Summertime Ammonia: Fact or Fiction?

By Blake Gibson

In hot summer months, the ammonia challenge in a poultry house is just as real as it is during cold, winter months. Yet many producers continue to think that increased summer ventilation eliminates the problem. In reality, the increase in litter age and bird size compounds the ammonia challenge regardless of the time of year.

In air quality surveys of more than 300 houses during summer, only 37% of those tested had ammonia levels 25 PPM or less. Furthermore, 53% of houses were above 50 PPM. None had been treated with a litter amendment.

Litter amendment use has become more common, but not always in summer. In a survey of 251 houses, 98% of those treated with PLT® had ammonia levels below 25 PPM. In the untreated houses, 32% has levels below 25 PPM and 27% of the untreated houses had ammonia levels above 50 PPM.

Many producers continue to cite cost as the reason for not using a litter amendment in summer. However, the farms mentioned above that used PLT saw fuel savings of 68% compared to farms using no litter treatment!

Managing Ammonia in Summer

Ammonia can be easily managed in the summer with the use of proper pre-heating, litter curing and litter amendment application in the brood and off chamber at placement and at move down. A minimum 48-hour pre-heat of 90 degrees is still vital to ensuring the litter will cure and warm evenly from sidewall to sidewall and deep into the litter pack. If litter does not cure, it will still be purging ammonia when chicks are placed, and often ammonia levels remain above 50 PPM in most houses during minimum ventilation. In addition, without a proper pre-heat, once birds are placed and fans are switched to continuous run, the extra ventilation will rapidly cool off the top layer of the litter causing chicks to sit, rather than eat and drink.

Pre-heating in the summer can be much easier than winter months, as the brooders will barely cycle to maintain heating air temperature. Turn on the brooders to the required set temperature a minimum of 48 hours prior to the new chicks arriving; pre-heating time will be longer for deeper litter packs. Only run ventilation if necessary to prevent the house from sweating.  This usually only requires about 5 minutes run time every hour.

During downtime, make ammonia management easier with these four steps

  1. Shut houses tightly as soon as birds leave the house. Ventilate during the days when air mass is at its driest, but not at night, if houses begin to sweat.
  2. Walk the entire length of the house to note the location, depth and character of the caked litter. This will give you information about the quality of minimum ventilation in terms of humidity and direction of airflow.
  3. Set the decaker only as deep as the cake, being careful not to disturb any more of the litter depth than required.
  4. Re-close the house to retain core litter temperature.
  5. Turn heat on a minimum of 48 hours prior to placement with no ventilation to start the purging process.

Ammonia is a reality all producers must manage—even in the summer. Fortunately, basic litter management and litter amendment application can eliminate the ammonia challenge.