The Importance of Poultry Paw Quality

Keeping floors dry and birds' paws healthy helps grow bigger birds and paychecks, regardless of whether China buys a single chicken foot...

If someone were to ask you, “what is the most important part of your bird?” There are probably very few that would even consider saying the feet. In recent years, the poultry industry has seen huge fluctuations in poultry paw markets-- most of which stems from trade barriers coming and going. Recently, a U.S. poultry ban in China, our largest export market for poultry paws, was lifted to bring poultry paw quality back to the forefront of broiler production.  In fact, projections from November 2019 say around 1 billion pounds of chicken paws will head to China in 2020—potentially selling at 87 cents a pound. That means paying extra attention to paws could be a lucrative practice!

If that’s not reason enough to focus on paw health, there are a lot of other problems caused by sore paws that can translate to your bottom line.



Where does paw health start?

If you watched our Windrow Series, you have heard us say “a healthy floor is a healthy bird.” Moisture in litter can wreak havoc in your poultry house and create a ton of health problems for the birds.

High moisture and poor litter quality can lead to many physical problems—like breast blisters, which are bad for scoring at the processing plant. Moisture provides a perfect home for bad bacteria such as clostridium which is the cause of many litter borne diseases in poultry including dermatitis and enteritis. These bacteria multiply quickly and take over natural defenses, which can lead to all kinds of illness and disease outbreak.

This is where BURNED FEET find their cause. Footpad dermatitis, also called ammonia burn or scald, is almost exclusively caused by the corrosive effects of wet litter. If you have seen footpad dermatitis in your chicken house, you know it causes necrotic lesions, which are blistering scabs, on the bottoms of the paws. When we humans get a blister or cut on our feet, we are not as interested in playing in a basketball game or going on a run. Birds are not so different from us in that way.

While that might sound like something you would  hear from an animal activist—the truth is that sore feet keep birds from moving, WHICH makes them less likely to move to eat or drink. Less food and water translates into lower weights, lower performance, and subsequent economic losses. Keeping floors dry and birds' paws healthy helps grow bigger birds and paychecks, regardless of whether China buys a single chicken foot.

What causes wet litter?

Nipple overflow is often a key player when discussing damp poultry bedding material. As Jason talked about in last week’s video, water usage and water consumption are two different things. Birds’ beaks can only hold so much water. Any excess goes onto the floor, so monitoring water at the nipple will help keep your floor dry! Improper ventilation, leaky water lines and poor drainage from storm runoff can also create wet litter. These are things that require plain ole manual labor to fix. Southland Organics would not be much of a help in these areas of broiler growing management without coming to visit and staying for dinner.

Where we CAN help is in the more difficult causes of moisture in the house, the biggest being WASTE. Runny, liquidy droppings are a huge challenge to keeping floors not only dry, but healthy. They’re packed with harmful bacteria and when they’re loose, that bacteria runs rampant, especially when the litter has high levels of moisture already. Tightening birds’ guts can help with litter management in poultry as well as enhancing bird performance. Take a look at our Scoop on Poop video if you haven’t seen it yet for tips on how to tighten your birds’ guts, help them make the most of the feed they’re eating, and maintain good litter quality.

Managing litter is the key to a dry floor.

There are several different approaches to poultry litter management practices —you can clean out, cake out, windrow—see our Windrow Series here—but all of those happen between flocks. What can you do to change poultry house flooring when your houses are full?  The key to litter decomposition while keeping the litter dry  even with birds in the house is maintaining the proper carbon to nitrogen ratio.

Carbon and nitrogen are part of nature’s design to turn things that are dead into something that can be used as life-giving fuel. Carbon naturally occurs as part of the decomposition process. It helps convert elements that cannot be used on their own, like nitrogen, into food for plants. Litter is packed with nitrogen—that’s why some people want it to fertilize plants. While plants may welcome the added nitrogen, it can provide a difficult hurdle for broiler house management. High concentrations of nitrogen can alter the natural processes that decompose the litter and keep the carbon balanced. Studies have shown that deviations from the ideal ratios can cause nitrogen to be released from the litter as ammonia. High concentrations of ammonia can be detrimental to any poultry operation and cause things such as respiratory tract irritation and ammonia blindness in chickens.

Our poultry litter treatment, Litter Life, adds biologically active, organic carbon and organic acids to help balance  the ratio and accelerate the decomposition process while also controlling ammonia release. This accelerated process of breaking litter down naturally keeps moisture from building up in broiler flooring making dry litter a goal that is much less difficult to obtain. By doing all of this, Litter Life provides an answer to the timeless question of how to keep poultry litter dry. Whether the excess moisture accumulation comes from loose litter, condensation, or leaky water lines, , Litter Life provides a simple and natural solution to wet litter problems in poultry.

If you need help with litter moisture management or simply would like to learn more, the Southland Organics team is here. Connect with me, Allen Reynolds, at [email protected] or 800-608-3755.

Subscribe to the  Poultry Biosecurity YouTube Channel

The Author
Allen Reynolds
Poultry Development
Allen has worked in the poultry industry for 15 years, gaining experience in raising birds, house operations, equipment and bird health. As our Poultry Development Rep, he is passionate about improving the lives of farmers through natural poultry solutions and education. In addition to outstanding customer service and superior poultry support, he is also involved in helping growers through our Poultry Biosecurity Youtube Channel. Allen works to stay up to date on the latest industry news to bring relevant topics to our subscribers. He is often seen as the host, sharing profitable tips and tricks to poultry farmers. Outside of the office, Allen enjoys working on the farm, scuba diving, and riding dirt bikes.