The pH in drinking water can make a difference in broiler productivity.
Slightly acidic water with a pH of 5 to 6.8 is ideal, said Brian Fairchild, a poultry science professor at the University of Georgia.
He spoke in a Jan. 20 webinar as part of Delaware Ag Week.
The pH describes water’s degree of acidity or alkalinity and is determined by the concentration of certain hydrogen ions.
The pH scale runs from zero to 14, with 7 considered neutral. Lower numbers are acidic and higher numbers are basic or alkaline.
Water that is too alkaline may discourage chickens from drinking too much. Alkaline water can have a bitter taste “and chickens do have taste buds,” he said.
Water pH above 7 can also make the use of chlorine relatively ineffective, he said. Lower pH increases the effectiveness of chlorine while also reducing limescale buildup in drinker lines and inhibiting bacterial growth, he said.
High acidity can cause metals from the pipes to leach into the water. PVC or other non-metallic pipes can reduce any such problems, and a pH below 4 isn’t desirable.
Some studies have suggested that chickens will drink more water if it is slightly acidic, but overall, the evidence is hit and miss, Fairchild said.
To prevent the water from becoming either too acidic or basic, farmers should test their water.
If the water is 7 or above, farmers may want to lower the water pH. He cautioned against blanket suggestions, however, saying the best solution will “vary case to case.”
“The big thing is just get your water tested,” Fairchild said.
Water meters can be used to test water pH relatively cheaply, though they are delicate. They require calibration and should be kept out of extreme temperatures. The sponges in the meters may need to be kept moist so that they work.
“Don’t just leave them in the car,” Fairchild said.
Farmers can also get a laboratory water test, but drinking water standards for humans don’t align perfectly with poultry needs.
Well water quality can change during periods of heavy rain or drought, and additional water tests during these periods will ensure that water lines continue to deliver adequate water volume for both the birds and the cooling systems.
Filters should be changed regularly. Sediment and other particulates can cause leaky water nipples that can make a mess in the poultry litter.
Clogged filters restrict water flow to the drinker and cooling systems. In some cases, simple cartridge filters may not be adequate, such as for water with high iron. In those cases other water treatments will need to be considered, according to the University of Georgia.
Water lines should be flushed regularly. A high pressure flush should be performed on water lines between each flock and after adding supplements through the medicator.
When selecting a water treatment or sanitation program, farmers should make sure it will not react with the contaminants in the water to create clogs.