Improving litter management processes and avoiding common pitfalls to enhance poultry housing conditions for optimal poultry performance.
For poultry producers, windrowing, or piling of litter into long rows for the purpose of composting, has long been touted as a solution for bacteria control and the extension of litter re-use. However, research shows that there may be a more effective and easier solution.
Litter composting is a biological pasteurization process dependent on the activity of microorganisms, and requires precise conditions to be effective, including:
- A carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio of 15-25
- Moisture content of 25% or greater
- pH between 5 and 12
- Free air space greater than 30% (Willson, 1989)
If these precise variables are not met, the necessary temperature will not be reached, and bacterial control will not be effective. Keep in mind that the uninsulated earth foundation of a broiler house conducts heat away from the windrow piles, producing a sharp 50oF temperature gradient within the bottom five inches of the pile. The same will happen throughout the piles surface due to ambient air temperatures.
Poultry litter is not an inanimate object; It contains a complete ecosystem with physical and biological characteristics that are dependent on bird size, diet and litter handling during down time. Most used poultry litter has a low carbon nitrogen ratio of 10-15 making it difficult to reach the necessary temperature of 130-135°F within 48 hours unless the C:N ratio is raised to at least 15:1—which often requires the addition of upwards of 22 tons of fresh litter to each windrowing cycle