Using Air Quality Surveys to Improve Health and Performance

Just as posting sessions allow companies to assess the effectiveness of gut health and vaccination programs, timely air quality surveys allow for assessment and adjustment of litter amendment programs.  Air quality surveys provide a wealth of actionable data that can enhance any operation’s bottom line.

One of most common causes of performance loss in poultry is exposure to ammonia. Ammonia exposure results in reduced performance, increased susceptibility to respiratory viruses, harsh vaccine reactions and in severe cases, blind birds. Weight loss and reduced feed conversions occur with ammonia levels as low as 25-50 ppm, levels too low for most people to detect with their sense of smell. Ammonia blindness in birds does not occur until levels reach 100 ppm or more. Because of this, the absence of blindness is not a sensitive indicator of ammonia presence so many houses without blind birds are still losing weight and feed efficiency.

The most effective way to assess the level of ammonia exposure within a complex is to perform an air quality survey. Air quality surveys are ideally performed when birds are 3 days old or younger. Ammonia surveys evaluate the levels of ammonia, relative humidity and floor temperature in the brood and off chambers across a number of houses and farms. The information gathered allows a complex to assess litter curing and house preparation, the proper rate and application of a litter amendment program, and the level of ammonia challenge within a complex by comparing ammonia readings in the brood chamber, off chamber, and in deep litter.

For example, if a company is on a litter treatment program and the ammonia levels are quite high in both a warm, treated brood chamber as well as cold, unheated off chamber and deep litter readings, the results indicate that the application rate of the amendment is insufficient for the current ammonia challenge within that complex. On the other hand, if the levels in the treated brood chamber are lower than the off-chamber then the rate and timing of application is appropriate for the litter challenge.

Air Quality Surveys in Untreated Houses

Air quality surveys also provide value during the times a company isn’t using a litter amendment. A survey of 577 houses in ten complexes of a particular integrator showed that the vast majority of the company’s houses had ammonia levels that were negatively impacting bird performance.

A different air quality survey of 251 houses in 13 complexes that was conducted in July showed that houses not treated with a litter amendment had a substantial amount of ammonia during the first few days of brooding during the summer. While many people don’t consider air quality during the summer months to be a problem, the data from this survey showed otherwise.

Performing an off-chamber-only air quality survey just prior to moving birds into the whole house is also of value. Ammonia exposure at move down is the most common cause of late airsacculitis in a flock. High levels of ammonia in the off-chamber at turn out can also cause increased susceptibility to bronchitis or Newcastle viruses or harsher than desired vaccine reactions if the birds are receiving a field boost.  Performing an off-chamber survey prior to turn out allows a complex to identify this issue and treat the off-chamber with a litter treatment to prevent any negative consequences due to ammonia exposure.