May 18, 2022

Litter management in the poultry production system

Chicken coop floors are usually concrete, wood or earth, with litter used to cover the floor. Litter dilutes manure and absorbs moisture, provides padding and insulation for birds. Litter is also a way for birds to scratch and is important for welfare. The litter should not only be absorbent, but also allow the birds to have traction while moving, in order to avoid injuries or deformed legs. Bedding materials should also be comfortable for birds to walk on and sit on.

Alternatively, the birds can be kept on a slatted floor through which the droppings fall into a pit below for later removal. Keeping the chute dry will reduce odors and flies. Common bedding materials include softwood shavings or rice hulls.

Small-scale poultry producers have tried a variety of materials and identified some problems: hay and straw become slimy, chicks eat sawdust, wood shavings are expensive, and hardwood shavings can shatter and cause skin punctures. When applying fresh wood chips, farmers should remove all large, sharp pieces to reduce the risk of injury to birds. Litter should be high in carbon to avoid nitrogen loss, and it should compost well. Litter is normally spread two to four inches deep and kept at 20% to 30% humidity.

Birds have a concentrated form of waste called uric acid, which keeps many birds on litter, but moisture can build up. If the litter feels wet on the back of the hand, it probably contains at least 30% moisture.

The home should be well ventilated to remove moisture from the air, and water leaks or sources of moisture such as condensation from uninsulated metal roofs or water leaks should be repaired.