How you can use water usage as an indicator of your chickens' health
08 March 2021
Do you want to know if your chickens are healthy and performing optimally? Checking the water usage is one of the easiest ways to monitor this.
We have said it before; water is an essential nutrient for poultry to perform well. Water is involved in all the body's processes and is therefore crucial for the growth of your birds and the quality of the eggs. The water usage is not the same as the water consumption. However, it can be one of the first indicators that something is wrong with your animals' health.
How do you check the water usage?
The most convenient way to monitor water usage is to check the water meter in the poultry house on a daily basis. The water meter registers the water that is used in your poultry house. Keep in mind; this is not solely the water that your birds drink, but also the water they waste while drinking. By monitoring and comparing water usage daily, you get a clear picture of your animals' drinking behaviour. It is important you measure the usage around the same time every day to get a consistent outcome. It is also helpful to save the data as comparison material for the next rounds.
Also, we highly recommend you to walk through the house every day. This way, you can study your poultry's drinking behaviour and, at the same time, check the drinking nipples for any leaks or blockages.
You can also choose to compare the water usage with the feed consumption, the so-called water / feed ratio. The intake of water and feed are linked: if a chicken does not drink enough, it will also eat less (and vice versa).
On average, a chicken drinks about 1.8 ml of water for every gram of feed. A deviation in this ratio, or the water consumption, can indicate possible problems in the drinking system or your poultrys' health.
In case of a deviation in the water usage, always check the drinking system first
If you encounter a sudden deviation in water usage, it could indicate problems in the drinking system. It is important to check your system before looking for other causes.
Several possible causes when water usage increases:
- A leak somewhere in the drinking system;
- The drinking line is hanging too low, causing your birds to waste more water while drinking;
- The drinking line's water pressure is too high, possibly causing your drinking nipples to leak or your chickens wasting more water.
Several possible causes when water usage decreases:
- The water pressure is too high, which means that (day-old) chicks have to push harder on the drinking nipple to activate it. This is quite a task at this young age, and therefore they cannot drink enough water.
- The water pressure on the mainline is too low; it has to be between 2 and 4 bar;
- The drinking line's water pressure is too low; so the end of the line is empty (check the water columns);
- The drinking line is hanging too high, so the chickens cannot reach the drinking nipples properly;
- A blockage in the system or in the drinking nipples; this can occur if the quality of the water is insufficient, for example, due to biofilm in the lines or dirt in the source (find out how you can improve the quality of the drinking water);
- Certain chemicals and salts in additives and vaccines affect the water's taste, so the chickens no longer like its taste (find out how taste influences drinking behaviour). So 9 out of 10 times, you will see a dip in water consumption during vaccination;
- The chickens can drink from puddles when they're outside. Try to avoid this as much as possible. Puddles of water can be full of harmful bacteria and viruses.
Other causes that can influence a deviation in water usage
If the deviation in water consumption is not caused by a defect in the drinking system or by water quality problems, then it is time to look further. The deviation may be caused by one of the following issues:
- If the temperature and relative humidity in the house is too high, your chickens can suffer from heat stress (find out what you can do to combat heat stress);
- If it is too cold, your chickens huddle together in groups and are less likely to visit the drinking nipples;
- Check whether sufficient feed is available and determine whether there could be a reason for a lower feed intake. Maybe something has changed in the feed structure or in the composition of the feed. This can prevent your chickens from eating sufficient amounts. Also, an increase of salt in the feed can cause your chickens to drink more water;
- If water usage increases, your chickens may suffer from an imbalance in the intestines (dysbiosis). As a result, harmful bacteria get the upper hand, and the intestinal wall can no longer absorb enough water. This can cause your animals to suffer from diarrhoea and thus drink more water;
- If water usage decreases, it could be a symptom of Infectious Bronchitis (IB). So a deviation in water usage can also mean that your chickens have an infection.
Water usage can help you detect problems in time
There is no exact answer on how much water a chicken needs. Factors like genetics, house climate, flock size and feed influence the animals' water consumption. By monitoring the water usage daily, you get an indication of the water consumption, which will help you identify potential problems at an early stage. Most importantly, you can probably fix the issues by acting in time before they do too much damage.
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