25 June 2018 | Online since 2003

19 April 2017

Dirty water can cost egg producers 8 per cent in production

Dirty water hits egg production financially, according to a leading expert

Dirty water lines could cost egg producers as much as seven or eight per cent in lost production and result in higher rates of bird mortality, according to specialist vet.

Ian Lowery, a vet with Crowshall Veterinary Practice in Norfolk, has been conducting research into the financial impact of water quality on livestock production for a PhD.

He told egg producers at a discussion group meeting he found that performance fell in birds drinking water that contained higher levels of bacteria and other materials collecting in drinking lines.

Ian Lowery has been conducting research into the financial impact of water quality on livestock production

Mortality rates could increase by as much as one and a half times, he said.

The vet said that a basic test to measure water cleanliness was called a total viable count (TVC) test.

"Some of the data that I have gathered over the course of my study seems to suggest that, as TVC counts increase, there's a level where you start to get lower production and then, as TVC counts increase even more, then you start to see higher mortality."

He said: "If you can get TVC counts less than 300 colony forming units per mil, theoretically that ought to be favourable for performance, so it should help your birds attain their best possible performance."

'Nasty bacteria'

Lowery told farmers attending a meeting of the Yorkshire Egg Producers Discussion Group near York of the resulting impact on economic results.

"What does that mean in pounds, pennies and pence? Potentially, flocks that have a TVC of higher than 300 colony forming units per mil appear to produce about four and half per cent below breed standard on average," he said.

"Where we get that TVC count lower than 300, they are nearer breed standard. So you are looking at nearly a five per cent improvement by going from higher than 300 to lower than 300."

He said: "If you just want to look at pseudomonas (an infection to which chickens are susceptible) as an indicator for general bird health, if you have pseudomonas, on average you are producing nearly seven per cent below breed standard. If you didn't have pseudomonas, on average you are producing on about one per cent above breed standard.

"There is really good evidence here that we ought to be targeting pseudomonas as a nasty bacteria that's causing a problem. That's nearly an eight per cent difference in production.

"If you can get the TVC count below 670 colony forming units per mil people are seeing on average 1.35 per cent improvement in mortality. The difference with pseudomonas was nearly one and a half per cent in terms of mortality," he said.

"So, getting clean water lines without pseudomonas, you are looking at one and a half per cent improvement in mortality and potentially a seven per cent improvement in production, which seems to me quite good."

Huge metabolic demands

Lowery told those attending the meeting that chickens had huge metabolic demands.

"This is great because it means that they grow very quickly, it means they produce us lots of eggs but it also means that they need lots and lots of food and water to survive."

He said that both layers and broilers had a very large requirement for water compared to their body weight. Layers drank two and half times more millilitres per kilogramme of body weight than humans.

He said there was a very close correlation between how much water a bird drank and how much it ate.

"That correlation might vary by things like the ambient temperature in the shed or the saltiness of the feed, but the link in consistent environment is very, very strong and you all know that, in order to get our birds to grow effectively or to chuck out eggs at an acceptable rate, we need to encourage them to eat. And fundamental to that, therefore, is getting them to drink as well. That correlation is very strongly linked."

Water quality

Mr Lowery said it was not easy to manage good water quality in a practical farm environment.

Chicken houses were warm, levels of flow through the drinking lines were low and anything floating in the water created sedimentation in the pipes.

"We put things in our water pipes which feed bacteria - multi-vitamins, electrolyte, antibiotics believe it or not - antibiotics will kill bacteria in your chicken but they also contain a whole bunch of other carriers and palletisers, and those things can feed bacteria in water lines.

"Over time we can get a thing called a bio film building up. That is a symbiotic relationship of all sorts of bugs and debris that we've seeded into the water lines and that can lead to problems with long term dispersal of bacteria into our chickens' intestines.

"The water systems are generally quite hard to clean. They have got lots of nooks and crannies, they have often got perishable parts - rubbers and things, which are quite likely to perish when they come into contact with quite nasty chemicals - and often we just don't look after them as well as, perhaps, we should or could."

Bio film formation

Lowery said that as the water flow slows down more sedimentation occurs - which is called the bio film formation.

He said: "The bio film is often precipitated in the first place by this sedimentation of things that are within the water line, which will include bacteria, yeasts, mould and fungus, and they settle and they adhere to the inside of the pipe and they form a community of what is best described as a slime or sludge.

"That community of slime or sludge undergoes a life cycle. It has periods of its life cycle where it is sedimenting and adhering to the pipework, it has periods of its life cycle where it is multiplying up and getting larger and larger.

"It has other periods of its life cycle where it is in a release phase, where it is releasing all that fug and debris and nastiness, it's releasing it into the water lines so that at a particular point in time the birds will be drinking vast, vast quantities of nasty, nasty bacteria."


Some of the things that could collect in drinking lines could actively cause disease in chickens, like pseudomonas, Mr Lowery said.

"It could be secondary opportunistic, so it could be bacteria which wouldn't cause disease if the bird was exposed to it on its own, but, if the bird gets sick for some other reason, it really takes it down, it really upsets the intestines.

"It could just completely overload the bird with nasty bacteria, which the intestines just aren't designed to deal with and cause gastrointestinal upset. It could reduce the water palatability and it could just up-regulate the immune system.

"The birds are having to eradicate bacteria which they didn't ought to be exposed to every single day and that comes at a metabolic cost. That cost comes out of your feed and, because they are expending energy and protein from the feed to drive an immune system, it's not driving egg production," he said.

Lowery said the most important thing that producers could do was to ensure that water systems were clean when birds were first housed.

He said producers should ensure that they used the right chemical in the right concentration, properly applied so that it was in touch with every single part of the water system, that it was given the correct amount of contact time and it was then appropriately flushed out to ensure that the bio film was entirely removed at turnaround.


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