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Water System Inspection Pays Off

04 June 2013

With summer fast approaching in the Northern Hemisphere, are your broiler house water plumbing and supply systems adequate to handle summer's peak demand? Experts at the National Poultry Technology Center at Auburn University College of Agriculture offer advice.

Satisfying bird water needs is crucial for top flock performance, and it takes a great deal of water. A typical updated 40-foot × 500-foot broiler house in Alabama can consume 450,000 gallons or more of potable water a year for bird consumption and operation of a 6-inch evaporative cooling system. A four-house broiler farm of these houses may require 1.8 to 2.0 million gallons per year.

Satisfying water demand can be especially challenging in summertime when both birds and evaporative cooling systems are thirsty. In addition to meeting the total demand, it is critical to meet the peak flow rate needed, which in hot weather might be as much as 50 to 60 gallons per minute for four houses. Too often, authors Jess Campbell, Dennis Brothers, Jim Donald and Gene Simpson of the National Poultry Technology Center at Auburn University College of Agriculture say they see farms that do not show obvious problems most of the time during cool and mild weather grow-outs – but show significant flock performance reductions in hot weather because of failing to meet the peak flow rate demand, which can be very costly to a grower.

Hot weather is fast approaching. Are your houses’ water plumbing and supply systems adequate to handle summer’s peak demand? If you cannot answer "Yes", with confidence, it is time to put a water supply system inspection at the top of your spring cleaning checklist.

Broiler house water system inspections should be routinely scheduled but there are some scenarios or situations to look for that tell you to do it now:

  1. Cannot get weight on birds and/or see higher than average mortality rates in hot weather.
  2. Have experienced a drop in performance after adding additional houses on a farm.
  3. Upgraded fans for higher wind-speed and six-inch cooling system without upgrading plumbing.
  4. Experience low or no pressure at drinker lines and in control rooms when birds are drinking and evaporative cooling systems are filling at the same time.
  5. Have trouble keeping evaporative cooling systems from running out of water on hot days.

A partially clogged drinker system pressure regulator can cause a loss in water flow (gallons per minute getting to the birds) before any drop in pressure becomes obvious.
The only way to be sure the regulator is still delivering the water flow needed is to take it out of the line and visually inspect it. On most farms, this should be done at least once a year, and especially in the spring ahead of summer’s high water demand. This regulator is definitely restricting water flow and must be cleaned or replaced. Getting enough water to birds at all times is critical for good flock performance.

Potential Dollars Saved or Lost

If any of the situations or symptoms described above apply to your farm, a water supply restriction might be the root of the problem. Identifying a water supply problem can be tricky but of utmost importance in dollars and cents. You don not want an overlooked water restriction to drop you to the bottom of the settlement sheet.

Consider two farms, each with four similar modern 40-foot × 500-foot broiler houses that require approximately 13 gallons per minute (gpm) per house at peak demand on a really hot dry day, so the total farm water supply flow rate required is 52gpm. Grower A has an adequate water supply and routinely checks for any symptoms of water shortage on the farm and corrects them. Grower B on the other hand, has consistently had trouble with performance during hot weather. He has not identified the problem but notices the houses run low on pressure at times. The truth is that Grower B’s water supply system is either partially clogged or under-sized, and can deliver only 40gpm, not 52gpm. That is a lot of gallons not available during crucial times of the grow-out when birds and cooling pads need it the most.

In this situation of hot weather water inadequacy, Grower B’s flocks may take as much as a three per cent hit in livability and lose as much as 0.4 pounds of potential per bird average live weight. What does this look like in dollars and cents, if each farm places 88,000 birds per grow-out? There are many other factors to consider, but let us keep it simple:

Grower A, having an adequate water supply, received a check for approximately $40,631.36 with a good average weight and good livability. Grower B, having an inadequate water supply, sent fewer birds to the plant with poor livability and a much lower average weight and brought home $3,109.57 less for the same number of chicks placed. Grower B could easily find himself in this scenario for at least two hot-weather flocks and see an estimated $6,219.14 in less income compared to Grower A, simply due to water inadequacy.

Cost of fixing a plumbing or other water supply problem on the average poultry farm varies greatly depending on the particular situation but $6,000 would certainly go a long way toward fixing the problem.

Water Supply Inspection Points

The first point to consider is that the water source used – whether a water utility or pumping from a well or pond, must be capable supplying the amount and flow rate needed. Particular poultry farm water needs vary greatly depending on location, weather conditions, number and size of houses, and number and size of birds grown in those houses. Our example farm above, typical for the lower Broiler Belt growing large birds, needs a water source capable of supplying a minimum of 52gpm at maximum demand. Remember, that is just for the poultry farm, not a dwelling or other farm needs. Contact your company representative for an estimated per-house water requirement.

Following are the main items to check to assure your water system and plumbing are adequate. Examples assume the same typical four-house farm with modern 40-foot by 500-foot broiler houses, the farm requiring 52gpm at peak demand. Note: these figures are for illustration purposes only and may not fit your farm. Each farm must be assessed according to the location of the farm, weather conditions, type and size of birds, and amount and type of equipment installed.

1. Undersized water meter

Undersized water meters can significantly reduce the amount of water pressure and flow that a farm receives during hot weather. The meter might be sufficient to supply a residential home but not a poultry farm. Our example farm requiring 52gpm will need a 1.5-inch diameter municipal water meter to adequately supply the farm. The typical ¾-inch water meter is rated for up to 30gpm and a 1-inch meter up to 50gpm, each restricting 15psi at given water flow. These are American Water Works Association (AWWA) standard pressure loss ratings. Specific meter ratings should be confirmed with the water supplier and meter manufacturer.

2. Undersized main plumbing line(s)

Undersized main water supply lines are often found to be the root of a water problem. A certified plumber should be consulted to determine if a farm’s main line is undersized. The distance from the water source at the meter or well head to the farm’s control room determines the amount of pressure (friction) loss that will occur. Also, major changes in elevation contribute to pressure loss.

For example, a 21.7psi pressure loss will be felt if the farm is only 50 feet above the meter or well head. Our example four-house farm would need a 2-inch diameter PVC main water line and would have 20psi of friction loss if the farm was 1,000 feet from the point of supply on level grade. If the farm water system was installed using only a 1.5-inch main line the friction loss would be approximately 60 psi (3 times more) measured 1,000 feet away. A new 2-inch main water meter will not fix the problem of an undersized main supply line on the farm.

Do not cut corners!
Often we find that the entire plumbing system from the meter to the control room needs to be upgraded. Electing to upgrade the meter only will not fix the problem when the entire system is undersized. This new 2-inch meter will not overcome the restriction caused during peak demand by the existing undersized plumbing line to the houses.

3. Stopped-up Filters

The great thing about water filters is the fact that they are disposable, just like the air filters in our homes. The problem is sometimes we forget to change them and even if we have a regimen we follow to change them once per flock, that might not be enough during summer months when we are using more than average water.

Each farm is different and the rate of filter changes is based on quality and quantity of water used. It is imperative to have water pressure gauges installed on both sides of the filter so the grower can tell if and when the filter is restricting water pressure. This really needs to be checked when a significant number of the birds are up and drinking. If no water is flowing through the filter then there will not be a pressure drop even if the filter needs to be changed. The poorer the water quality the more time and effort a grower will have to spend keeping filters clean.

Plumbing into Control Room
The ¾-inch supply line in this picture is a problem and needs to be upgraded. Most companies require a minimum of 1.5- to 2-inch supply lines into each control room to serve both the birds and pads. Also, do not reduce the supply line at the floor; it should extend up the wall to the last tap or end of the header.

4. Clogged regulator

Water pressure regulators are a great way to restrict water pressure to the drinker systems inside the house but they too can be a water flow restriction. This regulator takes the pressure down from supply pressure at 40 to 100 psi to approximately 25 to 40 psi, depending on company preference.

These regulators have a wire mesh screen inside of them to keep trash from damaging the regulator but can restrict water flow as contaminants build up over time. Regulators should be removed from the line and inspected each year at minimum. Water meters and medicators can also become clogged with trash in the system.

5. Kinked drinker supply hoses

Also known as drop hoses, these connect the water supply plumbing to the drinker lines. The most frequent problem we see with drop hoses is that they become easily kinked and partially or totally stop water flow.

Common household or garden water hoses are not good options for supplying water to drinkers as they are often very easy to kink. Even if higher quality hoses are used, they too can become kinked. If small diameter drop hoses are used, be aware that if biofilm builds up in these hoses, they too can become a source of water restriction.

6. Contaminated nipple drinkers

While modern nipple drinkers usually work well to supply birds with adequate water, they can become partially clogged with biofilm and other contaminants and functionally restrict water. This is not just a hot weather problem. It can occur at any time of the year, and is most often a problem with young chicks, resulting in high 7-day mortalities.

Young chicks are often not strong enough to break the drinker pins free if they are stuck. Activating nipple drinkers prior to bird placement is a must! As nipple drinker technology has evolved, there are several different types of nipple drinkers on the market, designed for the different types and size of birds. Make sure the nipple drinkers in your lines were designed for the birds you are growing. If you have questions about what nipple drinker is right for the flocks being grown, ask your company representative about approved drinker types and options. 

Make Sure Your Backup Water Source is Ready

Water plays an extremely important role in growing a good healthy flock of chickens, so making sure the farm has a good, clean and abundant source of water from day one to catch is imperative. Just as you need a back-up generator, you need a fall-back water source. If your primary water source fails for any reason, your secondary source must ready to take over and carry the farm until the primary water source can be restored. 

The Bottom Line

It is very difficult to maintain a competitive edge growing chickens on farms that have water supply problems, especially during hot weather grow-outs. Water restrictions can develop slowly over time and go unnoticed for years but will have been robbing performance all that time.

A little time spent on preventative maintenance on the farm’s water system can pay dividends by the end of the summer.

The National Poultry Technology Center has received many calls and reports back from growers and company representatives that have basically “turned problem farms around” simply by identifying and successfully repairing water supply problems. This is not to say that this will fix every problem, but it is certainly worth a grower’s time to pay some attention to his water supply system.

If it is decided that a plumbing upgrade is in order for your farm and you are not comfortable or experienced in plumbing work, please contact a company representative and a local reputable plumber and come up with a plan together. There is never enough money for a redo and fixing mistakes in an emergency can be costly.

June 2013

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