Consistent Water Quality and its effect on Performance
Water is a vital nutrient essential to the poultry to soften feed in the crop, aid in digestion, a building block for blood and lymph (immune system) and for evaporating cooling when heat stressed. Although water is essential for the growth and performance of our flocks the quality of it is often over looked and the effect on performance greatly under estimated. All water except distilled will contain impurities due to the nature of the water cycle. Consequently any factor that might alter water quality (bacterial content, PH, nitrogen levels, hardness, mineral level) might directly impact water consumption or the bird’s ability to utilize the consumed water.
Is the quality of your water affecting your flock’s performance?
The following may be indicators of unacceptable or inferior water quality:
- Loose droppings and poor gut health
- Higher than normal water consumption
- Wet litter and burned footpads
- Lack of uniformity within the flock (front to back of building)
- Scale on drinkers
- Repeated E.coli or Bordetella breaks
Although water plays a critical role in the performance of our poultry flocks, we do not spend the same amount of time analyzing it as we do feed samples. We must not lose sight of the facts that
1) Birds consume two to two and half times as much water as they do feed and
2) feed intake will be determined by water consumption ( if they don’t drink, they won’t eat).
The following are some tools, which can be used for evaluating water quality. These tools allow you to make the step from thinking or assuming that your water is acceptable to knowing without a doubt that it is.
1. Water analysis.
Water should be sampled on the farm twice a year. This will account for variations in the water table level, which may alter both the chemical and bacterial levels in the water. This should be part of a routine program and not just when there is a suspected problem. The significance of the results will depend on where the sample is taken and will help pinpoint where contamination is entering the water system i.e. at the wellhead, as water enters the barn or as water reaches the birds. So think about what you are trying to evaluate.
2. Measuring the effectiveness of water sanitation.
A standard guideline in the poultry industry for water sanitation was 2 to 3 ppm of free chlorine at the end drinker. With time it was discovered that this did not always guarantee clean water because the pH of the water was not being taken into account. When a sanitizer such as gas chlorine is added to water, the ph of the water determines how much will dissociate into hypochlorous acid (which kills bacteria immediately) and hypochlorite ion (which kills bacteria only after prolonged contact). Consequently, 3ppm of free chlorine at a pH of 6.8 will sanitize water effectively but as pH increases the effectiveness of the chlorine decreases. Thus the reason growers are opting to stop using liquid bleach, liquid chlorine (house hold bleach) will raise the pH creating a need for more acid in order to lower the pH to make it effective. So to effectively sanitize water we need to find the correct proportion between the pH and the free chlorine.
Chlorine/pH Test Kits.
It is important that the kit measures free chlorine and that pH level is known. Testing for chlorine and pH is an easy and inexpensive way to ensure that clean sanitized water is consistently reaching all birds within the barn. If the front of the house is receiving clean sanitized water but the back of the house isn’t this tells you that the water lines in between are contaminated with biofilm buildup. When bacteria attach to the biofilm, they begin to excrete a slimy material and also turn on a whole new set of genes making them more difficult to kill. This is why it is important to sanitize consistently centrally the entire farm water to prevent this buildup. Biofilms will be highest in areas of slow moving water i.e. after regulators on drinker lines.
Oxidative Reductive Potential (ORP) Meters
Measuring the oxidative reductive potential of the water allows us to find the effective balance between pH and free chlorine. Most importantly, it is a way for us to know immediately whether our flocks are receiving clean sanitized water or not. Today with improved yet inexpensive technology, evaluating the quality of water has advanced from pH and free chlorine measurements to include Oxidative Reductive Potential (ORP).
Free Chlorine and ORP levels do not increase at the same rate. In general, a ten-fold increase in free chlorine concentrations will not result in a corresponding proportional increase in millivolts (mV the unit of measurement given to ORP). This water quality will likely result in measurements of 650-700 mV ORP if the water pH is 6.5 to 7.0 lowering the pH to 6.0 will raise the ORP as more hypochlorous acid becomes available. Raising the pH to 8.0 will lower the ORP as more hypochlorite ion is present. At ORP levels of 700-800 mV E.Coli is killed within seconds. If a water sample is checked and the ORP value is less than this, you should next check the pH and free chlorine to determine which needs to be corrected in order to achieve effective water sanitation.