Water Management 101

With water in increasingly short supply in many parts of the world, the pressure is on to make high-consumption industries such as poultry farming as efficient as possible, writes Glenneis Kriel.
calendar icon 28 December 2017
clock icon 7 minute read

Water is a critical component of broiler-farming success. It not only influences birds’ performance and growth, but also has a direct impact on biosecurity, according to Nir Leventer, manager at the livestock division of Plasson in Israel. Leventer explains that a shortage of water can have a negative impact on feed conversion, while wasted water might become a breeding ground for harmful pathogens and fungi. Wasted water can also have a negative impact on litter quality, which in turn can lead to respiratory diseases and other health risks.

But what can farmers do to make their water use more efficient? Here are our eight mantras of water management to help keep your flock healthy and your wastage to a minimum...

1. Ensure an adequate supply

Modern, high-performing broilers require more water than broilers of the past. A study by CL Williams, GT Table and SE Watkins, comparing broiler flock daily water consumption and water-to-feed ratios for flocks grown at the University of Arkansas Applied Broiler Research Farm (published in The Journal of Applied Poultry Research on 1 December 2013), found that flocks raised under commercial conditions from 2010 to 2011 consumed an average of 50.32 gallons of water per 1,000 birds per day. Daily water consumption for flocks raised on the farm between 2000 to 2001 was lower at 42.41 gallons per 1,000 birds and even lower at 37.07 gallons per 1,000 birds for flocks reared in 1991. Significant differences were also observed in the water-to-feed ratios during these periods.

Leventer estimates that, depending on their age and climatic conditions, birds these days consume 1.6 to two times more water than feed: “Generally speaking, birds end up consuming about 200g of feed and 350ml of water per day by the time they reach slaughter age. This amounts to about 15,000 litres of water per day for a broiler house with 45 000 birds,” says Leventer.

For a broiler farm to be successful, producers therefore have to ensure they have access to enough water to meet the daily requirements of modern birds. It should also be taken into account that the demand for water increases with age. Water infrastructure is therefore required, with the capacity to deliver more water as the birds get older. “Failure to supply birds with enough water at the right time will have a negative impact on the feed-conversion ratio and result in birds not reaching their full genetic potential,” says Leventer.

2. Design water-efficient houses

Birds subjected to warm climatic conditions drink more water than birds kept in a cooler environment. According to Cobb-Vantress’s article Water Management in Broiler Flocks, water consumption increased by 6 percent for every one degree Celsius increase between 20 to 32 degrees Celsius, and 5 percent for every one-degree increment from 32 to 38 degrees Celsius. Feed consumption increased by 1.23 percent for every degree above 20 degrees Celsius.

For the best use of feed and water, birds should therefore be kept in optimal climatic conditions. Since a flock’s climate is controlled with the help of water – in both cooling and humidifying the poultry house – your choice of house and ventilation system design also have a big influence on water consumption.

According to Jacques Bouwer, general manager of PSA Livestock Equipment, South Africa: “Environmentally controlled systems are preferred to naturally ventilated houses, where curtains or louvres are used to control climatic conditions, because these system will be subjected to smaller climatic fluctuations. For this reason less water is required to keep the climate in these closed systems at optimal levels.”

3. Choose the right cooling system

Evaporative cooling pads tend to use less water than high-pressure nozzle cooling systems in certain applications. The efficiency of the system will depend on various factors, including the age and maintenance of the system.

Bouwer advises that cooling pads usually work best when temperatures need to be lowered in high-humidity conditions, while nozzle cooling is a better option when you need to cool down drier areas where the air can absorb more moisture. “Relative humidity, location and environmental conditions all had to be carefully considered when choosing the most suited cooling system for a specific farm,” says Bouwer.

4. Use an efficient drinker system

Closed-nipple drinker systems are much more water efficient and hygienic than open “bell” drinker systems. This is because water in bell drinkers can easily be contaminated and spilled, according to Johannes van As, an agricultural engineer at WSM Leshika Consulting Engineers, based in South Africa.

Pressure in a nipple drinker system determines the water flow rate at the drinker, says van As, and, “Pressure should be adjusted regularly to adjust the flow rate according to the birds’ growing requirement. If the flow is more than what the birds consume, water will be spilled.”

Careful planning is also needed to place enough drinkers at the spots. “The number of birds competing for water per drinker needs to be taken into consideration, since too many birds per nipple drinker will result in a wastage. The height of nipple drinker lines also have to be adjusted in accordance with the growth of the birds to ensure ease of drinking,” says van As.

5. Manage water quality and temperature

Closed water-provision infrastructure with no leakages will help to ensure your water remains pure. Contaminated water used for drinking or cooling purposes can be a health risk for birds and have a negative impact on production. “Water samples should be taken and analysed regularly to ensure the water meet the requirements for drinking and cooling purposes before use,” says van As.

Measures should also be taken to keep water cool. Van As suggests water should be stored in a closed storage facility situated in a cool, shady area. And according to Bouwer, producers will have to flush their water more frequently if it’s not stored in a cool place and its temperatures rises: “Flushing more often to keep water temperatures low increases water usage on the farm, but remember that birds will not drink water if the water temperatures are too hot and this will have a negative impact on your feed conversion ratio.”

6. Monitor and control

Most modern systems are automated and will alert poultry producers to any problems through various channels of communication . According to Bouwer, it’s now possible to much better monitor and manage water, feeding and ventilation systems using technology.

Bouwer adds that the installation of durable and reliable water meters in the long term allows producers to monitor their patterns of water consumption accurately and this can help them to identify potential problems early.

7. Think outside the box

Purified and recycled rainwater, harvested from roofs and the surrounding terrain can provide a large portion of the water requirement of a broiler farm, according to van As. A typical broiler house – which van As defines as one that accommodates around 50,000 broilers with a roof area of approximately 2,250 m² – might provide up to 1,125,000 litres of water a year, if your farm is situated in an area with a mean annual rainfall of 500mm or more.

8. Use high-pressure sprayers for cleaning and disinfecting

Efficient cleaning and disinfection of poultry houses by means of high-pressure spraying equipment (±60 Bar) will ensure minimal water wastages, according to van As.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 edition of The Poultry Site Digital. To read other articles from this issue, themed around 'sustainability', click here.

December 2017

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