Tabler touts water as industry’s most vital nutrient
OCEAN CITY, Md. — Water is “the most important nutrient (in poultry production) but it’s the most neglected nutrient as well,” Dr. Tom Tabler, Extension professor in the Mississippi State University poultry science department told attendees at the National Meeting on Poultry Health, Processing and Live Production on Oct. 9.
He said good water quality is essential to poultry production and “gives us a better start to those chickens and a better start for them is extremely important in today’s environment.”
The benefits of good water include improved feed conversion, better weight gain, better performance, less morbidity and less mortality, he said, noting these factors mean “increased pay for the growers, increased pay for the integrators.”
He noted today’s bird can convert feed better and grow better thanks to geneticists, but the price paid for the improved birds is a weaker immune system.
He said the birds require things to be “exactly right” within the “tiny little range” the birds demand to survive and thrive. “If we don’t have things exactly right, they’re not going to do what we want them to do.”
Growers deliver numerous products to the birds through their water. As a result, he said, “We are seeing a lot more drinker line issues with things clogging up, with bacteria growing inside those lines, with biofilms forming because we keep something inside those lines a lot of the time.”
He urged growers and flock supervisors to have water tested “from a mineral standpoint, from a pH standpoint, you can’t fix it when you don’t know it’s messed up.”
“Water sanitation is extremely important in today’s NAE programs,” he said. “You can’t jump into an NAE program and make it work. It’s going to take a long-drawn-out thought process in terms of . . . what you’re going to have to do differently than what you’ve done before or it’s not going to work.”
He advised growers to clean water lines between flocks at a minimum. But, depending on how bad the water quality is, “maybe you need a daily treatment program on that flock.”
He warned listeners that “clean” before and after beginning NAE production “are two completely different things.” Before NAE, he said using antibiotics “let us cover up a lot of management mistakes.” Without antibiotics, he said, growers must be proactive.
“You probably should have filters on all your systems,” he advised, noting that expensive reverse osmosis is not needed in all cases and that other types of filters may be adequate.
He also cautioned that lines should be de-scaled once a year because scale is rough and provides hiding places for bacteria.
He noted that abnormally high or low pH levels can decrease the effectiveness of disinfectants used on the water system.
He noted that, while pH levels of 6.2 to 6.8 are the “sweet spot” for poultry, levels between 5 and 8 will probably not have a deleterious effect on the birds. But, he said, “pH can cause more grief than we ever thought it could.”
He warned that dirty water lines “can grow a lot of stuff. E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter, pseudomonas, staphylococcus, listeria, algae, mold, parasites, viruses, bacteria” and noted that medicators are not designed to pump a strong enough solution to clean the lines and that other pumps may be required.
He said a good test of water quality is “Will you drink the water your chickens are drinking?”