Alternative Bedding for Broiler Chickens

Poultry bedding availability issues are arising rapidly in the broiler industry that may alter the type and quality of bedding available to broiler growers, writes Chris Harris, Senior Editor, ThePoultrySite.
calendar icon 2 May 2008
clock icon 4 minute read

At Auburn University in Alabama, USA, a team of researchers looked at the effects that different bedding materials had on the performance of groups of birds in three separate trials.

The different bedding materials were measured for their moisture absorption, density, bulk and initial moisture.

The three trials took place between late summer through and early winter last year on groups of broilers that were between 41 and 42 days old.

The mixed-sex birds were reared to 42 days of age on a three-phase commercial feeding programme.

In the first of a series of planned trials, eight alternative bedding sources [pine shaving (PS); pine bark (PB); ground hard-wood pallets (GP); mortar sand (MS); chopped straw (CS); ground door filler (DF); cotton-gin trash (CT); and chipped pine (CP)] were compared in side-by-side experimental pens. In all there were 20 birds per pen and a total of 48 pens.

In addition to broiler growth performance looking at weight gain, feed consumption, and mortality, the trial examined litter caking scores as a percentage of the pen area and percentage moisture. The initial moisture level of all the bedding materials was even.

The least dense material at the outset was the chopped straw and the densest was the mortar sand.

Footpad Dermatitis

The incidence and severity of footpad dermatitis pododermatitis was also assessed. This was scored on a three-point scale.

Presenting the results of the trials at the International Poultry Scientific Forum in Atlanta, Georgia, earlier this year, Prof SF Sarge Bilgili said that significant (P<0.05) differences in live performance were detected among the sources tested.

At 42 days of age, broilers reared on mortar sand were heavier (2415 g) and consumed more feed (4054 g/bird) than those reared on ground hard-wood pallets (2143 and 3700 g), chopped straw (2079 and 3700 g), and cotton trash (2170 and 3709 g), respectively.

Prof Bilgili said that none of the pens showed anything out of the ordinary for body weight feed conversion or the mortality of the birds. He concluded that with feed conversion (Range: 1.667-1.728) and mortality (Range: 1.85 to 7.33 per cent) the figures were not significant among treatments.

The moisture in the litter in the first trial that took place between July and August last year was high all along the line.

Prof Bilgili said it showed that all the materials were all right as far as performance was concerned. However, the performance of the materials changed over time according to the weather conditions.

The chopped straw and the ground door filler and cotton trash had the highest absorption rates, whereas the mortar sand had the worst absorption.

Litter Caking

Degree of litter caking was highest for cotton trash (87 per cent) and chopped straw (67 per cent), and lowest for pine bark (27 per cent). Mortar sand had the lowest litter moisture (10.5 per cent), followed by chipped pine and ground hardwood pallets (29 per cent), whereas chopped straw had the highest (39 per cent).

Incidence of pododermatitis ranged from 24 to 55 per cent, with birds reared on chopped straw and chipped pine showing the highest severity scores (21 and 23 per cent, respectively). Both the door filler and the cotton trash were best for lesions, although in one test the mortar sand proved good as well.

Prof Bilgili said that overall there was a poor correlation between the litter moisture and footpad dermatitis.

Overall, pine bark and mortar sand ranked better than pine shavings, which is the common bedding.

The research team said that subsequent trials should provide additional information on long-term durability of each bedding source.


The research was conducted by S. F. Bilgili, J. B. Hess, J. P. Blake, K. S. Macklin, and J. L. Sibley, from Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

April 2008
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