Poultry Litter Management – a Full Guide

Introduction to Poultry Litter management

The poultry industry is one of the fastest-growing agro-based industries in the world. Poultry Litter management is a mixture of poultry manure and the litter base, which can be straw, wood shavings, paper, or other biodegradable material. The relative amount and type of manure formed will depend on the livestock class. For example, broilers produce 0.036 kg/bird/day at 70% dry matter. Of this, 70% by dry weight is manure, and the remainder is the litter. In this article we also discuss below topics;

  • How to keep poultry litter dry
  • Poultry litter uses
  • Storage and handling Poultry Litter
  • Poultry litter composition
  • Uses and management of Poultry Litter
  • Best litter material for poultry

A step by step guide to Poultry Litter management

Poultry manure or chicken manure is the organic waste from poultry composed of feces and urine of chickens. The mixture of poultry manure with spilled feed, feathers, and bedding materials such as wood shavings or sawdust is referred to as Poultry Litter. Poultry Litter is organic manure enriched with major plant nutrients like N, P, K, and many trace elements such as Zn, Cu, and As, etc.

Poultry Litter is the organic waste produced from chickens and turkeys such as manure, spilled feed, feathers, and bedding materials. This material is enriched with plant nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, although the overall composition will depend on the type of poultry, littler used, and collection and storage of the litter. Poultry Litter management has some uses which prevent it from having to be sent to the Landfill. First, it can be utilized as a source of fertilizer for plants due to its high amount of nutrients. It can serve as animal feed for livestock and fish once it has correctly prepared to remove foreign materials and contaminants. Moreover, due to its less than 15 percent moisture content, Poultry Litter can be burned as a source of heat or energy and can be stored in an Anaerobic Digester to be made into biofuel.

A guide to Poultry Litter management.
A guide to Poultry Litter management.

Litter is an important product in poultry growing because birds are exposed to the litter and its contents (microbes, moisture, ammonia, dust, odor, and texture) from the first day of life. Badly managed litter facilitates the spread of certain infectious diseases and creates problems that lead to serious economic losses. The “litter problems” have not yet been classified or identified specifically, as they are connected with other management problems as well.

What is Poultry Litter?

Poultry Litter is a mixture of poultry excreta, spilled feed, and material used as bedding in poultry operations. This term is used to refer to unused bedding materials. Poultry Litter management is used in confinement buildings used for raising broilers, turkeys, and other birds. Common bedding materials contain wood shavings, sawdust, peanut hulls, shredded sugar cane, straw, and other dry, absorbent, low-cost organic materials. Sand is also occasionally used as bedding.

Selection of Poultry Litter materials

Some researches were conducted to determine the suitability of wood shavings, sand, pine peanut shells, shavings, shredded papers or paper chips, dry straw, rice hulls, maize cobs, corn silage and peat as alternative litter materials. Timber by-products, rice hulls, and shredded papers appear to be most accessible worldwide. The basic requirements of a good litter contain moisture-holding capacity, microbial tolerating ability, low cost, availability, and non-toxicity to poultry. Bases for choosing good litter materials include the ability to protect birds from dirt, damp and cold floor; it should be able to adequately conserve heat and absorb moisture. For good production performance, litter materials must provide comfort for birds.

Major and minor elements in Poultry Litter

Examples of major elements that can be present in Poultry Litter include potassium and sodium which are present in biomass ash in the forms of oxides. Then, these can lead to fouling, ash deposition in the convective section of the boiler. Alkali chlorides can lead to slagging, the fusion, and sintering of ash particles which can lead to deposits on boiler tubes and walls. We can determine the levels of 13 different minor elements (such as arsenic, copper, and zinc) that may be present in Poultry Litter.

Benefits to proper Poultry Litter management

The benefits to proper Poultry Litter management are;

  • Reduces ammonia production and bacterial challenge
  • Footpad quality improvement
  • Increases litter amendment activity
  • Increases fuel efficiency during preheating and brooding
  • Maintains healthy floor moisture (15% to 25%)
  • Reduces health risk
  • Compliance with nutrient management guidelines
  • Reduces environmental impact

Factors Affecting Poultry Litter Conditions

Three factors have particularly important effects on the Poultry Litter condition.

  1. Litter Moisture
  2. Greasy Capped Litter
  3. Nitrogen in the litter
  1. Litter Moisture

Litter moisture is the key to the burnt hock problem and it is unusual for there to be burnt hocks when the litter condition is friable and dry. Litter moisture is mainly affected by drinker design; air change rate; litter material and depth; stocking density; diet and flock health. As live weight increases and mobility decreases the pressure becomes greater and then contact with the litter more prolonged. Males are more affected by wet litter than females.

  1. Greasy Capped Litter

When there is too much fat in the feed or it is of poor quality and the fat content of the faeces increases. Consequently, the litter has a higher fat content which causes it to lose its friability more quickly.

  1. Nitrogen in the Litter

Experimental evidence suggests that the worst burning tends to occur when the nitrogen content of the litter exceeds about 5.5%. The quality and amount of protein in the feed must be examined if litter nitrogen levels are high. At these times, the moisture content of the litter is also found to be high.

Poultry management practices

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Poultry management practices.
Poultry management practices.

Litter pH level affects ammonia release and should be below 7 to reduce volatilization. Litter not treated with an acidifying agent will have a pH level near 8 or slightly higher. Therefore, many growers use acidifying litter treatments just before flock placement to lower pH levels for a flock’s first few days. Though it is difficult to control pH over an entire flock, in part because litter treatments only last 10 to 14 days in most cases, and reapplication with birds in the house is impractical.

Good litter and air quality can be maintained with proper ventilation, but it has to start when the previous flock goes out and continue throughout the new flock. The trick is to stay one step ahead of being as efficient as possible. No one wants to over-ventilate with high fuel prices, but under-ventilating can be even more devastating when it results in lost performance, health concerns, and welfare issues.

Keeping litter in good condition is extremely important because of the high cost of litter, and disposal of this litter is becoming more of an environmental issue. In some areas, growers still practice a traditional total cleanout once a year. This process results in broiler litter that usually tests approximately 60-60-50 (N-P-K) pounds per ton. This litter is used locally as fertilizer on pastures and hay meadows or shipped out of the area for use as fertilizer elsewhere. The important thing to remember is always to keep litter dry and adequate ventilation will achieve this goal, so don’t skimp on the air, even when birds are small. It’s less expensive to burn a little extra gas early to keep dry litter than to fight ammonia and wet litter and the negative consequences associated with them throughout the flock.

During the day, if it is relatively warm outside, turn on some fans or drop the house side curtains to help remove moisture from the litter system. This will use electricity but it will be cheaper than using heat to dry the litter once the next chicks are in the house. Run circulation fans between flocks.  Poultry Manure or Poultry Litter cost will be approximately Rs 1,500/Metric Ton(s)

Poultry Litter production

The quantity of Poultry Litter produced in a broiler unit depends on the litter that means bedding material management, and feed intake, and its digestibility. A range of Litter materials including wood shavings, cereal straw, husk, and paper clippings are used as bedding materials. Three common practices are adopted for Poultry litter management in broiler units. These contain single-use litter, partial re-use, and multi-use litter. The single-use litter mainly involves the total clean-out of the house after each flock and replacement of the bedding material. Though, partial re-use involves the removal of litter from the brooding section for spreading on the grower section of the house. New bedding material is then spread on the brooding section and the partially spent litter is often composted for a few days to elevate its temperature to kill pathogens. Some of the spent litter can be removed after each batch, and after 2 to 5 batches the house is cleaned out. With the multi-use of litter, only caked material is removed and the house is disinfected.

The litter in the brooding section is left untouched or covered with 25 to 50 mm of fresh bedding material. The multi-flock litter can increase the incidence of pathogenic microbes and parasites and produces a spent litter with a much higher concentration of nutrients. The number of total solids or dry matter excreted by the birds can be estimated from the dry matter digestibility of the diet. Broiler chickens digest about 85 to 90% of the dry matter of the feed. Broiler chickens consume about 2.5 to3.0 kg of dry matter up to 35 days of age (typical first thin out) and 5 to 6 kg of dry matter up to 49 days of age. Based on the dry matter digestibility of the diet (87.5%), it is estimated that about 0.34 and 0.63 kg of solid is excreted by a 35 and 49-day old bird, respectively. At a moisture content of about 90%, total manure production will be around 4 and 6 kg for 35 and 49 days old birds, respectively. Then, the amount of any nutrient excreted can be calculated from the difference between the amount in the feed and the amount assimilated by the bird. It has been estimated that broiler chickens excrete about 55% of the total N, 70%of the P, and 80% of the K. The amount of feed spilt during feeding can significantly affect the total amount of solid and nutrients remaining in the litter.

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The average daily fresh manure production for broilers is 43 kg/1000 kg live weight. Converting this to the quantity of dry manure removed from atypical broiler house, the amount is about 6.9 kg/1000 kg live weight/day for broilers. Furthermore, handling and storage factors affect the actual quantity and quality of manure or litter generated from various types of poultry units. Though, among these are feed composition and efficiency of feed utilization, the type of bedding material, the frequency of crust removal and cleanout operations, and the number of flocks in a house between replacement of the bedding material, the final live weight of poultry management practices. On a dry weight basis, Poultry Litter production ranges from 0.7 to 2.0 tons/1000 broilers/flock.

Types of Poultry Litter storage

Storages are classified into three types;

(1) Temporary, or “stockpiling”;

(2) Open storage; and

(3) Permanently roofed storages.

Each type provides flexibility for the grower, for utilizing litter for fertilizer or for holding litter until it can be sold or donated to someone else. The storage method should protect litter from contact with water from rainfall or snow. Nitrogen is the major nutrient that will be lost easily from stored litter. The nitrogen lost can be leached or washed into surface drains or streams or groundwater, or it can be volatilized into the air as ammonia, creating other ammonia-related environmental concerns such as;

(1) Undesirable nitrogen deposition in nutrient-sensitive ecosystems,

(2) Formation of light-scattering aerosols resulting in haze and the visibility impairment, and

(3) Formation of respirable aerosol particles, which are a health concern.

How to use Poultry Litter


Using fresh Poultry Litter is not safe because it contains many pathogenic organisms, harmful chemicals, and weed seeds; therefore, composting is necessary to use them as fertilizer. To compost, fresh chicken manure must be mixed with different ratios of Carbon source. The Carbon source is needed to be a bulking agent that facilitates the aeration of the compost pile. The pile temperature must be maintained between 55 and 65°C for a minimum of 2 weeks. Turning the pile regularly is required to homogenize the pile. The compost thus results are not stable and also emits strong odor but still, that is good fertilizer with no weeds and pathogens.

Some special cares are needed to produce good quality litter compost-

  • To avoid leaching and potential groundwater contamination, composting must be done on an impermeable base.
  • An elevated area or a building must be used for composting to deter extraneous runoff entering the compost pile.
  • To prevent nutrient leaching and contamination, the compost pile is required to be secured from rain.
  • To avoid emitting odorous gasses, the pile must be protected from the wind.
Land Application

Some strategies should be followed to apply Poultry Litter as a fertilizer;

  • Poultry compost works best during the active growth of the plants or immediately before planting that should be added at that time. Application of Poultry Litter management during fall or winter is not a good choice, as crops cannot properly utilize the nutrients at that time.
  • The timing of the application of Poultry Litter must be determined based on maximizing crop recovery of nutrients.
  • Poultry Litter should be done based on balanced nutrient requirements of the crops.
  • To avoid gaseous losses of N and runoff losses of other nutrients, Poultry Litter must be incorporated into the soil.
Environmental Monitoring

To ensure sustainable production and also a healthy environment, environmental monitoring is a vital component of a balanced Poultry Litter management practice. Regular analysis of manure samples, soil and drainage water sampling, and their subsequent analysis for contaminants and nutrients content, and maintaining records of all farm activities are the important parts of environmental monitoring for poultry manure application.

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