Canadian Poultry Magazine

Water Management

Kristy Nudds   

Features New Technology Production

Why it matters, and how getting it right can increase bird performance

Water quality and its effect on bird health and performance have been
gaining more and more attention in recent years. But according to Steve
White, director of sales – Canada, Jefo Nutrition, and Kevin Weeden,
president of Weeden Environments, “we’ve only just scratched the

Water quality and its effect on bird health and performance have been gaining more and more attention in recent years. But according to Steve White, director of sales – Canada, Jefo Nutrition, and Kevin Weeden, president of Weeden Environments, “we’ve only just scratched the surface.”

Water lines need to be regularly cleaned of biofilm, the “guck” you can’t see that can harbour micro-organisms for long periods of time. Shown above is what came out of a water line (delivering
chlorinated municipal water) after it was flushed with a product to remove biofilm.



Weeden and White joined forces two years ago to create the WATER-SMART program. They began the program to provide poultry producers with the tools they need to achieve the water quality necessary to realize the true genetic potential of the birds they raise. 

Referred to as the “forgotten” nutrient, water is not only essential for nearly every bodily function of a bird, it is consumed nearly twice as much as feed. It’s estimated that for every kilogram of feed a bird ingests, it will ingest 1.7 to 2 kilograms of water. Despite this fact, water quality is taken for granted, says White. “If it doesn’t look dirty, water is often overlooked as a source of potential contamination,” he says.

According to White, seeing really is believing. A key component of the WATER-SMART program is to ensure the removal of biofilm – a gucky polysaccharide web that allows micro-organisms to flourish within water lines. When the lines are flushed using a biofilm remover (a stabilized hydrogen peroxide product is safe to use and very effective), the resulting sludge that comes out occurs often enough to convince producers that, despite having what appears to be clean, clear water, the water lines may be harbouring a plethora of performance-robbing micro-organisms.

Although both White and Weeden have been pleased with the increased awareness of water quality issues their WATER-SMART program and others that currently exist in the poultry industry have raised, “we still have a long way to go,” says White. Weeden adds that, although there is an understanding in the industry regarding water that didn’t exist before, it’s still difficult to show producers how good quality water can affect their bottom line.

In part, the reason for this is that a lot of misinformation still exists about how to achieve good water quality. “There is no quick solution,” says White. “Water management is both a treatment and management program.” 

One of the biggest obstacles producers have is how to properly utilize chlorine and acidifiers to maximize their efficacy. There is a misconception that acidifiers kill all bacteria and maintain clean water lines, says White. “This is not true.”

The first step in the WATER-SMART program is for producers to get their water analyzed for pH and the scale-causing minerals: calcium, magnesium and manganese. It’s also a good idea to analyze the water for salt levels, coliforms, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nitrates and sulphates, which can decrease performance – by causing the birds to use energy to fight off their effects – or make the water unpalatable, thereby reducing water intake.

But what do the numbers mean? Despite the fact that many producers are prudent with testing their water, White says they don’t know what to do next and are given no guidance on how to interpret the results. “Those of us working in the service sector need to provide some direction on what the numbers mean and what the next steps should be,” he says.  He recommends testing the water once a year, both at the source and in the barn.  The differences in the bacteria numbers will give a good indication of the bacterial challenge present within the water lines.

The WATER-SMART program states that if the water contains more than 90 ppm combined calcium and manganese and more than 0.05 ppm manganese and 0.3 ppm iron, a producer will need to include a water acidifier in the line-cleaning program. An acidifier (typically a blend of inorganic and organic acid) will dissolve these mineral deposits in the water lines and fittings.  These minerals can promote the growth of biofilm and cause leaky nipples, resulting in wet litter. High iron levels promote the growth of “iron bacteria,” bacteria that thrive in the presence of iron. If iron levels are high, equipment specifically designed to reduce iron levels will be necessary.

Essential to any water management program is to ensure removal of biofilm from the water lines. Biofilm is extremely resistant to removal by ordinary sanitizing and requires the use of unique products to be eliminated fully from lines.  Chlorine and acidifiers will not remove it, says Weeden.

Since micro-organisms such as Salmonella and E. coli can survive in biofilm for weeks at a time, “if we’re sanitizing water without getting the biofilm out, it’s a ticking time bomb,” says Weeden. For example, if chlorine runs out, bacteria present in biofilm will flourish and could potentially cause devastation to flock health in a matter of hours. 

He stresses that to remove biofilm properly, a three per cent solution of stabilized hydrogen peroxide should be administered using a medicator for a minimum of 12 hours. However, most medicators are fixed at one per cent, so the peroxide must be administered for a minimum of 48 hours at one per cent to remove biofilm.

Once the biofilm is removed, the pH of the water must be at a level to allow chlorine to be effective. Chlorine is commonly added to poultry drinking water to act as a “disinfectant”; i.e., to kill any micro-organisms that might still be present. But, in order for chlorine to work properly, the water should be at  a pH of 6.5 – 6.8.

If a barn has water with a naturally high pH level, the program recommends injecting both chlorine and an acidifier to bring the pH down to where it needs to be.

Weeden notes that a lot of producers want to use a medicator to administer an acidifier, but end up destroying the medicator. He says that both acidifiers and chlorine should be administered using a chemical pump.

Once the water in the lines is “clean,” it’s important to keep it clean, says Weeden. The objective of the program is to provide a clean source of drinking water with a continuous level of free chlorine at 3-5 ppm at the end of the building furthest from the proportioner. Weeden also stresses that biofilm will begin to grow again within 48 hours of being removed, so water lines need to be cleaned between each and every flock.

Weeden says the goal of all producers is to realize the genetic potential of their birds, and key to realizing this potential is understanding how water can affect performance and embracing new technologies to help achieve this. Both he and White are very pleased with the program and that both producers and industry have begun to embrace the concept of water management. They note that now broiler producers, as part of the Chicken Farmers of Canada’s “Safe, Safer, Safest” food safety program, are now mandated to test and manage water quality.“ It’s been a process of education and understanding within the industry, and it will continue to evolve,” he says.

Important Interactions
The following are some of the actions and interactions water guru Dr. Susan Watkins says that we know for certain.

When it comes to dispensing antibiotics through the water system, the results will vary depending on the antibiotic you’re using. A pH above 7 works best when you are using penicillin and sulpha drugs, so Watkins recommends turning off the water acidifiers and adding ammonia with a second injector. Adding these antibiotics to water with a low pH will actually turn the resulting mixture into an insoluble product.

Some growers will distribute vaccines via the water system. Vaccines are typically proteins, so anytime you run vaccines it should be at a pH above 4 or you will run the risk of denaturing the viral proteins and rendering the vaccine less effective or useless.

Dr. Watkins has been receiving a lot of calls regarding slime blooms in water systems after the use of antibiotics. These fungal growths are catching growers by surprise — literally clogging drinkers — but it makes perfect sense that such growth should occur, particularly in a dirty water system. The antibiotic disrupts the microbial population in the water lines just as it does in the gut, allowing microbes such as yeast and mould to grow unchecked. She recommends a thorough cleaning to remove the slime, but cautions that using an acidifier such as citric acid will only make it worse.

Dr. Watkins suggests that adding  acidifier products to room temperature water will provide more uniform stock solutions than if cold water is used. All sanitizers lose efficacy at colder temperatures. Chlorine, chlorine dioxide and ozone are all temperature sensitive, with colder water slowing down their reaction times.

Admittedly, all of these chemical interactions can make something as simple as water quite complicated. Dr. Watkins is sure about one thing when it comes to water: it’s almost a daily effort to make sure you’ve got it right.

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