Benefits of using ultrasonic water meters

Ultrasonic water meters accurately measure water usage in poultry houses
calendar icon 22 March 2023
clock icon 4 minute read

Water meters are used as a management tool to track daily water usage in poultry houses. Most mechanical water meters used in poultry housing can only measure water flow rates more than 0.25 gallons per minute which limits reliable measurement of water usage for birds that are less than four days of age, said Garret Ashabranner, a graduate student at the University of Georgia.

Producers can now accurately measure water usage within minutes of chicks being placed in the house by using ultrasonic water meters, he said during his presentation at the 2023 International Poultry Scientific Forum.

The use of ultrasonic water meters provides monitoring from day of placement through the end of growout. This meter is a relatively low investment (US$350) but can provide information that can yield large returns on investment through optimizing chicken management, said Ashabranner.

Modern house controllers can collect, store, and graph water consumption when connected to ultrasonic meters, thus  allowing for identification of problems during early chick management. Over the last two years, (working with Michael Czarick and Brian Fairchild at the University of Georgia), a series of field trials were conducted involving multiple farms using ultrasonic water meters connected to a house controller and a data logger system, he said.

Using this combination of ultrasonic water meters and modern controllers, several common management issues that occur on broiler farms have been documented based on water usage, said Ashabranner.

In one field trial, a drinker leakage issue was discovered less than 24 hours after chicks were placed in the house, he noted. In the first 16 hours, water usage increased 133% more than the adjacent house, adding 200 gallons of extra water to one area of the house. Birds typically do not consume water during dark periods. When the water usage anomaly continued, it was found that the house lights did not turn off at night. This would not have been discovered unless the birds were checked between 12 am and 4 am. These birds had an 18% longer day compared to the house light system that operated correctly, he added.

Bird density at placement can be monitored by water usage, he said. Data from one house indicated 20% more birds in the front of the house on day 14. Despite the grower’s efforts to correct the issue, the difference continued throughout the flock, resulting in bird weights that differed by over half a pound between the front and back of the house. This body weight difference reduced the grower’s pay by 20%.

Ultrasonic water meters monitoring use from day of placement through the end of growout can yield large returns on investment by optimizing chicken management, Ashabranner concluded.

Water usage modeling

Water consumption is closely correlated to feed consumption, therefore, decreases in daily water consumption are often an indicator of reduced feed consumption and/or of health issues. Ultrasonic water meters can accurately monitor water use on a minute-to-minute basis thus providing the opportunity to view bird drinking/feeding activity over the course of the day, said Will Strickland, a graduate student at the University of Georgia, during the 2023 International Poultry Scientific Forum.

Collaborating with University of Georgia staff —Michael Czarick, Brian Fairchild, and Garret Ashabranner— ultrasonic water meters were installed on two free range layer houses in Northeast Georgia. Water usage was measured every five minutes for four weeks, Strickland said. The data was collected through a data acquisition system and analyzed, he added.

From that data, a daily water usage profile was established and shown to be highly repeatable, he noted. The standard deviation ranged from .02 gallons to one gallon. This data was then used to create a software program to model usage, flag uncommon usage and generate an alert, Strickland explained.

Using known events that occurred during the 27-day collection period, the model was tuned to detect abnormally high or low flow rates during specific times of the day. Standard deviation from sampling intervals was calculated and used to set the upper and lower control limits throughout the day, he said.

Strickland said that the aim of the project is to provide a tool to the industry that will alert producers if there are deviations from the expected water usage profiles.

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