Veterinary consultant, Michael McCreesh, discusses the influence of water consumption on broiler bird performance and the importance of being able to closely monitor this key health parameter.

The importance of measuring water consumption

Water consumption has a direct impact on feed intake and the daily live weight gain (DLWG) of broilers and is arguably one of the most important parameters farms should be monitoring, to help optimise bird performance to achieve a high standard of health and welfare. Changes in water consumption can be multifactorial but when intakes are static or reduced for more than two consecutive days, this can indicate a health issue such as gastrointestinal disease, coccidiosis, respiratory or other viral/bacterial diseases.

Water requirements increase with bird age, so benchmarks will change throughout their time on-farm. As a general rule, of thumb, birds should be consuming approximately 1.6-2.0 times as much water as feed every day . There is a strong correlation between feed and water intake, so water consumption can be used as an indirect tool to estimate feed intakes where feed weighing equipment is not available on farm.

Factors affecting water consumption

There are a number of factors that can affect water consumption, the majority of which are well within management control, such as:

  • The amount of feed consumed
  • Type of drinker line (nipple/bell drinkers)
  • Drinker line management (daily height adjustment)
  • Drinker line pressure and nipple flow rate
  • Water hygiene and quality
  • Number of nipples/bells per 1000 birds
  • Drinker line maintenance
  • Environmental factors such as temperature and humidity
  • Poultry house hygiene and bird comfort – maintaining high hygiene standards for drinker lines, feed pans and good litter conditions will help strengthen the birds defence mechanism
  • Water composition and temperature
  • Acidity level of the water – birds typically prefer water that is slightly acidic
  • Health status of the birds

If water consumption drops, check the basics first to make sure adequate water pressure is in the lines, that feed hasn’t been restricted and that the lighting pattern hasn’t altered.  By monitoring intakes over a number of flocks you can identify what is normal for individual houses, making it easier to identify issues should they arise.  Drops in water consumption at strategic times consistently in a house may indicate diseases such as coccidiosis.

A rise in water consumption, which is not in tandem with feed intakes, can occur if the environmental apparent temperature is too high for the age of the bird, resulting in the birds drinking more in order to cool down. Additionally high dietary salt content (feed/water) can make birds drink excessive amounts of water resulting in wet droppings, increased litter moisture, and predisposing to pododermatitis and hock burn which has a profound impact on welfare and performance.

Benefits of early identification

Early detection of changes in water consumption and the subsequent impact it can have on the flock is vital to sustain high health and welfare standards on-farm. Poultry Sense’s Water Sense+, monitors water consumption 24/7 and through the data collected can help alert producers of changes in performance trends that may indicate a problem.

The collation and analysis of real-time data that Poultry Sense can provide, means symptoms of poor health can be picked up a lot quicker than could otherwise be identified by traditional, ‘on the ground’ observations. Early identification can prevent further illnesses occurring through proactive intervention and limit the number of birds affected.

To find out more about Poultry Sense and the transformative technology that is being deployed on poultry farms across the UK, visit