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Free-range egg farm trials bacteria to improve shed environment

Aled Davies and Osian Williams.JPG

TRIALS treating litter with a non-infective bacteria product on a Welsh free-range egg farm have shown it can help to reduce ammonia levels. 

The Williams family, who farm at Wern, a Farming Connect demonstration site at Y Foel, near Welshpool, have been trialling a new approach to optimising the environment in their two 16,000-hen multi-tiered sheds.

See also: A poultry producer’s guide to biofilms in water lines

This has resulted in a reduction in the frequency that muck needs to be cleaned from the manure belts, from every three days to once a fortnight, and hens are dealing with red mite challenges naturally by maintaining high health.

Mortality has decreased to 2.7% from the 3.7% recorded at week 59 in the previous cycle, and there has been no antibiotic use.

At a recent Farming Connect open day at the farm, Aled Davies, of Pruex, said the trial’s objective had been to determine what variations optimised the environment of housing.

Ammonia

“What we have learned is the peril of wet areas in the building because these cause humidity, which is a significant factor in the production of ammonia from chicken litter,” said Mr Davies.

Ammonia is generated by bacteria in chicken litter converting uric acid into ammonia.

By introducing non-infective bacteria similar to soil, in the form of Pruex stabiliser, into the shed water vapour is produced, and the litter dries out.

Manure belts

At Wern, this effect is apparent from a significant reduction in muck build-up on manure belts.


“We are able to hold chicken muck on the belts for two weeks rather than three days,” said Osian Williams, who farms with his parents, Dafydd and Eleri, and his partner, Nikki.

Before the trial, the litter had been 70% moisture, and the weight of this on the manure belt meant it needed to be cleared frequently.

Throughout the project, Pruex has reduced moisture in the litter on the belts by over 50% of the original levels, said Mr Williams.

“If we left it more than three days, it reached very high levels of ammonia but, because it is now releasing water vapour, we can have it sat on there for two weeks.”

Labour

Labour requirement for this job has been reduced by more than three quarters, and ammonia levels are low, he added.

Mr Davies said because the litter is now much drier and its storage requirement is less, it can help farmers meet the new regulations.

“A lot of the challenges that farmers are concerned about with regard to the new regulations are mitigated here at Wern,” said Mr Davies.

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The atmosphere in sheds has also improved – ammonia levels have reduced by 75% in the warmer summer months, from 20 parts per million to 5ppm.

This can only be good for egg production, Mr Davies added. “Egg production is optimised while ensuring dry bedding, clean air and safe water.”