Litter in poultry management refers to the bedding put on the floor to give comfort to the birds and enable absorption of the manure.

There are a number of options when choosing the litter material to use. The options include white pine shavings, coarse pine sawdust, hardwood shavings, pine or hardwood chips, rice hulls, peanut hulls, sand, crushed corn cobs, and chopped straw or hay.

Why good litter is important

In broiler production litter material serves a number of important functions. Thus, it cannot be overemphasised how important it is for the farmer to understand that the condition of the litter in the poultry house could make or break a poultry enterprise.
Some functions of litter include:

  • it absorbs excess moisture from the droppings and drinkers, and promotes drying by increasing the surface area of the house floor;
  • it dilutes fecal material, thus reducing contact between birds and manure;
  • it insulates chicks from the cooling effects of the ground, and provides a protective cushion between the birds and the floor.

An effective litter material must be absorbent, lightweight, inexpensive and non-toxic. Ideal materials will have high moisture absorption and release qualities to minimise litter caking. In Feedsaddition, litter material must be compatible as a fertiliser or soil amendment after it has served its purpose in the broiler house. Most importantly, litter must not be consumed by birds. The effectiveness of litter will widely depend on the material used and how this material is managed.

Effects of poor litter on your birds

When litter begins to retain moisture, it tends to clump together and become caked. Caked litter will bring about cases of hock and footpad burns, and breast blisters hence reducing the carcass quality of the birds.

An increase in moisture content together with a rise in house temperatures leads to increased fermentation processes in the litter. Fermentation of wet litter contributes to an increase in ammonia emission from the bedding material. Ammonia content is higher in in wet litter.

Ammonia levels, if left too high, reduce the performance of broilers by reducing feed intake, cause irritation to mucus membranes, kerato-conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eyes involving the cornea and the conjunctiva), and air sac lesions. Poultry are most susceptible to elevated ammonia levels at one to twenty-one days of age, which is the early brooding period.
Wet litter may also cause an increase in pathogen loads and consequently, chances of a disease outbreak that may devastate the flock.

Tiger Animal Feeds Technical Team encourages customers to have good litter management practices which ensure a conducive environment for the birds to reach their potential growth. A proper balance between temperature and ventilation will allow litter to remain dry and free of disease and harmful emissions. Poor health and poor growth rate are direct consequences of poorly managed litter.
Moisture can build up because the ventilation rate within the house is inadequate over a prolonged period. To prevent caking, ammonia buildup and all other issues brought about by wet litter, remove excess moisture within the litter by providing adequate ventilation.

Litter quality and performance

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 and provides a healthy flock environment. Good litter and air quality can be maintained with proper ventilation, but it has to start when the previous flock goes out and continue throughout the stay of new flock. The trick is to stay one step ahead while being as efficient as possible

Maintain good ventilation to promote good performance, health and welfare in your broilers.

In conclusion, it is important to note that, in order to ensure healthy and profitable broilers, on top of acquiring a good bedding material, the farmer should also make sure to manage the litter quality. Always keep litter dry and loose in order to prevent ammonia and pathogen buildup and the negative consequences associated with this buildup throughout the flock.