Potable, clean water is critical if a flock of broilers, turkeys, layers or breeders is to perform at its best.

And when investigating performance losses in commercial poultry production, examining water quality should be considered a priority, according to Sand Lizard Technical Solutions director John Burfield.

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“Few of those tasked with resolving performance problems on farms fully understand the insidious nature of biofilms.

“Biofilms are ubiquitous in nature; dental plaque and pond scum are two common examples,” he explains.

Biofilms are not, as their name suggests, a continuous film layer.

Structure of coral

They present as microcolonies of bacterial cells encased in a polysaccharide matrix and are more akin, in some respects, to the structure of a coral – but not as rigid.

Those microcolonies readily attach to the pipework in poultry housing, and the presence of calcium deposits enhance their ability to attach and develop.

Under such conditions, biofilms are tenacious and highly resistant to disinfectants such as chlorine.

To give some context, bacteria within a biofilm structure are up to 1,000 times more resistant to disinfectants than the same bacteria outside of a ‘film’.

And warm, slow-flowing water allows very rapid growth to occur.

Terminal cleaning not enough

“Managers who rely solely on terminal sanitation are failing to address this feature, thereby allowing swift colonisation of their drinking infrastructure,” says Mr Burfield.

“In this type of scenario, biofilms are not controlled sufficiently to prevent a thriving population of bacteria ‘partying’ in the drinking system.

“E. coli, Pseudomonas, Enterococcus and Staphylococcus amongst many other bacteria are some of the unwelcome guests to this party.

“As a result, the first drink of water a bird takes can be a bacterial soup.”

Even if ‘clean’ at the start of a flock, he adds that water must be considered increasingly contaminated as the flock progresses without in-flock water treatment.

Robbing performance

There is potential for the immune system to be suppressed, and subclinical disease can result. In the worse cases, clinical disease may manifest.

“If unattended, the degradation of the water quality effectively robs performance daily.

“This drags on performance, a situation which is unnecessary and completely avoidable.”

Biofilms can be broken down with the diligent application of effective chemistry.

Commonly, water hygiene chemicals require certain conditions to be effective.


Chlorine-based products require water to be acidic to ensure maximum efficacy; the more alkaline the water, the less effective the chlorine will be, explains Mr Burfield.

“This will be a problem if your water is drawn over bedrock which is Oolitic limestone.

“Products based upon hydrogen peroxide are less fickle in this respect.

“The blend of hydrogen peroxide stabilised by silver ions is a particularly dynamic combination.

“Silver is extremely toxic to bacteria; hydrogen peroxide is a powerful oxidising agent and works very effectively indeed.

Weekly flushing

“Water hygiene solutions such as EndoSan 50 harness this technology.
Using this product as a ‘shock dose’ at the end of a flock, and as a constant trickle dose during the cycle, can offer an efficient treatment regime.

The addition of weekly flushing of the entire system will ensure an effective strategy to overcome biofilms.

“Understand the risks of biofilms, be detailed in your approach and apply appropriate chemistry.

“Achieve this, and you will have defeated one of the commonest causes of lost performance.”