Meat chickens, even those that are provided with access to an outdoor range area, will spend the majority of their time indoors and in contact with the litter. Bedding, in the form of sawdust, wood shavings, finely cut straw or rice hulls, is spread over the floor of the shed prior to chicks arriving at the farm. Over time, the build-up of droppings, feathers and feed combine with the bedding material which is referred to as ‘litter’.
Litter has a number of important functions, such as absorbing moisture from the birds’ droppings and from the environment, providing a comfortable surface for the birds to rest, and assisting with comfort and insulation. When kept in a good condition and of sufficient depth, litter can enrich the birds’ environment by enabling them to perform important natural behaviours such as foraging, scratching, and dust bathing.
Poor litter condition can lead to the development of lesions on the underside of birds, especially after prolonged contact with litter that has become wet or fouled. Without proper management, litter can become hard and crusted which may prevent birds from being able to performing normal behaviours.
Wet litter is also the primary cause of the build of ammonia gas inside a shed, which at high levels and prolonged exposure can cause respiratory issues, eye irritation, and in severe cases, blindness.
How can you ensure good litter condition?
If litter is managed well so it remains dry and friable, conditions including foot pad burn, breast blisters and lameness can be minimised. Maintaining litter quality involves appropriate management of number of different factors including suitable litter material, good ventilation, appropriate water pressure in drinkers, good nutrition, managing stocking density, actively maintaining the litter and aerating the substrate with equipment if necessary, and removing litter that is not in good condition.