Issues with water quality that are left unaddressed can have long-term negative effects on a flock, both in terms of bird welfare and the economic impact of disease and poor performance.
There are many reasons why poor water could be damaging a flock and identifying and rectifying these requires a methodical approach, says Richard Turner of St David’s Poultry Team, Exeter, Devon.
Caution must be taken to maintain bird and operator safety, as well as ensuring maximum efficacy.
Most poultry sites have a water-sanitising system in place to clean water and remove any bacterial load entering the unit. However, systems are not always as effective as producers assume.
So what are the main causes of water-borne gut problems and what steps should be taken to ensure water is clean and safe?
Main water-borne parasites and diseases
- Enterococcus – Can lead to septicaemia.
- E coli – Leads to multiple diseases including colibacillosis and peritonitis with symptoms like respiratory distress, weight loss, decreased egg production.
- Salmonella – Infections cause a range of issues on the food chain depending on the actual strain
- Protozoa – Cause blackhead disease and coccidiosis.
Sources of infection
A lot of farms use borehole water and while there is nothing wrong with this, some areas may be contaminated with iron, manganese or other minerals.
“This might affect the gut microbiome, interfere with medication, block therapy product actions or change the efficacy of some line sanitisers,” says Mr Turner.
Units with wells may become contaminated from surface water when water tables are high.
In addition, units positioned on higher land might have wells or boreholes sunk deep into the ground, which are picking up river water, resulting in contamination.
Drought may also cause issues, as lower water levels may have a higher mineral content.
Even where producers are connected to the mains, water lines are a major source of infection as a jelly-like substance called a biofilm can develop inside the lines.
This is where different bacteria, algae and fungi form a mucopolysaccharide – or long chain sugar molecule – to hide within, or feed from, essentially creating a homestead of pathogenic bacteria.
Other sources of infection include systems where drinkers double as perches, meaning that chicks are defaecating into the cups. “This is a really big challenge to a water system,” says Mr Turner.
In older set-ups, water tanks may not be covered well enough or may be hard to clean, while old metal pipework can harbour bacteria if left uncleaned.
Also, pathogens like protozoa can be transmitted in puddle water as well as in dirty drinker cups where build-up of lime makes cleaning difficult.
Temperature affects bacteria growth rates. The closer the water temperature is to a bird’s body temperature, the more…