A Comparison of Bedding Sources for Commercial Broiler Production

Linda Benedict  |  9/5/2014 12:23:15 AM

LSU AgCenter researchers are studying two new kinds of bedding to use in commercial broiler production houses – a pelleted blend of recycled news print and recycled cardboard treated with a proprietary chemical to adsorb ammonia, on the left, and wood pellets. They are comparing these to the two most widely used sources for bedding – pine shavings and rice hulls. (Photo by John Wozniak)

Table 1. Summary of comparison of parameters for three flocks of broilers raised on wood shavings or cardboard pellet bedding.The data are means of one replication of each treatment over three flocks of broilers. Statistical analysis is not applicable.

Theresia A. Lavergne and William E. Owens

Pine shavings and rice hulls are the most widely used sources of bedding in commercial broiler production in Louisiana. The availability of these bedding sources decreases and their cost increases as the demand for these products, especially pine shavings, increases within the broiler industry or for other markets, such as wood products and building materials. Thus, the broiler industry always is looking for new sources of bedding that will not compromise production, efficiency of growth or animal well-being, as well as not increase ammonia emissions or phosphorus leaving the broiler houses.

Furthermore, because the nitrogen and phosphorus contents of litter make it a good source of fertilizer for forages and row crops, this must be considered when alternative bedding sources are evaluated. When compared to commercial fertilizer, litter is an economical source of fertilizer as long as it does not have to be transported long distances. However, the nutrient content of litter varies and needs to be analyzed and applied according to the needs of the crop.

To evaluate alternative bedding sources for the commercial broiler industry, research trials were conducted in the broiler research house at the LSU AgCenter Central Research Station in Baton Rouge, and demonstration trials were conducted in the commercial broiler houses at the LSU AgCenter Hill Farm Research Station in Homer.

At the Central Research Station, a comparison of four bedding sources was conducted in three flocks of broilers. The bedding was new for the first flock and re-used for the second and third flocks. This is a common practice in the broiler industry. A total of 4,200 mixed-sex Cobb 500 broilers were used. The bedding sources were: 1) pine shavings, 2) rice hulls, 3) a pelleted blend of recycled newsprint and recycled cardboard treated with a proprietary chemical to adsorb ammonia, and 4) wood pellets. Each flock was reared for 42 days and fed a three-phase commercial feeding program. The bedding source used did not affect the body weight, average daily gain, average daily feed intake or feed efficiency in any flock when evaluated from day zero to day 42 of age.

For each flock, litter moisture was lowest for the wood pellet bedding, then for pelleted blend of recycled newsprint and recycled cardboard, and highest for pine shavings and rice hulls. Litter ammonium nitrogen was lower for the pelleted blend of recycled newsprint and recycled cardboard and for wood pellets than for pine shavings and rice hulls. Litter total phosphorus, total dissolved phosphorus and dissolved reactive phosphorus were lowest for wood pellets, then for the pelleted blend of recycled newsprint and recycled cardboard, and highest for pine shavings and rice hulls. Footpad dermatitis (lesions on the footpad) was not observed for any broilers on any treatment in any flock. The pelleted blend of recycled newsprint and recycled cardboard and wood pellets can be used as bedding for broilers and may have lower litter ammonium nitrogen, phosphorus and moisture content than pine shavings or rice hulls.

Additionally, the pine shavings and the pelleted blend of recycled newsprint and recycled cardboard were compared in the commercial broiler demonstration houses at the Hill Farm Research Station. The Hill Farm houses are 500 feet by 42 feet, solid wall houses, with tunnel ventilation, tube heaters, and stocked at approximately 22,000 birds per house. One house had pine shavings as bedding and the other had pelleted blend of recycled newsprint and recycled cardboard treated with a proprietary chemical designed to adsorb ammonia. The comparison continued for three flocks. Results are summarized in Table 1. Feed conversion was slightly better in broilers raised on the cardboard pellets (1.99 vs 2.05). Bird weight was higher and ammonia was lower for broilers raised on the pelleted blend of recycled newsprint and recycled cardboard. Percentage of harvested paws was higher (61.4 percent vs 45.3 percent) on cardboard pellets. This is important to the poultry industry because it has an export market for paws. Paws are primarily exported to China and Hong Kong. Bedding sources that can absorb ammonia will help improve paw quality. Paws have become a product that adds to the profit of the poultry industry as opposed to a product that used to be discarded. Overall, the cardboard pellets were superior as bedding material compared to wood shavings. However, the manufacturer of the pellets is currently not able to supply the pellets in sufficient volume to make it a viable alternative.

Each of the bedding sources used in these trials can be used in commercial broiler production. None of the bedding sources had a negative effect on broiler growth or efficiency of growth. However, the use of the pelleted blend of recycled newsprint and recycled cardboard treated with a proprietary chemical designed to adsorb ammonia or the wood pellets may improve litter quality and bird environment quality by reduced litter moisture, ammonium nitrogen and phosphorus. Also, all of these bedding sources still allow the litter to be used as fertilizer for forages or row crops.

Theresia A. Lavergne is a professor in the School of Animal Sciences, and William E. Owens is a professor at the Hill Farm Research Station, Homer, La.

This article was published in the summer 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture Magazine.

Rate This Article:

Have a question or comment about the information on this page?

Innovate . Educate . Improve Lives

The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture

Top