Canadian Poultry Magazine

Thirst for a water management plan

By Samantha Beitia   

Features Barn Management

Three steps to establishing a water treatment program.

Establishing a water treatment program can seem overwhelming but it will pay big dividends in terms of flock health and performance. PHOTO CREDIT: Lubing Systems

Have you recently purchased a poultry farm and are unsure of how to start a water treatment program? Or maybe you have owned the farm for several years and never implemented a water quality program. Perhaps you wondered how you can verify if the water treatment program you are on is currently working.

These are all important things to ponder because establishing a water treatment program can be overwhelming. The poultry water industry has advanced with many different products and various equipment to choose from. Additionally, newly built poultry farms can consist of multiple pumps. Choosing what to do with each pump can be confusing.

With all this said, here are three steps for establishing a water program.


1. Understand the challenge
The first step is understanding the challenge. Is it to establish a water treatment program to solve a bacterial issue or mineral issues? Is it to establish a water treatment program to be proactive and reduce the chances of bacterial and fungal contamination and improve overall bird performance?

With minerals like iron, sulfur and manganese, one can typically see if there is an abundance of this mineral by looking at the in-line filters. However, there are some minerals, such as sodium and chlorines, that can only be detected through proper mineral analysis.

Additionally, microbial contamination is rarely visual. Submitting water samples for microbial counts and mineral/pH analysis will help to understand the challenge level. Not only do the results detail the level of contamination and mineral content but they will also help when determining what sanitation product is best for a specific operation.

To determine where the challenge on a farm may lie, producers must understand where some of the potential issues are within a poultry drinking water system. First, it’s important to consider the flow of the water.

The water source – wells or ponds – is one area that could be contaminated with microorganisms, minerals or both. Water then can be stored in large holding tanks like a 5,000-gallon tank. This could be a source of challenges when the water has not been treated and has been stagnant for a period.

Also, certain minerals and other organic material can accumulate at the bottom of the storage tank, creating a great habitat for microorganisms to survive. Water is then transported into the chicken houses through underground distribution lines, where, if not routinely cleaned, could pose a potential problem.

Perhaps, the greatest potential for challenges is within the poultry house. When chicks are young their demand for water is low, so water is very slow moving. Additionally, the houses are warmed to create a nice environment for the chicks, but this also warms the waterlines, creating a nice warm environment for microorganisms to grow and reproduce.

The birds also are a source of contamination to the drinking waterline. Their beaks can become contaminated with microorganisms by coming into contact with, for instance, feces, litter and other birds. When the birds trigger the drinker waterline, the microorganisms from their beaks can be transferred back into it.

2. Choose the right sanitation product
The second step is choosing the proper sanitation product. The poultry industry uses three main types of products: peroxide; chlorine; and chlorine dioxide. All of these can be effective sanitizers.

Their efficacy can depend on the level of microbial contamination, the types of minerals present and pH of the water.

For example, liquid chlorine is effective at a pH below seven. If the operation has a pH level above a seven then the operation would need to acidify the water before injecting chlorine or choose a product that is not as pH dependent, like a peroxide or chlorine dioxide product.

A stabilized hydrogen peroxide can be used at any pH either during the entire flock or for specific times when there might be more challenges such as after using a supplement, vaccine or when illness has occurred in the flock.

Chlorine dioxide can be a good choice for continual use during the flock as well. Because it contains a mix of two chemicals, you always need an expert in handling it to make sure the system is set up properly.

There are test strips for all three of these methods that can be easily purchased either at a feed mill or online. The trick is to make sure you are using them properly. Even though they are all oxidizers they are different products, each with their own requirements to accomplish the job.

3. Verify the chosen product
The third step is verification. No matter which product an operation has chosen to use, it’s important to continually verify that the product is being administered properly into the waterline. This is vital for ensuring the solution is being utilized throughout the whole water system within the poultry house.

One way to confirm this is by checking the sanitation residual with the appropriate test strips. Residual is what is remaining after parts of the sanitizer have been used up by microorganisms, organic material or dissipated off.

Say the operation chose a stabilized hydrogen peroxide as their product. The target residual should be 25 to 50 parts per million (ppm) at the end of the waterline. If the operation is reading 35 ppm at that point then they have an effective amount of product going into the line to continue to reduce microbial contamination.

In addition, producers can even monitor waterline contamination by checking the level of the product at the beginning of the system versus the level of product making it to the end. The difference will be an indicator of the contamination of the system – the larger the difference the more contaminated the water line and the longer it may take for the product to reach the goal ppm at the end of the line. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to add more product. It may just mean you need to be patient as the product works its way down through the system.

This also works for chlorine (that should eventually have a residual of three to five ppm at the end of the line) and chlorine dioxide (which should have at least a one ppm residual at the end of the water line).

It is a good practice to verify the sanitation residual each day product is administered into the lines. This can be a good tool not only to ensure a proper residual is present to combat microbial contamination but also to ensure there are not faults in mixing or dosing in the product. Checking the residual has allowed operations to catch errors in dosing equipment, stock solution mix and effectiveness for their set-up. 

Samantha Beitia is quality assurance manager of live production with Simmons Foods. For help with any questions or concerns, contact her at

Print this page


Stories continue below