A recent Poultry CRC study has shown that broilers raised on fibrous litter are generally more uniform in feed consumption, Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) and, most importantly, body weight. This potentially greater uniformity holds the promise of less out of specification birds at the processing plant.
Moreen Ali, Laboratory Manager at Inghams, undertook comparative studies of the productivity and health of broilers raised on rice hulls, softwood sawdust, pine shavings, re-used single batch pine shavings litter, shredded paper, chopped straw or hardwood sawdust.
Dr Ali said: "Birds consume some of these materials used for bedding, which stimulates development of the gizzard, the main 'grinding' organ of a chicken's gut. What was surprising was that although the birds raised on the fibrous litter types had larger, more muscular gizzards than those reared on shredded paper, they did not have improved live weight, feed consumption or FCR at 42 days. Birds reared on hardwood sawdust were generally the most uniform in feed consumption and body weight."
Greater uniformity could lead to benefits in processing efficiency. It is not yet known why birds raised on hard litter material achieved greater uniformity. It may be that an earlier development of the gizzard - as observed in birds reared on hardwood sawdust - caused gut stabilisation and hence more uniform production at 42 days. Thus, through self-regulation of litter intake and early gizzard stimulation, the birds were able to achieve optimum gut development.
Lloyd Thomson, the CRC's Commercial Manager, said: "Despite some differences among litter types, most of the fibrous materials tested gave equally beneficial gut development and live performance results, suggesting a wide range of options for farmers to pursue to best manage litter availability and cost."