Cleaner Water, Better Performance: The Importance of Good Water Hygiene

A typical chicken drinks over 4 litres of water in its life. This makes water the biggest input into a bird. The warm temperatures in a chicken shed means that bacteria can quickly build up in a drinker line, if a bird’s gut is bombarded with harmful bacteria from the drinking water, then this can disrupt a healthy microbiome.

It is well documented that providing clean water to poultry is imperative for efficient production and for optimising bird health. Water is the basis for a multitude of physiological processes that sustain the growth, health and welfare of the bird. In poultry production many of the more common ailments or production issues seen can be attributed to poorly controlled water quality and a contaminated supply to the birds. The consumption of free-living bacteria from water systems directly interferes with the bird’s complex gut microbiome leading to sub-clinical disruption and depletion of gut integrity. To achieve successful bird microbiome management, we must ensure water quality is not compromised.

Determining Water Quality

Water quality is determined by both biological and chemical parameters and can fluctuate depending on whether it is mains or privately sourced. Biological parameters include microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa that will negatively affect bird health when present. Potable drinking water must show to contain zero levels of both microorganisms and harmful chemicals, and we must strive for this level of quality for our poultry.

It is important to understand that all sources of water can be or become contaminated and that mains water won’t necessarily mean clean water. One of the greatest influencers of microorganism contamination in water is the presence and abundance of biofilm. Biofilm can be visualised on the inside of pipes where water is present as a slimy, often green layer. It is a complex matrix of bacterial cells that are adhered together by a natural forming extracellular mucopolysaccharide layer forming an impenetrable 3D ‘city’ of microorganisms. Once established, many biocides fail to penetrate biofilm and the bacteria are free to proliferate. In warm, low flow conditions this biofilm can generate quickly and will soon become a source for waterborne bacteria such as E.coli, Salmonella and Pseudomonas. In many scenarios it is the biofilm present in storage tanks, underground pipework or poorly cleaned drinker lines that becomes the major source of water contamination leading to compromised bird health. If the biofilm is not monitored and removed, production and performance will be negatively affected. We see compromised gut health as a direct result of consuming foreign pathogens and often a decreased water intake because of taste, restricted flow and bacterial load. We know water intake is correlated to feed intake so if water is compromised, you’re going to lose out on either egg production or growth rate.

The chemical composition of water can influence the growth of biofilm and abundance of bacteria. Private water sources are subject to far greater fluctuations in composition across the seasons than mains. Higher levels of components such as Iron, Manganese, Calcium and Nitrates will influence both water pH, palatability, and biofilm presence.

Monitoring Water Quality

It would be advised to regularly monitor water quality on farm with both bacterial TVC (Total Viable Count) and chemical analysis. The comparison of results from varying points along the water system, such as pre-storage tank, storage tank and end of drinker lines, is crucial to help determine where on the farm contamination may be occurring or cleaning could be overlooked. Water collection techniques are important as contamination can occur during testing that will skew and falsify results.

If you suspect or identify that water quality is being compromised on farm, then actions and investment must occur to resolve the issue. Production results and bird health will improve with increased water quality.

Options for Water Sanitisation and Line Cleaning

The options available for water sanitisation and line cleaning can be overwhelming. Take time to do your research and my advice is to stick to these general rules:

  • Ensure preliminary testing is accurate and that the results are clearly interpreted
  • Set clear goals and areas that need to be improved – e.g removing biofilm in lines
  • Set out a clear investment timeline
  • Complete accurate costings of products both for short and long-term use
  • Plan out regular re-testing and analysis to ensure your goals are met

Farm water quality can be improved and sustained by the addition of chemicals to the water system. There is a difference in action between line cleaners, disinfectants and complete line sanitisers. Disinfectants will effectively kill waterborne microorganisms but will reduce in efficacy rapidly with the presence of organic material such as biofilm. Line cleaners that contain only hydrogen peroxide are effective at removing biofilm but are less effective at combating free living bacteria in the water. Highly stabilised hydrogen peroxide products such as Aqua- clean have a good all-round action against both biofilm and free-living microorganisms.

Chlorine Dioxide Solutions

An example of a complete water sanitisation chemical would be the powerful biocide chemical chlorine dioxide (CLO2). For many years water companies have treated municipal water with CLO2 as it is a highly effective biocide and excellent at removing biofilm at very low concentrations. Typically used in large-scale applications it is the mainstay of hospital and school water treatment plants. Chlorine dioxide is a volatile gas that can have severe implications to human health if ingested or its derivatives (Chlorite, Chlorate and Chloride) are absorbed. In the presence of organic matter such as biofilm or microorganism Chlorine dioxide breaks down into Chlorites and Chlorates and does not form smelly, chlorine compounds. It is highly effective at low concentrations reducing chemical costs and can be used over a wide pH range. It has no taste or odour in water.

Despite the formulation of CLO2 being well documented the quality of the reaction can change significantly due to the method of production used, and this can result in fluctuations of the quality of CLO2 produced. Safe and accurate production of CLO2 until recently has only been manageable in sophisticated large-scale reactors. Newer methods of CLO2 generation are now appearing on farm, such as FarmWater’s generation unit, that enables cost-effective, safe and efficient CLO2 production on-site. The FarmWater reactor generates quality CLO2 in such an accessible way that it is enabling an ever-widening array of small-scale applications, such as layer and broiler poultry units and other livestock production sites. Direct injection of CLO2 made on demand and on-site provides an uninterrupted ability to ensure water quality is maintained. On farms that have multiple laying houses, for example, a unit like this can be installed at the water source to the farm and be effectively treating the water and pipelines to the entire site. This negates the need for multiple house pumps and cleaning regimes.

We are seeing far greater interest and investment in water quality treatment plans across the poultry industry. Typically, water contamination is more prevalent on sites using private water sources or where we have seen gradual expansion of production, with buildings being added, resulting in complex water pipe networks. The presence of old storage tanks and re-purposed water lines increases the likelihood of biofilm formation and a compromised water quality.

Poor water quality will have subclinical and/or clinical implications to poultry health across all sectors of the industry. Here at Poultry Pharm, we understand that careful water management and accurate testing forms the basis of any water treatment plan. We offer a range of site-specific water treatment solutions that will help you achieve the optimum water quality and bird health. Give us a call to discuss the range of solutions.

Related Product

Aqua-clean® is a drinking system cleaner and disinfectant. Based on stabilised hydrogen peroxide. Registered according to the EU biocides directive.