The watering system in your poultry house and how you manage it are central to the quality of environment in which you raise your flock. This is especially true during the critical first 24 hours of a chick’s life and the following two weeks. Poor conditions during brooding will damage the flock’s performance and negatively impact results at the end of the grow-out.

It is vital that new chicks have immediate access to fresh, hygienic water and that their environment is as clean as possible. This article will discuss various aspects of brooding and the impact of the watering system.

Test the water source

Whether your water comes from a public utility or a private well, you should test it on a regular basis for bacteria and chemicals. This is important because water conditions –especially groundwater – can change over time. You need to ensure you are giving your flock the cleanest water possible. The water should be potable, i.e. fit for human consumption.

Also, test well water regularly for nitrates. Nitrate-nitrogen can get into a well from rain run-off that contains animal waste or fertiliser. Nitrate itself is non-toxic but in a chick’s digestive tract, it can change to nitrite, which can cause an oxygen deficiency in the bird. This condition could inhibit growth or lead to death.

Cleaning the water systems

Well before the arrival of the chicks, there are a number of procedures you should perform to get the poultry house ready. Primary among those procedures are cleaning and checking the watering system.

Prepare the watering system with a high-pressure flush – 1.5 to 3.0 bars (20 to 40psi.). This flush will dislodge any biofilm in the lines, as well as any sediment build-up. Both can impact how the drinkers function.

Additionally, biofilm poses another threat to your flock. Biofilm is created when bacteria attach to a solid surface in the watering system. The bacteria exude a sticky, nutrient-rich slime that attracts additional bacteria, as well as anything else in the water. The biofilm rapidly becomes an active colony of pathogens that can break off and get into your birds when they drink.

A cleaning agent, such as a hydrogen peroxide-based product, introduced into the watering system prior to the high-pressure flush, will break up the biofilm. After allowing the cleaning agent time to work, flush the lines with pure water for at least one minute for each 30 metres (100 feet).

Preventing wet litter


After flushing the system, check each drinker to make sure it is functioning correctly. Replace any leaking drinkers to avoid wet litter. Do not forget to check all other features of the watering system to make sure they are in good working order. A breakdown in the watering system during brooding could have a serious impact on flock performance.

The aim is to keep the litter in the poultry house friable. Friable litter will clump slightly if you grab a handful and squeeze, and it will fall apart again when you open your hand. This indicates that the litter moisture content is about 20-25%. Wet litter will remain clumped in a ball when squeezed.

Wet litter releases ammonia that can damage a bird’s trachea, making it more susceptible to disease. Humans can detect ammonia at around 20 parts per million (ppm). Concentrations higher than that – around 50-100ppm – cause the human eye to burn and tear. Chickens are more sensitive to ammonia, and concentrations of 50 to 100ppm can cause blindness in poultry. Even at a level of 5ppm (undetectable to the human nose), ammonia can irritate the protective lining of a chick’s respiratory system, making it more susceptible to disease. Under commercial conditions, ammonia cannot be eliminated but we recommend the level is kept below 25ppm.

Other drawbacks of wet litter include increased foot lesions, breast blisters, skin burns and scabby areas. Any disease in the chicks takes feed energy away from meat production to fight off the condition. Additionally, any injury or unhealthy condition can persist throughout the grow-out period, increasing downgrades and condemnations.

Wet litter also causes the chicks to become chilled. Producers need to pay close attention to the temperature in the poultry house, particularly at floor level where the young birds are. The chick’s leg skin in contact with cool, wet litter can draw off much of the bird’s core temperature. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions for setting up and operating the brooders and the ventilation system. These have a great impact on the temperature in the house and of the litter. Cool temperatures will impact performance throughout the grow-out.

Litter that is too dry can create dusty air conditions that also promote respiratory disease, resulting in increased production problems and reduced performance.

Adjusting drinker height

Set the line height and water pressure prior to the arrival of the new chicks. This is very important because if the chicks do not drink or cannot find the water, they will rapidly dehydrate. On the first day, place the chicks close to the drinkers. We recommend that for nipple-type systems, the end of the trigger should be just slightly higher than the bird’s eye level. Also, provide sufficient light so that the chicks are attracted to the metal pins.

Most manufacturers of nipple-type drinkers without catch cups recommend using minimal pressure settings for day-old chicks. We recommend a setting as low as 2.5cm (1 inch) of column height pressure, but follow the manufacturers’ guidelines on pressure settings after the first week.

The first 24 hours and the first week of a chick’s life are of vital importance to how the bird will perform during the remainder of the production cycle. Anything that hampers bird growth during brooding will show up at the end of the grow-out because there simply is not enough time in a broiler’s short life to make up for the loss.


Ziggity Systems Technical Team