Best practice litter management manual for Australian meat chicken farms

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  4. Key factors in bedding material selection
  5. Type of bedding

Type of bedding

Different bedding materials can significantly affect carcass quality and growth performance in meat chickens, as well as shed litter quality and bacteria found in the litter (Lien et al., 1992; Malone et al., 1983). Poor litter quality can contribute to foot and leg problems, breast blisters and respiratory infections in meat chickens. This often leads to economic losses from lower weight gains, poor animal welfare, low feed-conversion ratios and downgrades at processing.

Globally, many bedding materials are used in the chicken meat industry including sawdust, wood shavings, cereal straw, rice hulls, bark, sugar cane stalks, peat, peanut hulls and inorganic materials such as sand (Table 1).

Different bedding materials have different properties and prices. Most meat chicken farms will select a bedding material based on regional availability and cost. A comparison of bedding types used in Australia and overseas is provided in Watson and Wiedemann (2018).

Bedding materials that have traditionally been used are usually organic (see Table 1 and Table 2), but inorganic materials, such as sand, are also used. With the cost of traditional bedding materials increasing and margins reducing, interest in alternative bedding has increased (Garcês et al., 2013; Grimes, Smith, et al., 2002; Kheravii et al., 2017; Villagrá et al., 2011), (reviewed by Cockerill et al., 2020).

Alternative bedding materials derived from recycled wood and products, as well as crop residues, have been proposed and tested (Gerber et al., 2020). While some have been successful in experiments, they have not been used commercially by the chicken meat industry due to cost, availability, industry need or risks posed by potential contaminants. Gerber et al., (2020) reviewed bedding material contaminants and hazards, and recommended maximum levels of these in bedding used for meat chickens, with a focus on Australian production systems. From this, a risk assessment tool was developed to enable the industry to assess the likely hazards of proposed alternative bedding.

Before choosing an alternative bedding material, consider these factors:

  • Will it keep chickens dry and clean?
  • Will it maintain a healthy and productive environment?
  • Are contaminant levels below the prescribed limits?
  • Is it readily available?
  • Is it of consistent quality?
  • Is it cost-effective?
  • Can it be easily stored?
  • Can the resulting spent litter be utilised?
  • What effect does spent litter have on the land and crop growth?

Table 1. Commonly used bedding materials by region (Watson & Wiedemann, 2018)

Region Commonly used bedding materials Reference
AustraliaPine shavings, sawdust, straw or rice hullsWatson & Wiedemann (2018)
USAPine and softwood shavings or sawdustGrimes et al. (2002)
South-east USAPine shavingsCarpenter (1992)
Northern EuropeWood shavings, chopped wheat straw, peat, lignocellulose, canola straw or maize silagede Jong and van Narn (2012)
ScandinaviaPeat or peat/wood shaving blendde Jong and van Narn (2012)
SpainLong rye straw, wheat straw, barley straw or pine shavingsGençoğlan and Gençoğlan (2017)
MediterraneanRice stalksGarcia et al. (2007)
PakistanSawdust Hafeez et al. (2009)
South-east AsiaSawdust, rice husks or grain stalkLien et al. (1990)
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