Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production
poultry farm litter

Litter windrows can drop pathogen levels.

Posted August 06, 2021 by Dr. Theresia Lavergne, Technical Services Manager

A big part of keeping birds healthy is controlling the environment in which they live to reduce exposure to pathogens. This goal can be difficult to achieve, considering birds spend their lives on litter.

Most broiler producers choose to keep litter in houses to avoid the time, expense and environmental issues related to removing litter. That means in order to reduce exposure of broilers to pathogens producers need to manage the litter effectively.

One thing pathogens don’t like is heat, so it stands to reason that if litter can be heated the amount of pathogens could be reduced. There’s no way to get the house that hot for a long enough period, so the next option is to handle the litter in a way that raises enough heat.

Consider windrows as a management strategy.

That’s where windrows come in. Producers are turning to piling litter into long windrows using either a blade or windrower behind a tractor. Windrows should be 5 to 6 feet wide and three feet in height. If there’s enough litter, make two rows. If not, one will be fine.

These long windrows bring the litter into a concentrated area and force a fermentation process that creates a significant amount of heat. Within 24 to 48 hours the temperature inside the pile should exceed 131 degrees, killing 99% of the pathogens in the pile.

The moisture level of the litter is important to be able to initiate the pasteurization process. Ideally, litter will be at 30% moisture, however the process will still work with litter as low as 25% moisture.

Ideally the pile will sit for 10 to 14 days to generate enough heat and get a good pathogen kill. However, producers rarely have enough time to let the house sit empty for this long. Timing can be shortened to less than 10 days if the pile is turned after the first 3 to 5 days and sits for an additional 3 to 5. Turning the litter is beneficial when moisture levels are high.

Once the pile has sat long enough, the litter can be spread back out. This process of recycling litter obviously reduces pathogens, but it also eliminates the need to find space to spread the litter and reduces the costs associated with replacing the bedding.

Feed to promote ammonia reduction.

While managing litter like this can reduce pathogens, it does nothing to reduce ammonia levels which can be toxic to young chicks. Letting the litter sit for 3 or 4 days can help naturally reduce ammonia levels. Venting the poultry house after the litter is spread back out can also help reduce ammonia. Additionally, including a feed additive like CERTILLUS Eco at a pound per ton of feed can help reduce ammonia loads.

In an on-farm trial1, two groups of broilers in separate houses were either fed CERTILLUS Eco or no additive as part of the control. More prevalent ammonia odor was detected in the control houses compared to the houses where birds were fed CERTILLUS Eco. In fact, average ammonia levels in houses where birds were fed CERTILLUS Eco were 45% lower than in control houses. Litter was also drier in houses where CERTILLUS Eco was fed.

Litter management is an integral part of managing the health of your flock. When done properly, simple management tactics like windrowing litter can reduce pathogen loads and improve bird health.

Contact an ARM & HAMMER representative to discuss a litter management strategy for your operation.


1 Data collected and analyzed by ARM & HAMMER. Reports on file. 2018.

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