Page 0021

Environment

RSPCA welfare standards

for domestic/common ducks

14 February 2015

* indicates an amendment

E 3.4

The litter must be:

a) of a suitable material and particle size

b) managed to maintain it in a dry condition

c) of a sufficient depth for dilution of faeces

d) topped up to maintain dry conditions - this must be on a daily basis if necessary

e) managed hygienically.

The requirement to keep litter in a well maintained state is detailed in law (Welfare of Farmed

Animals (England) Regulations 2007 (as amended)). A poultry flock kept on well maintained litter

is healthier and more profitable than one kept on poor quality litter. Poor quality litter can cause

unnecessary suffering to the birds and can also result in downgrading of the end product at the

slaughterhouse. For example, poor litter can cause degeneration of the outer scales on the feet

(i.e. on the pressure points), which can lead to a condition known as pododermatitis (foot pad

burn). Poor litter can be avoided.

Litter moisture is a key cause of litter related problems and is affected by drinker design and

management; air change rate; litter material and depth; stocking density and rate; diet (i.e. raw

material quality and formulation) and flock health.

In poultry houses, three environmental factors have to be considered together, because their

control is interdependent. They are environmental temperature, ventilation rate and humidity.

The humidity of the poultry house environment is affected by the number and size of the birds

and therefore by their respiratory output and also, of course, by the relative humidity of the air

entering the house. When the relative humidity in the house exceeds 70%, the moisture content

of the litter tends to increase, leading to poorer conditions. The aim should be to maintain a

relative humidity level in the house of between 50 and 70% by supplying sufficient air and

added heat when necessary.

A lot of the water, and all of the fat and nitrogen found in the litter, which all have a detrimental

impact on litter quality, is excreted from the birds as faeces. Therefore the higher the stocking

rate the more of these factors the litter has to absorb. Also, the rate of evaporation of moisture

from the litter falls as stocking rate increases.

Any disease or skeletal abnormality that reduces the birds' mobility is likely to affect their

welfare adversely, as they will have increased contact with the litter.

Finally, not all foot pad burn is simply a result of poor litter quality. If birds spend excessive

amounts of time squatting down due to leg problems or other diseases they will be more likely

to suffer from these lesions regardless of litter condition.

Primary source: Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). 2004. Poultry Litter Management. Defra, London.

E 3.5 Litter which is wet, infested with mites, or otherwise harmfully contaminated must:

a) not be introduced into duck housing

b) be replaced immediately if within the house.

Depending on the severity of the issue, wet litter may be covered with fresh, dry litter if this

is sufficient to prevent the birds becoming wet from water seeping up through the litter.

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