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

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Hardness treatment

Performance goal: Treatment achieves an optimal water hardness for optimal bird health and scale minimisation.
Description: Hardness is associated with bicarbonate, sulphates, and calcium carbonate. These substances release hydroxyl ions (OH-) when dissolved in water and are principally bicarbonate (HCO3) ions and carbonate ions (CO32-).

These compounds act as buffers in water; that is, they buffer the water against sudden changes in pH. Hardness causes scale, which reduces pipe volume and makes drinkers hard to trigger or leak and it can corrode cool cell pads.

High concentrations can also give water a bitter taste that birds don’t like. Hardness can reduce the effectiveness of soaps, disinfectants and the administration of some medications.
Performance criteria: Optimal water hardness is maintained, and scale accumulation is minimised.

Best practice levels: hardness 0–100mg/L, calcium 0–60mg/L, magnesium 0–14mg/L, sulphates 0–40mg/L, iron 0–0.2mg/L, manganese 0–0.01mg/L

Maximum acceptable levels: hardness 0–200mg/L, calcium 0–600mg/L, magnesium 0–125mg/L, sulphates 0–250mg/L, iron 0–0.3mg/L, manganese 0–0.05mg/L
Minimum requirements
Measure hardness monthly.
Measure calcium, magnesium, sulphates, iron and manganese quarterly.
Best practice options
Nutritionists consider calcium, magnesium, sulphates, iron and manganese concentrations in the water when formulating diets.
If concentrations are above maximum acceptable levels, a pre-treatment to lower salts is applied to drinking water. See Table 16 (below) for a comparison of the effectiveness of pre-treatments against hardness.
Do not use ion-exchange if the water is already high in sodium unless using potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride.

Table 16. Effectiveness of pre-treatments against hardness

Effectiveness against hardnessHardnessCalciumMagnesiumSulphatesIronManganese
PP filter
Ceramic filter
Pleated filter
Rapid sand filters
Semi-rapid sand filters
Slow sand filters
Centrifugal filtration
Ion-exchange resinsMHMHMHMHMHMH
Chemical coagulatesL
Lime softeningMMHMHMMM
Chemical oxidationLMHMHMH
Reverse osmosisHHHHHH
Electrodialysis reversalMHMHMHMHMHMH
Capacitive deionisationMHMHMHMHMHMH
Membrane capacitive deionisationMHMHMHMHMHMH
Electronic water conditioningLLLLLL
L: low, LM: low to moderate, M: moderate, MH: moderate to high, H: high, –: N/A
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