Industry best practice manual for water quality management and sterilisation on-farm

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  4. Overview of water quality issues in Australian meat chicken farms

Overview of water quality issues in Australian meat chicken farms

Table 4 summarises the water quality issues in Australian meat chicken farms identified through targeted industry consultation.

Table 4. Summary of water quality issues in Australian meat chicken farms and common controls

IssueCommentsCommon controls
High mineral or salts content causing scaleCommonly occurs in bore water from dissolving of naturally occurring chemicals in the aquifer. This, in turn, causes drinker blockages and leaking.Reverse osmosis

Additional flushing to manage blockages

Descale between batches
Blackwater eventsCommonly occurs in the lower Murray-Darling river.Additional filtration and disinfectant
Microbial contaminationCommonly occurs in surface water from agricultural runoff and animal faeces contamination. Open storage systems (storage dams) are also a source of microbial contamination in the water treatment process.Clean lines and treat water with additional disinfectant.
High organic matterCommonly occurs in surface water. Surface water has a high disinfectant demand and higher microbial contamination risk.Filtration
Algae bloomsOccurs in water bodies with high nutrient levels and temperatures. Common in dam water sources in summer. Filter was not cleaned regularly, and algae was getting into the water lines.Filtration
Weather events causing water quality issuesRunoff increasing nutrient content in surface waters.Additional filtration and disinfectant
SupplyMany regions across Australia are currently in drought. Water is generally scarcer, which increase costs. Additionally, in some areas, there is competition for water resource allocation.
High iron or manganese concentrationsCaused by naturally occurring chemicals in the catchment or aquifer. High iron and manganese usually occur from bore water sources. Manganese can cause more severe scaling problems than iron.Ion exchange

Reverse osmosis

Oxidation and filtration
Maintaining residual disinfectantInadequate pre-treatment and disinfectant doseMonitoring and adjusting dose
Variable water qualitySurface water can have more variable water quality than bore water.Several industry members prefer bore water because raw water quality is stable.
Uncertainty of disinfectionSome industry members did not monitor the success or efficiency of disinfection.
Equipment failureDrinkers have an average optimal lifespan of 5 years (i.e. they will work without major issues). Most growers replace drinkers after 10–15 years, which results in more broken or leaky drinkers.

Air blocking pumps.
Biofilms from medications and antibioticsMedication and/or antibiotics can cause imbalances in microorganisms in the water lines. That is, antibiotics will kill all the bacteria in the water system, allowing for algae to increase, causing blooms.Flush out system after medication or antibiotics
Biofilms from diet oil additivesBreeder oil diet additive caused biofilm. Lines were not cleaned or acidified after oil diet additive was given to breeders, which caused a biofilm in the water lines.Fixed problem by acidifying water while birds were in the shed.

Adopted a policy to flush after additives are administered.
Microbial failureDisinfection incomplete, filters not working, drinker blocked when flushing.

The ‘common controls’ identified in Table 4 are utilised at different stages of the farm water system. Figure 2 shows the key stages of the water management process at which controls and treatment can be employed, as well as potential sources of risk which may affect source water.

Figure 2. Sources and control of faecal contamination from source to meat chicken consumption (adapted from Ireland EPA (2011))
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