KEEPING ammonia emissions under control and reducing them where possible is increasingly a focus for commercial poultry producers.
And ammonia management is particularly under focus in Wales, where the poultry sector’s rapid expansion has come under criticism from some quarters.
As part of efforts to improve management, a three-year European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Wales trial on two broiler farms looked specifically at the role additives may have in reducing emissions by improving gut health and flock performance.
The study produced no evidence that these were effective for this purpose – similar levels of ammonia were recorded in the control and treatment houses.
But project manager Jason Gittins, technical director for livestock at ADAS, says there are a number of other measures that farmers can put in place to tackle emissions.
Ammonia is a component of urea, which is excreted in poultry faeces; when that manure is exposed to air and moisture, the gas is released.
Agriculture is a significant source of ammonia, accounting for 87% of UK emissions in 2019. Of this, 14% came from poultry production.
“Ammonia gas is a harmful gas to both poultry and poultry workers, and excessive nitrogen deposition resulting from ammonia emissions also damages the environment,’’ warns Mr Gittins.
Here, he gives his advice on how poultry farmers can reduce those emissions.
Poorly ventilated sheds will result in wet litter, which allows more ammonia to be released into the air.
The use of effective ventilation to optimise the in-house environment, and preventing condensation can increase litter dry matter content and so reduce ammonia emissions.
Indirect heating systems heat the shed without the additional carbon dioxide and water vapour produced by direct gas heating systems, Mr Gittins explains.
“As a result, litter condition is often drier, which makes conditions less favourable for the production of ammonia,’’ he points out.
Ammonia scrubbing systems
These systems typically pass exhaust air from the house through a liquid to capture the ammonia; the air released to the atmosphere then has a lower ammonia content.
Mr Gittins says reports have indicated that reductions in ammonia emissions of around 80% are possible using scrubbing systems, but the capital and operating costs can be high.
Correct diet formulation
Diets should be formulated based on amino acid requirements rather than crude protein, Mr Gittins advises.
“Diet formulation should change throughout the flock cycle to ensure that the nutrient supply is closely matched to the birds’ ammonia acid and other nutrient requirements.’’
Improvements in feed utilisation and feed conversion ratios (FCR) provide both environmental and financial benefits.
Correct removal and storage of soiled bedding
Manure should be contained in covered stores on impermeable surfaces.
If field heaps are used, the surface area should be as small as possible: ‘A’ shaped, as this will reduce emissions, says Mr Gittins.
“A key issue is that wet poultry manure and litter can lead to higher emissions of ammonia and so the priority is to keep them as dry as possible, both during housing and afterwards.
“This can also increase its value per tonne as a fertiliser and reduce haulage costs and odour risks.’’
Manure applications should follow normal good practice, he adds.
“This should include avoiding spreading during frost, snow and heavy rain and taking account of soil conditions at the time.
“For liquid organic manures, precision spreading methods are preferable to splash-plate systems.’’
In free-range egg production, the move to multi-tier systems, rather than single-tier, is consistent with reducing ammonia because of belt clean-out and frequent manure removal.
Preventing puddling around drinkers
Keeping litter dry is key to reducing ammonia levels. Drinkers should be managed to prevent spillages – any leaks need to be identified and quickly resolved.
“Nipple drinker systems should be adopted, as these allow better management of water intake and reduce water wastage,’’ Mr Gittins recommends.
High bird health
Keeping the health status of birds high will help to maintain litter in a drier condition.
“Birds challenged with disease and in poor health often produce wetter manure, which can result in higher ammonia emissions,’’ says Mr Gittins.