Poultry Production - Back to the Basics

Importance of water quality in poultry. Simple tips and advice to improve water sanitation.
Poultry Production - Back to the Basics - Articles



Poultry production has developed tremendously over the years thanks to advance in genetics, nutrition and disease control. As a rule of thumb the further we try to push a production system the better we need to manage it to keep the production system at its optimal rate. Often, we focus on things that seem very important like our vaccination program or the nutritional specs of our diets. At the same time, we may tend to spend less energy considering more “trivial things” like the quality of the water, feed and litter. For example, I have been in many poultry farms were the water is acidified but nobody in the farm has ever seen a pH meter. Water, feed and litter should be the pillars for poultry production. Over the years the most successful field veterinarians I have met are able to solve 80% of the disease cases by helping to correct one (or more) of these pillars.

Water disinfection

  • Make sure to test the water source at least twice a year for changes in composition and possible contamination.
  • Chlorination of the water is not a unique method for water sanitization but it is very effective and inexpensive if done properly. If you opt for water chlorination make sure to keep the water pH between 6.0 and 7.0 to ensure chlorine is kept in its more active form.
  • As a reminder, chlorine in solution shifts between hypochlorous acid and hypochlorite ion depending on the pH of the solution. Hypochlorous acid is the most active form against bacteria (and it is much more abundant at low pH). As water pH increases, a larger proportion of chlorine shifts to hypochlorite ion which is not very strong against microorganisms.
  • To insure proper water chlorination, it is ideal to use automatic application systems that will keep its level more homogeneous during the day.
  • There are several sources of chlorine available. Some of these can increase the water pH (house bleach) so be careful to compensate for adjusting water pH if this will be your route. There are other sources for chlorine that may be more suitable for a poultry operation (like Trichlor or Dichlor). Chlorine gas is also very effective but its use can be tightly regulated in some regions.
  • pH control should be also closely monitored. Acids should be ideally injected into the water line using an automated system. Inorganic (like sodium bisulfate) and organic acids (like acetic acid) can be used. For purposes of disinfecting the water lines the most inexpensive (and safe) form of acid will get the job done.
  • Organic matter in the water lines will inactivate chlorine. Thus, it is very important to measure the amount of active chlorine at the end of the water line. The concentration of chlorine at the end of the water line should range from 1 to 2 ppm.

Water tanks and water lines

  • Water tanks should be dark to avoid excessive growth of algae.
  • Water tanks should be covered and their pipes should be isolated to avoid important temperature change during the hottest weeks of the summer and to protect the system during the coldest weeks of winter.
  • Water lines should be flushed daily to slow the growth of bacteria and biofilm inside the line. Flushing of the lines is also important to maintain a proper water temperature especially in younger animals were the water flow is slow. Hot water will not be consumed as readily as cold water and will have a direct impact on the level of hydration of the birds and on feed consumption. During the summer months drinking warm water will impair the ability of the birds to reduce their body heat which at least decreases feed intake and during the hottest days of the year can translate in elevated mortality.
  • Water lines should be sanitized after every flock. When times between flocks are short it could be very tempting to skip this practice. Failing to sanitize translates in the buildup of organic and mineral material inside the water lines with two clear consequences. Clogging of the nipples and increased buildup of biofilm. Let’s take a minute to explore these consequences. Clogging of the nipples will lead either to dry nipples or to nipples that are constantly leaking, which will increase ammonia production and deteriorate litter quality. Biofilm buildup will serve as a great place where bacteria can hide for a very long time. This could be a real threat to the health of animals. Biofilm will also interfere with some water medications and with the ability of the water sanitizers to disinfect the water lines.


Water lines need maintenance and quality time should be dedicated to this task. The process can be automated to an extent which can save time and effort while insuring constant water quality over the years. Caring for your water quality will translate in the long run in healthier and more productive flocks.

Prepared by Gino Lorenzoni, Assistant Professor of Poultry Production and Avian Health.

For more information contact the Poultry Extension Team at Penn State University.