Ammonia: Old Topic, Current Challenge
Ammonia is not new to the poultry industry. Articles written in the late 90s cite research that was then 20 years old which demonstrated ammonia’s detrimental impact on bird health and performance. The inherent challenges that accompany ammonia have not changed; however, it often seems that producers have become desensitized to its impact—just as desensitization to ammonia’s smell occurs. With winter upon us, it’s more important than ever to understand what ammonia is costing you.
The research showing the detrimental impact of ammonia on body weight and FCR or feed/gain is plentiful. Often cited research by Miles et al1 showed that body weights declined by 2, 17 and 21% with ammonia levels of 25, 50 and 75 ppm respectively. More recent research by Wang et al founded that three-week-old broilers raised with ammonia levels of 0 ppm compared to 52 ppm showed improvements in body weight (5.3%) and feed:gain (2.6%), as well as lower mortality.2 In addition to growth performance, exposure to high levels of ambient ammonia has also been shown to have detrimental effects on meat quality.3,4
Poor growth rates in houses with high ammonia concentrations is strongly related to the influence of ammonia on birds’ immunity—exposure to high ammonia concentrations negatively affects the development of the birds’ immune system. In fact, a bird’s ability to respond to respiratory disease challenges is directly related to air quality. Ammonia causes the first breach of birds’ respiratory defenses that will then allow viral and bacterial pathogens entrance into the respiratory system.
The Cost of Ammonia
While ammonia is unavoidable in poultry houses, proper litter management can negate its potential detrimental effects. Without management, the cost can be considerable. If ammonia levels reach and remain at 50 ppm or above, weights can decrease by 0.50 lbs and feed conversion often increases by 8 points.
Think you don’t have ammonia?
Despite an understanding of ammonia’s potential impact on profit, many producers still fail to recognize the its presence. An air quality survey of 206 houses conducted in July 2016 demonstrated many farms continue to struggle with high ammonia levels, even in summer months.
Focus on Litter Management to Control Ammonia
Excessive moisture, improper de-caking and poor litter handling will encourage ammonia production and release. To keep ammonia levels below 25 ppm, focus on creating and implementing litter management BMPs to ensure that birds have the ideal conditions to meet their genetic potential.
1. Miles, D. M., S. L. Branton, and B. D. Lott. 2004. Atmospheric ammonia is detrimental to the performance of modern commercial broilers. Poultry Science 83:1 650-1 654.
2. Effect of Atmospheric Ammonia on Growth Performance and Immunological response of broiler chickens, YM Wang, Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances 9 (22); 2802-2806, 2010
3. Wei FX, Hu XF, Sa RN, Liu FZ, Li SY, Sun QY. Antioxidant capacity and meat quality of broilers exposed to different ambient humidity and ammonia concentrations. Genet Mol Res. 2014;13(2):3117–3127. doi: 10.4238/2014.April.17.8.
4. Piorkowska K, Zukowski K, Nowak J, Poltowicz K, Ropka-Molik K, Gurgul A. Genome-wide RNA-Seq analysis of breast muscles of two broiler chicken groups differing in shear force. Anim Genet. 2015;47(1):68–80. doi: 10.1111/age.12388.