Effects of common litter types and their physicochemical properties on the welfare of broilers

Vet World. 2022 Jun;15(6):1523-1529. doi: 10.14202/vetworld.2022.1523-1529. Epub 2022 Jun 20.


Background and aim: In broiler production, the poor quality litter not only may lead to a deterioration of the welfare status but also negatively affect carcass quality, overall health and growth performance, which may result in economic losses. The effects of litter types on the welfare of broilers are known but the effects of their characteristics have been little studied. This study aimed to evaluate correlations between welfare parameters of broilers and physicochemical characteristics of five common litter types.

Materials and methods: Over 42 days, 600 (Cobb 700) male broiler chicks were placed within 30 pens (each 2 m2) at a density of 10 birds/m2. The experiment included five treatments with six replicates per treatment. The following litter (or bedding) materials were examined: Standard quality straw, low-quality straw, wood shavings (WS), sawdust, and crop residues. Footpad condition, hock burns, and plumage cleanliness, as well as litter condition, were scored according to previously developed point scale systems. Litter quality was evaluated according to pH level, moisture, water-holding capacity, and ammonia content.

Results: No significant differences were found among litter types in terms of pH, moisture content, or ammonia levels. WS had a significant positive effect on footpad health and plumage cleanliness. However, hock burn was not affected by different bedding types. The severity of pododermatitis was negatively correlated with litter type (r = -0.78; p < 0.001) and positively correlated with the litter scores (r = 0.67; p < 0.001). However, contact dermatitis observed (pododermatitis and hock burn) was not correlated with any of the physicochemical parameters we studied. Meanwhile, we observed a correlation between footpad lesions and hock burn (r = 0.45; p < 0.05), and between footpad lesions and plumage cleanliness (r = 0.59; p < 0.01).

Conclusion: For all litter types examined, contact dermatitis was not correlated with any of the physicochemical components we studied. There were, however, significant correlations between litter type and footpad lesions, as well as between footpad dermatitis and hock burns.

Keywords: broiler; litter quality; litter types; physicochemical characteristics of litter; welfare indicators.