Best practice litter management manual for Australian meat chicken farms

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Pre-treatment guide

Why important: The condition of bedding material supplied to farms can vary greatly depending on the supplier, climate and quality control measures, among other factors, and may not be suitable for use as a bedding material without pre-treatment. Pre-treatment requirements will vary depending on bedding type and supplier.
Outcomes: Treated bedding material minimises impacts on meat chicken performance and health, human health, and the environment.
Performance measures: Bedding materials selected are assessed to determine if pre-treatment is required to ensure they are suitable for use in sheds.

Any pre-treatment process applied produces a bedding material that has the desirable physical characteristics and moisture content. It also needs to be rendered safe to use before spreading in the poultry sheds and must be safe for land application when spent litter is removed.
Best management actions:

Storage of bedding
  • - The storage on-farm should be minimised to reduce the potential for contamination. If bedding requires on-farm storage before placement, it should be stored in a dry and aerated location, preferably in a vermin-proof shed, with storage time minimised.
  • - Bedding material which displays high moisture content (>15% wet basis, e.g. sawdust) is susceptible to potential mould growth and should be stored in a dry and aerated location prior to placement. Once placed, heating and ventilation should be used to remove excess moisture. Turning, mixing and/or forced aeration during this phase can release moisture.

Management and checks prior to chick placement
  • - Prior to chick placement, the floor and bedding should be heated to the optimum temperature for the breed of meat chicken and processor requirements, which is generally around 30 °C. If required, start minimum ventilation prior to placement to remove excess moisture from the bedding and sheds.
  • - Consider the use of destratification/circulation fans or radiant/tube heaters to ensure the floor and bedding are heated effectively.
  • - When litter is reused, heat the litter and ventilate sheds for at least 24 hours prior to chick placement, as it will release excess ammonia and reduce the release of ammonia during the brooding phase.
  • - Litter moisture at chick placement should be 10–15% (wet basis). A hand squeeze test can confirm this. If in doubt, the moisture content should be measured.

Pre-treatment quality control
  • - If bedding material contains large or sharp particles, use screening/sieving to remove these physical contaminants. Bedding material with small particle size (e.g. sawdust) is best suited.
  • - When straw or grass products are used as bedding, they require chopping/crushing to achieve a maximum length of 20mm.

Use of pre-treatment additives
  • - Litter additives should not be a substitute for best management litter practices before and after placement. Their use is most effective in reducing ammonia levels where multi-batch litter reuse practices are undertaken.
  • - Avoid the use of alkaline drying agents such as lime.
  • - When using litter additives, apply them uniformly as per manufacturer specifications prior to the placement of chicks, and avoid applying them over feeder and drinker lines.
  • - The use of litter additives is not a substitute for other best management practices, so when using them, the following must be done to maximise the effectiveness of these products: best practice shed preparation, correct application of the additive, and active management of litter throughout the cycle.
  • - Litter additives, such as clay-based absorbers, may help absorb moisture at times when the optimum shed environment cannot be maintained by ventilation and conditioning alone. They are not, however, a substitute for best management ventilation practices.
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