Farmfront Board Member

Stevi Stewart

This commentary is meant to talk openly and honestly about American poultry practices. We hope you walk away feeling informed!

As the US and UK work on post-Brexit trade deals, some British media have begun looking into what British consumers can expect from American agriculture goods. Simply put, American methods and EU methods can differ. One aspect is how American commercial poultry interacts with poop. If you’ve ever been curious if American chickens sit in their own poop, yep they do! Is it because farmers are neglectful? Actually, the opposite!

An Ode to…Chicken Litter?

As has been stated in previous posts of mine, I have a deep appreciation from using chicken manure, or litter as it is called to help my garden flourish. The reasoning behind this is the fact that chicken litter contains such a high amount of nitrogen, as well as the other two main ingredients in any commercial fertilizer, phosphorus and potassium. While it is still a worthy tool, this must be approached carefully, and the litter must be composted to keep it from damaging your plants. However, did you know that chicken litter also helps keep chickens healthy?

The Consequences of No Antibiotics

Since the vast majority of chickens produced in the United States are now raised under the principles of “No Antibiotics Ever,” some creative measures have to be taken to make sure they are kept as healthy as possible. While it would be assumed, that it would be important to put new bedding in chicken houses every single flock, it has been realized that there are many benefits to keeping litter in houses much longer than ever before. One of the first of those, is to expose chickens to bacteria earlier in their life. The benefit to this is that when chicks are exposed at a young age, their gut being smaller allows their exposure to the bacteria much more slowly, and as the bacteria go through their life cycle, the chicken should be able to take on each challenge better with it’s increasing immunity.

Borrowing Good Bacteria

One technique that is used on older chicken litter to help it be beneficial to chickens in the tactic of windrowing. When a farmer windrows their litter, it is piled up into rows within the houses, within these rows, the litter generates enough heat, to reach temperatures as high as 140 degrees, that allow it to kill off the oversupply of any bacteria that might be living in it, and keep it to a more manageable level. Since chicken litter can hold a lot of heat, it can actually assist in helping warm the houses up to a suitable brooding temperature for chicks when the next flock arrives!

Allowing litter to build up over time also provides greater protection for the chickens against bacteria that may be lurking in the dirt pad underneath. Deep litter is also more absorbent, allowing the environment to stay dryer if any mishaps such as a spike in humidity due to a ventilation error or a small water leak. Built-up litter can also provide an economic benefit as well. Farmers do not have to spend extra time and money to replace litter between flocks. It saves on labor, fuel cost, and potential damage to the poultry housing from tractors coming in and out.

While it may seem a little crazy and backward, there is a lot of thought that has gone into the decision that building up chicken litter is the right step to keep broiler chickens healthy! 

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