Poultry House Management: When to clean out?

Poultry litter is really alive and has a complete, complex microbial ecology contained in the bedding material. The ecology of poultry litter can be one favorable for bird growth and performance or it can be a source of challenges. A total poultry house clean out allows for the physical removal of this contamination but should only be undertaken if sufficient, high-quality bedding material is available to reconstruct a proper, deep-litter bed for the birds. Far too often, growers fill the house with an inadequate amount of bedding after a clean out—creating more poultry problems than solutions.

Proper Poultry House Clean Out Practices

The amount of poultry bedding placed in houses, the depth at which the litter is managed, and the maintenance of litter capillarity plays a key role in moisture management and preservation of litter quality.

Litter provides a reservoir for both absorbing moisture and releasing it back into the house atmosphere. In fact, maintaining optimum relative humidity of 50-70% within a poultry house requires the litter bed to be a moisture donor during minimum ventilation periods. The deeper the litter base, the more it can absorb before becoming saturated if litter capillarity is maintained. Fairchild et al. (15) measured litter moisture when litter was placed in houses at 1, 3 and 5 inches of depth. When broilers were 42 days of age, they found an inverse relationship between litter depth and moisture content and suggested using a minimum litter depth of 3 inches with the best results occurring at 5 inches. At depths less than this amount, caking is often excessive and can lead to greater waste production and bedding replacement costs.

Skimping on litter replacement will actually cost a grower far more in the long run than placing a good 5-6 inches of fresh litter in the house to begin with. In houses with concrete footers that sweat or houses with a loss of insulation along the sidewalls due to darkling beetles, an extra inch or two of litter placed along the sidewall helps to prevent caking by adding absorptive capacity to an area of high moisture challenge.

When the decision is made to clean out, and sufficient bedding material has been procured for replacement, then care should be taken to make sure ALL the litter is actually removed from the house.  Depending on house construction, there may be areas along the sidewalls, in corners, and under fans where litter will need to be removed by hand. In addition, the pad should be swept to remove the litter fines that are very high in ammonia. Failing to do so may result in 50+ PPM of ammonia on the next flock even with the new bedding.

Still unclear on what clean out practices to apply in your poultry houses? Contact your Jones-Hamilton representative to discuss your poultry litter management approach.