Canadian Poultry Magazine

Five watering mistakes that can hurt production

By Technical Team Ziggity Systems Inc   

Features New Technology Production

They can hurt production

Over the past 45 years, poultry production has evolved from a
relatively simple barnyard practice to a highly technical industry.

26Over the past 45 years, poultry production has evolved from a relatively simple barnyard practice to a highly technical industry. During this same period, watering systems have changed from open troughs and bells to very sophisticated enclosed, nipple-type drinking systems. While enclosed systems have greatly reduced labour and maintenance costs, they do require more sophisticated management in order to achieve the best possible results. (Please note: this article is based on nipple-type watering systems without catch cups.)

An international survey of field representatives in the poultry industry revealed five very common mistakes producers make concerning their watering systems, resulting in less than optimum flock performance. Remedies for these mistakes are relatively simple.


Incorrect pressure settings
Broilers drink approximately 0.7 to 0.8 kg. (1.6 to 1.8 lbs) of water for every 0.45 kg. (1 lbs.) of feed they consume. However, birds can drink only so much. You cannot force them to drink more in an effort to make them eat more. A common myth in the poultry industry says that increasing the pressure in an enclosed watering system increases the amount of water the birds consume. In reality, increasing the pressure delivers more water than the birds can consume. The excess water spills onto the litter resulting in elevated ammonia levels that harm the birds and contribute to poor flock performance.

Virtually all manufacturers of nipple-type drinkers without catch cups recommend minimum pressure settings for day-old chicks. Most manufacturers recommend settings below 10 cm to start, while Ziggity systems recommends only 2.5 to 5 cm (1 to 2 inches) of column height pressure in order to ensure dry litter from the very start. After the first week, manufacturers differ on pressure settings, but generally pressure settings do not go beyond 20 inches of column height.

To determine the correct pressure setting, examine litter conditions. If the litter is wet, reduce pressure until it starts to dry. Only then, increase pressure. Producers should strive for dry, friable litter.

Faulty line management
Enclosed drinking systems revolutionized the poultry industry, providing birds with the best potential for hygienic water. No longer do the birds contaminate the water by pecking the litter and then drinking from an open bell or cup-type drinker. But, many producers fail to take full advantage of enclosed systems by allowing sediment to enter and biofilm to build up in the lines.

Sediment or particulate matter often ends up in the drinkers and causes them to leak. A filter ahead of the water line (a 5 to 10 micron cartridge) can prevent this from happening. A regular program of high pressure flushing also is effective in removing sediment.

Biofilm creates its own set of problems. Biofilm occurs when bacteria adhere to the walls of the drinker lines. The bacteria secrete a sticky substrate that attracts more bacteria, viruses and anything else in the water. The bacteria feed off of the biofilm and quickly become an active colony of pathogens, that in turn, eventually enters the birds and causes bird health and performance problems.

Enclosed watering systems operate on low pressure, providing little turbulence to dislodge biofilm. Ziggity recommends daily high pressure flushing to break up biofilm. Also, flush after each intervention of vitamins or medications.

Hydrogen peroxide-based cleaners offer a highly effective tool for eliminating biofilm. Properly formulated, hydrogen peroxide becomes a powerful oxidizing agent that scrubs the interior of the pipe clean of biofilm.

Water contamination
Water consists of more than hydrogen and oxygen atoms. It also contains a variety of substances dissolved or suspended in it. Those added materials could drastically affect flock performance.

Runoff from fields can cause significant contamination to wells, ponds or streams. Even water from a municipal system can contain contaminants, including excessive chlorine that can harm flock performance.

Ensure water entering the barn meets the same microbiological standards as potable water for human consumption. Ideally, water should be clear, odourless and tasteless for the poultry flock. It should have no bacteria in it.

Ziggity recommends that you have your water tested regularly so you know what your flocks are consuming. Water quality can change over time.

Pay particular attention to your wells during times of drought. As the water table lowers, the quality of water in the well can change.

Drinker height
Make sure you have the drinkers at the right height for the birds. Drinkers set too low result in water spills. Drinkers placed too high inhibit birds from getting all the water they

Pay special attention during the first few days of a new flock. If the chicks do not drink or cannot find the water, they will rapidly dehydrate. On the first day, place the chicks close to the drinkers. For nipple-type systems, the end of the trigger should be just slightly higher than eye level. Also, provide sufficient light intensity, enough to attract chicks to the metal pins.

As the birds find the drinkers, raise the lines slightly, encouraging the chicks to stretch their necks. By the second or third day, drinker height should encourage the chicks to peck at about a 45-degree angle. Chickens rely on gravity to drink because of a split in the upper hard palate of the beak that allows air into the nasal passages. This prevents the birds from forming a vacuum in their mouths and they must raise their heads to allow the water to flow into their crops.

As the birds age, continue to raise the drinkers. By four weeks, the drinker height should require the birds to peck at about a 50- to 55-degree angle. (Determine the angle by drawing a line from the bird’s feet to its beak.) Drinkers that are too high force the birds to elevate their breasts and stretch their necks, leading to inadequate consumption. Some producers will keep the drinkers so high the birds must jump to activate the trigger pin. This only leads to water spillage.

Inaccurate advice
Producers often receive poor advice about management procedures applied to the watering system.

You should follow management recommendations made by the manufacturer of your system. Applying general management procedures or procedures someone other than the manufacturer recommends usually leads to poor system performance.

However, certain observations can help you to optimize drinking system performance. Observe litter conditions. Make sure the flock receives as much water as possible without making the litter wet.

Also, carefully track your bird performance, including weight, livability, feed conversion, undergrades, etc. Compare flock-to-flock and house-to-house performances, as well as looking at industry norms.

This means keeping detailed records and referring to them often. When any one of the measured categories begins to show signs of underperformance, you should turn detective to find the problem. The Ziggity Technical Team has published a series of brochures to help producers maximize performance. You can obtain the brochures by calling Ziggity at +1 574.825.5849.

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