Litter reuse in U.S. has become a common industry practice as high quality affordable bedding materials have become harder to find, phosphorous-based nutrient management plans have been implemented, and well-managed dry built-up litter systems have been shown to not hurt bird performance. Keeping litter dry to control the bacterial activity which results in ammonia production is key to maintaining good bird performance, according to Dr. Casey Ritz, professor, poultry science, University of Georgia. He told the audience at the “Litter management between flocks & grass bedding webinar,” part of WATT Global Media’s Poultry Grower Webinar Series, sponsored by Jones Hamilton, that moisture control in the poultry house is critical both when the birds are growing and in between flocks.

Ritz said the best way to control ammonia production in the poultry house is to properly control moisture. Liter amendments that significantly reduce litter pH result in the greatest reduction in ammonia volatilization. Litter acidifiers inhibit bacterial and enzymatic activities involved in the formation of ammonia. Ritz said, “As a general rule, reducing the rate of ammonia production is economically favorable to increasing the rate of ammonia removal through ventilation.” This is particularly true when the chicks are young and are started on built-up litter.

In between flocks, Ritz recommends removing caked litter or windrow composting the litter. He said that caked litter is high in moisture and nitrogen, and can become a major source of ammonia, but some growers do leave the caked litter in the house if they windrow compost.

Fans should be operating to ventilate the house throughout the downtime period. Ritz recommends running ventilation fans as much as possible prior to applying litter treatments. The poultry house should also be ventilated while it is being preheated for the next batch of chicks to remove ammonia. He also recommends using circulation fans in houses to start chicks, and he cautions growers to maintain an adequate depth of litter after caking out or windrow composting.

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 Farms with disease challenges or poor performance can potentially see very positive results from windrow composting, according to Ritz. It may be difficult for high performing farms to see benefits from windrow composting. “More work and expense for little or no return,” he said. Windrow composting is a good “best management tool,” Ritz said, but it isn’t an ammonia control tool. 

To learn more view videos about Ammonia control critical to poultry litter reuse and Proper ventilation improves poultry liter conditions 

Or view the archived webinar