc. was held at the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel on Oct. 8-10.
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