Best practice litter management manual for Australian meat chicken farms

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Executive summary

What the report is about

Litter is most likely one of the largest operational investments on meat chicken farms. Litter management can affect meat chicken health, human health, odour and dust. Despite the issue being important for all industry participants, there hasn’t been a single point where information has been brought together and maintained in an up-to-date format. While the industry has done a large amount of work in this area, the results are documented in a variety of reports, scientific papers and guides, without there being one document that synthesises this information and makes it applicable and relevant to the various industry participants.

This Best practice litter management manual for Australian meat chicken farms collects this knowledge in one place. The manual covers: litter selection; management of litter in sheds, including reuse; and options and use of spent litter following removal from sheds. It has been structured so that users can access concise information and guidance on the best management practice for each process involving litter.

Who is the report targeted at?

This guide has been written to assist meat chicken growers to maintain high productivity and minimise impacts to meat chicken health, human health and the environment by implementing best practice bedding and litter management measures. It also assists end users of spent litter to minimise potential environmental and biosecurity risks that may be associated with utilising spent litter.

Where are the relevant industries located in Australia?

Meat chicken growing farms are generally located within 200km of a processing plant, near a feed mill, with guaranteed water, power and access to services. The region where chicken meat is produced dictates the availability, type and cost of litter used. The major chicken meat producing regions of Australia are outlined in Figure 1.

A map of Australia showing the location of the major chicken meat producing regions and highlighting their contribution to the national production.
Figure 1. Major chicken meat producing regions of Australia (ACMF, 2020).

Meat chickens move freely within sheds and are not housed in cages, but on bedding material or litter typically composed of organic material such as wood shavings, sawdust or straw. The industry uses a variety of litter types, which may vary between regions due to accessibility. The most common types used in Australia are wood shavings, recycled wood chips, sawdust, cereal straw and rice hulls. The ability to source sufficient volumes of litter at a suitable price is a constant area of interest for the industry.

Spent litter from meat chicken farms is typically removed from sheds at the end of each growth cycle, but can be reused for several growth cycles in some systems. Because spent litter contains manure from the production cycle, it can be used for a variety of agricultural applications. Spent litter management options available to farm operators include off-site disposal, stockpiling, composting, incineration, anaerobic digestion and spreading on-farm.


Litter is a crucial resource and management requirement for the chicken meat industry and can be the most significant management practice influencing the performance of farms. Good management of litter is important to optimise performance, reduce risks to meat chicken and human health, comply with biosecurity requirements and third-party accreditation schemes, and reduce the potential for environmental impacts.

While there is a large amount of information covering litter management, it is often either difficult to find or in a hard-to-understand format. This manual collates the relevant information regarding best practice litter management in one place.


The objectives of this project were to:

  1. Review and consult industry regarding best management practice for litter in all regions of Australia, based on Australian and overseas research and experience.
  2. Develop a best practice guide for litter management covering relevant topics.
  3. Develop a troubleshooting guide detailing strategies to control major litter management issues.
  4. Gain and review feedback from key industry stakeholders and industry experts and input that information into the guide.
  5. Develop a prototype “next generation” solution for knowledge management around litter management using a web platform that allows users to access information relevant to their region and management constraints. We envisage this platform could allow users to contribute to the knowledge base and provide examples or user-initiated extension materials (i.e. videos) relevant to litter management.

Methods used

Current litter management best practices from around the world were reviewed for their applicability to Australian meat chicken production systems, and a best practice litter manual developed in consultation with key industry personnel and experts. An expert review and industry-wide consultation was undertaken to gain feedback on the applicability of the best practice methods, currency of the science and final format of the manual.

Results/key findings

This project produced a best practice management manual that covers: bedding and litter use in meat chicken production, including selecting and treating bedding materials, managing litter in sheds; reusing litter in sheds; and using spent litter. Key components of this manual include: information about how bedding type and management contribute to meat chicken and human health, and amenity; details on specific litter issues and best practice management; a summary of industry practices and the role of litter for those without a background in chicken meat production; management guidelines for different bedding materials; and a troubleshooting guide to define and address bedding and litter problems.

The bedding material and litter issues outlined in the manual contain a technical description of each issue and a summary of relevant research and literature. At the end of each section is a summary of best practice management actions.

A pilot web platform to demonstrate how the manual could be delivered to industry was also developed as part of this project.

Implications for relevant stakeholders

This best practice manual is specifically aimed at growers; however, the authors acknowledge that the guidance in this document may be useful for those auditing management practices on farms. The measures detailed in the best practice manual are not intended to be used in a prescriptive manner or regulatory context. They are written to assist meat chicken growers and spent litter end users with best practice litter management options for selecting bedding type, in-shed litter management, reusing litter in sheds and spent litter use.


With the latest litter management science and practices collated as a single resource, it is recommended that this guide be regularly reviewed (at least every five years) and updated with the latest research, technologies and knowledge. This will give growers access to the latest and best information on litter matters in one place.

It is also recommended that this litter guide be converted to a web platform in the future. This will allow growers and companies interested in a particular area to access more detailed information and reports specific to their requirements.

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