Deep litter system is a poultry housing rearing method in which the poultry farmer rears their birds on a thick layer of litter material placed on the poultry house floor.
Deep litter system for broiler and layer poultry farming
Both broiler and layer chicken can be reared using the deep litter system. When brooding chicks, deep litter material should be covered with newspaper to avoid chicks eating litter.
Deep litter system vs. cage system
It is common also that poultry farms adopt hydrid rearing systems, where chicks are raised on litter in a brooder and then later on moved to cages to complete the rearing cycle.
A disadvantage of deep litter systems when rearing layer (egg laying) chicken is ‘floor eggs’. In other words, eggs laid on the floor which run the risk of either being broken or becoming deteriorated in quality.
The alternative to the deep litter system is cage system. With deep litter system of rearing, birds are free to move within the poultry house and not confined to their cage. As such they are given a larger floor space allocation.
Recurring cost of replenishment
Deep litter system also has the recurring cost of replenishing the deep litter material at the end of each rearing cycle. Plus, poultry houses need a far more extensive clean to remove all the bedding material.
In a deep litter system, birds foul the litter material that they are reared on. But natural absorbency of litter and depth of material will help to maintain sanitation levels. In cage system, birds excrete into manure receptacles underneath the cages which by motorised conveyor belt carries manure into a manure pit within the poultry house.
Deep litter system maintenance
If excessive soiling and moisture is kept within the litter material, environmental hazards can occur such as infestation of flies. Such adverse conditions can seriously threaten the profitability of your poultry farm.
Key features of a good deep litter material:
- Litter material must be absorbent
- Able to be scattered and spread into a bed
- Non-toxic or harmless to birds
- Readily available in the locality surrounding the poultry farm
- Relatively cheap as to make economic sense
The litter gets soiled (both solid and liquid excreta) continually by the birds from day to day and with increasing amounts as birds grow to maturity. And so, the litter material must be regularly replenished to maintain sanitation levels.
Types of material used for deep litter system
Typical litter materials used around the world for deep litter system in poultry houses:
- paddy husks
- groundnut hulls
- coir pith
- chopped straw
Deep litter system best practices
Common best practice for poultry deep litter system:
- height 5cm is sufficient for broiler and 12cm to 15 cm for layers
- rake litter daily
- don’t rake litter with drinkers or feeders around
- monitor moisture levels of litter continuously (above 25% is deemed excessive ammonia)
- concentration of ammonia above 25 ppm in the air, birds will exhibit physical signs of stress and further, disease
- never recycle litter material – or cross contamination will threaten your flocks’ survival
- ammonia inhibiting extracts like Yucca can be added to litter material for a deodorising effect
Moisture and deep litter system
Moisture in particular is a key determinant in the suitability of litter condition:
- Too much moisture can lead to damp litter – which is known to bring on skin diseases and lesions on birds affecting quality of meat delivered to market.
- Too little moisture and airborne dust particles can prove a respiratory danger to both birds and handlers leading to adverse health.
- FAO experts advise optimal litter moisture levels to be in the region of 15-25%.
- Poultry house ventilation is a key environmental factor for controlling litter moisture. Inadequate ventilation leads to increasing moisture. This should be avoided.
- Drinkers and water dispensers should be checked regularly for leaking. Leaking drinkers have been known to give rise to fly infestations in poultry farms.
Cleaning deep litter houses
At the end of the rearing cycle used litter material is cleared out of the poultry house and is held in a manure pit, ready for off-site removal. Any stubbornly stuck on used litter material should be jet washed off or even burned off if necessary.
Expert advice instructs that the manure be a fair distance away from the poultry houses and down wind. This way there is very little chance of cross contamination of new flocks on arrival.
Poultry diseases and deep litter system
The following are common bacterial diseases associated with poor litter quality:
- Coli-bacillosis: e.coli organism affecting yolk sac.
- Coryza: characterised by swollen eyes and face
- Brooder Pneumonia: mouldy fungus infested litter
- Coccidiosis: intestinal problems inc. bloody stools
In short, excessively moist litter makes an excellent substrate for growing bacteria. Such conditions lead to a variety bacterial infections.
Deep litter and manure used as a fertiliser
Poultry manure has viable recycle value as a fertiliser. Horticulturalists in particular find much value in utilising poultry manure for its growth boosting benefits.
If transport costs are reasonable, chicken manure can perform well a suitable economically viable alternative to commercial grade fertiliser.