Peat is used in commercial chicken meat production in Northern European countries. Based on this success in similar production settings, it should be suitable for use by the Australian industry.

Peat is the partly decomposed remains of organic matter, which forms a deposit on acidic, boggy, ground (peatlands). Peat forms in the absence of oxygen, which slows the decomposition process and creates a homogeneous material that is highly absorbent. Finland has the largest peatlands in the world, followed by Canada, Ireland and Sweden. Most commercially available peat is mined from these countries, and although Australia does have peatlands, they are not currently mined.

Peat bogs take centuries to develop and therefore are generally considered to be a non-renewable resource. Once the peat is mined, it is not able to be regenerated. Consequently, conservation policies that ban peat mining are being increasingly adopted internationally. Increasing bans on peat mining would be expected to restrict supply of peat for animal bedding.

Application in the Australian chicken meat industry

Peat has been successfully used as bedding in commercial chicken meat production in Europe and is commonly used in Northern European and Scandinavian countries that mine peat commercially. It is managed in a similar way to sawdust; however, it is used at a much lower depth because it expands greatly with use. Dust may be an issue, until enough moisture has been added by the birds. Shallow litter depth (less than 5 cm) may not be acceptable with some Australian-based growing schemes or customers.

Several studies have found that peat bedding does not affect bird weight or the feed conversion ratio. Furthermore, peat has been found to outperform traditional litter materials, in respect to production and bird health outcomes. Interestingly, the addition of peat may be a useful amendment for reducing bacteria, yeasts and moulds in poultry litter. Peat is commonly used as a soil conditioner, so it may also add to the value of spent litter.

Practical considerations of using peat as chicken litter

Practical considerations that need to be assessed before using peat as litter in the Australian chicken meat industry include:

Table 1: Practical considerations of using sand as chicken litter

Practical considerations Sand litter
Supply Commercially available in Australia? Yes
Operation Optimisation required for Australian conditions? Further research is needed to optimise the use of sand in Australian conditions. Sand would be more suitable in warmer regions.
Would it be available if demand was high? Yes
What might it cost if demand was high? Bulk purchasing could reduce cost significantly.
Management Additional management practises needed? Yes. Re-use requires optimisation and additional management practises. Cleaning and disinfecting between batches would be different. Sand is denser than other litters.
Regulation Are there regulatory or market barriers to using sand as litter? No
Other Gizzard stones The size of sand particles should be considered so as not to cause problems for the machines that remove the gizzard in the processing plant.
Temperature regulation The sand needs to be brought to the right temperature before chick placement. Given the area of an average meat chicken shed, this could increase heating costs.
Re-use Can potentially be re-used for 2–5 years with de-caking. Ample time and ventilation are needed before brooding to assure dryness.
Greenhouse gas environmental impacts

Peatlands store a third of the worlds soil carbon, and mining peat (with the resultant CO2 release) accounts for up to 5% of human caused greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Australia has peat reserves that could be mined; however, it would release large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and would have a significant impact on Australian greenhouse gas reduction target. In addition to the impacts from mining and use, imported peat would have additional greenhouse gas environmental impacts from transport and using peat would increase the industry’s carbon footprint.

Economic considerations

High volumetric costs will very likely require blending with other materials and re-using litter for multiple grow-outs.

Content source: Review of fresh litter supply, management and spent litter utilisation, AgriFutures Australia final report 2018

Downloads and resources

Best practice litter management manual for Australian chicken meat farms (PDF, 3MB) | online version

Review of fresh litter supply, management and spent litter utilisation (PDF, 3.5MB)

Litter re-use: an evidence-based guide to re-using litter (PDF, 1.3MB)


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