6 antibiotic-free supplements that can harm water lines

Products designed to feed and strengthen broilers can be nourishing and fortifying biofilm-forming bacteria.

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jwielf, BigStockphoto.com
jwielf, BigStockphoto.com

Antibiotic-free poultry production is forcing farmers, and the entire industry, to re-evaluate and scrutinize every step in the process, including water lines.

Mary Katherine Foy, director of technical services for Proxy-Clean Products, explained how common products in antibiotic-free (ABF) poultry rearing can affect the cleanliness of waterlines feeding into drinkers. While the substances are supposed to be helpful for the ABF flock, she said, they can also feed the bacteria and micro-organisms that dirty and obstruct the water system. Foy spoke on March 13 as part of the 2018 Midwest Poultry Federation Convention in Minneapolis.

  1. Probiotics: The products are marketed as a way to promote helpful bacteria in the gut, but they are bacteria being added to the water line. Even helpful bacteria can grow inside the water line and create clogs and other problems.
     
  2. Prebiotics: Like probiotics, these products stimulate helpful microflora in the intestinal tract. These products do not discriminate between good and bad bacteria, Foy said, and they also contribute to the growth of microflora inside the water line.
     
  3. Essential oils: A wide variety of essential oil based products exist, promising varying benefits, in the poultry industry. However, Foy said, essential oils are sticky and one of the most difficult supplements to clean out of a water system. If they are used in the short term, application should be followed by at least a week of water treatment. Otherwise, drinkers may be blocked by the sticky substance and bacteria will grow in the film inside the lines.
     
  4. Acids: Foy said acids find many purposes on the farm, such as lowering the pH level of the water or enticing birds to eat and drink at feed change, but long term use of any acid product without water treatment promotes the growth of acidophilic algae, mold, fungus and yeast.
     
  5. Electrolytes and vitamins: As with other products, anything that promote the health of the bird will be unintentionally encouraging the health and growth of biofilm-forming bacteria.
     
  6. Minerals: Like electrolytes and vitamins, minerals such as iron, sulfur and magnesium, are feeding bacteria as well as the birds. If farmers are using well water, or mineral-rich hard water, they should be cognizant of this factor.

    Foy made additional points about copper and iron. Copper sulfate products are seeing increased usage in the ABF environment as a treatment for enteritis. She cautioned the product can lead to both increased bacteria populations and sealed drinkers. Copper sulfate will kill most bacteria, but some that feed on copper sulfate will live on without other competition. Additionally, using copper sulfate for more than five days can lead to drinkers sealed over by copper precipitate.

    As for iron, Foy said the mineral is damaging to water equipment and can promote the growth of bacteria that are harmful to the birds.  
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