Drinking Water Management in Poultry Farm

Water is a critical, but often overlooked, nutrient. Animals can survive longer without food than they can without water. Water is involved in every aspect of animal metabolism. It plays an important role in regulating body temperature, digesting food, and eliminating wastes. At normal temperatures, chickens typically consume twice water as much as feed. During periods of high temperature, water consumption can double or quadruple. To remain healthy, poultry flocks require water of adequate quality and quantity. Water is the most important nutrient and good-quality water must be available to the birds at all times. Only in special cases (e.g., prior to vaccine delivery through the drinking water), drinking water should be restricted, and then only for a short time and under careful monitoring.


• Water intake for commercial poultry breeds is 1.5-2x greater than feed intake
• Commercial birds drink more now than they did 10-20 years ago
• Depending on age, a birds body can contain between 60-85% water
• Eggs contain approx. 65% water
• Nutrition via the feed can be adjusted easily to better suit the nutrition found in the water


• The chemical make-up of the water based on chemical and mineral content
• Dependent on location of water source
• Can change over time, routine monitoring is recommended

• A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the water
• pH > 7 is considered alkaline, pH < 7 is considered acidic

• pH measures the hydrogen ion concentration in the water pH OF SAMPLE

• Poultry prefer a pH between 6.3 - 7.5

• pH less than 6 begins to affect broiler performance due to palatability

• Low pH water may be corrosive to equipment over a prolonged period

• High pH water indicates the presence of calcium and magnesium and can negatively affect bird performance and clog water systems. Certain bacteria prefer an acidic environment while others prefer an alkaline environment

• Beneficial bacteria typically prefer an acidic environment

• Lactobacillus (beneficial bacteria) prefer a pH of 3.5-6.8.

• A recent study showed that gram negative bacteria (coliforms) had a 7% survival rate at a 6.9pH and a 66.1% survival rate at 8.3pH


• Target a pH of 6.3-7 to maximize performance

• Birds will drink less when pH is less than 6 or higher than 7.5

• In general, beneficial bacteria prefer a low pH environment (acidic) and a harmful bacteria prefer a high pH environment (alkaline)

TDS – Total Dissolved Solids

• Total dissolved solids (TDS) comprise inorganic salts (mainly calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, bicarbonates, chlorides, and sulfates) and some small amounts of organic matter that are dissolved in water.

• TDS can be thought of as salinity

• Salinity = any inorganic substance dissolved in water

• Water consumption increases with salinity until a point where birds will no longer drink the water

 • High TDS levels are the most commonly found contaminants in poultry drinking water

• Seawater typical has 35000PPM TDS, human drinking water has less than 500PPM TDS

• TDS is directly related to Electrical Conductivity

• Salt water conducts electricity better than distilled water

• 0-1000ppm Very Good

• 1000-3000ppm Satisfactory, could cause wet dropping at upper limit

• 3000-5000ppm Poor, wet droppings, increased mortality may arise

• >5000ppm Unsatisfactory

TDS – Water Softeners

• Good for removing magnesium, calcium and some iron
• Exchange sodium for other dissolved minerals
• Total TDS content does NOT change as sodium simply replaces the minerals that have been removed
• Need to closely monitor sodium levels in drinking water if using water softener

TDS – Reverse Osmosis

• Good for removing all minerals associated with TDS
• Uses high pressure and fine membranes to filter out the minerals
• Will significantly lower overall TDS content


• A measurement of the divalent cations dissolved in the water

• Divalent cations: calcium, magnesium, manganese and iron
• Related to TDS but does NOT include sodium
• 100ppm considered “hard”
• Generally not a concern for poultry until levels approach 1500ppm
• Hard water will interfere with the effectiveness of soaps, disinfectants and some medications delivered via the water
• Acidic or neutral detergents work best in extremely hard water
• Hard water is associated with mineral scale build up (calcium + magnesium)
• Mineral scale buildup can cause leaky nipples and create a rough surface for biofilms to attach to
• Recommend acidifying hard water to avoid mineral scale buildup
• Water softeners or reverse osmosis systems will both “soften” the water


• All living components that are found in the water sample
• Can be obtained via a swab or free flow test
• If conducting a free flow test ensure the correct sample bottle is used and maintain a sterile technique
• The goal is 0 CFU/mL for all bacteria
• Poultry infections due to bacteria from the waterlines are usually secondary to other conditions (leaky gut)
• Chemical water profile has a large impact on the micro profile of the water
• Mineral deposits create a rough surface for water born bacteria to attach to
• Biofilms grow exponentially and as they grow they create a thick layer of film which cannot be penetrated by routine sanitizers
• Routine sanitizers will only eliminate the bacteria on the surface of the biofilm
• As the biofilms grow they begin to disperse
• Once they disperse they can attach to rough surfaces or onto other existing biofilms

Removing Bacteria

• Routine sanitizers such as low level chlorine, low level peroxide or chlorine dioxide do an excellent job of keeping clean water sanitary
• These routine sanitizers do not work well against biofilms that are already established
• They cannot penetrate beyond the surface of the biofilm
• Peroxide treatment in between flocks will penetrate and loosen the biofilm
• Take extra caution to ensure that the waterlines are well vented when using peroxide
• Trigger all nipples during procedure
• Using a commercial disinfectant as a final step in your cleaning protocol will ensure that all remaining pathogenic microorganisms are eliminated
• Do not exceed manufacturers suggested concentrations
• Be cautious when using disinfectants containing aldehydes and ensure that the waterlines are well flushed prior to receiving birds
• Once the lines have been cleaned and new birds are in the barn it is good practice to use a routine sanitizer
• The following are safe and effective concentrations in the drinking water:
• Chlorine: 2-3ppm
• Chlorine Dioxide 0.1-0.3ppm
• Peroxide 25-50ppm

Monitoring drinking-water intake

Water and feed consumption are directly related—when birds drink less water, they consume less feed, and production quickly declines accordingly. As a general rule, healthy adult birds will consume twice water as much as feed, although the ratio increases during periods of warm weather. The installation and use of water meters in each house or barn is recommended to monitor the flock’s water intake on a daily basis. Such daily water-intake records can be used as an early warning of problems in the flock.

Several factors influence water quality, including the color, taste, and odor of water, as well as the presence of bacteria or other microbes, the levels of minerals, and other chemical and physical factors.

Color, Taste, and Odor

It is important that drinking water be clear, tasteless, odorless, and colorless. Water that is contaminated exhibits different characteristics depending on the contaminants.
• The presence of particles such as clay, silt, or organic material can make water cloudy. Such water can interfere with the proper operation of watering equipment and can indirectly lead to adverse effects on flock performance.
• Water that is reddish-brown might contain excess iron.
• A blue hue to water can be an indication of excess copper.
• A rotten egg smell is an indication of hydrogen sulfide in water. Hydrogen sulfide may also combine with iron to form black water (iron sulfide), which can also indicate the presence of sulfate-reducing bacteria.
• The taste of water can be affected by the presence of different salts. A bitter taste, for example, is associated with the presence of ferrous and manganese sulfates.


Bacteria in the water can be an indication of contamination by organic material. Water is normally tested for total bacteria level as well as coliform bacteria level. Coliform bacteria are organisms normally found in the digestive tracts of livestock, humans, and birds. The presence of coliform bacteria is typically an indication of fecal contamination. If water has a high bacterial count, the best option is to eliminate the source of the contamination or to locate an alternative water source. It is not advisable to use disinfectants to maintain safe bacterial levels in a highly contaminated water source. Any disinfectant is likely to fail at some time and expose the birds to high levels of bacteria.

Physical and Chemical Characteristics

The acidity or alkalinity of water is expressed as pH level. A scale from 0 to 14 is used to measure pH. Neutral water, which is neither acidic nor alkaline, has a pH of 7. Water with pH lower than 7 is acidic, and water with pH higher than 7 is alkaline. Acidic drinking water can affect digestion, corrode watering equipment, and impair the use of water-soluble vaccines and medications. Poultry prefer water with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8 but can tolerate a pH range of 4 to 8. However, water with a pH less than 6 has been shown to negatively affect chicken performance. When provided water with a pH above 8, chickens might reduce their water consumption. This in turn will affect feed consumption and bird performance.
Hardness refers to the amount of dissolved minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, in water. Hard water has high levels of these minerals and can cause the buildup of sludge in water lines. Hardness reduces the effectiveness of soaps and disinfectants and interferes with the administration of some medications. Although hard water can cause stains and adversely affect watering equipment, hard water has not been shown to have either a positive or negative direct effect on poultry performance.

Mineral Content

A large number of minerals occur naturally in water. They are usually present in amounts that do not interfere with the metabolism or digestive functions of poultry. When the levels of certain minerals are out of balance, however, poultry performance can be adversely affected.

Nitrates and Nitrites

Nitrogen contamination of water usually occurs in the form of nitrates and nitrites. Nitrate (NO3) is produced during the decomposition of organic matter. Nitrite (NO2) is produced during intermediate stages of the decomposition of organic compounds. The presence of nitrates and/or nitrites in water usually indicates that the water is contaminated by runoff containing fertilizer or animal wastes. Nitrates are soluble and may move with surface runoff or leach into the groundwater by percolation through the soil. Nitrate itself is not toxic, but after consumption, microorganisms found in the avian digestive tract convert nitrate to the more toxic form of nitrite. Once nitrite is absorbed into the bloodstream, it binds strongly with hemoglobin (which normally carries oxygen) and reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Long-term nitrate and/or nitrite toxicity results in poor growth, decreased feed consumption, and poor coordination.

Sulfate (SO4)

In the presence of magnesium or sodium, high sulfate levels have a laxative effect. Levels as low as 50 mg/L can have a negative effect on flock performance if either the sodium or magnesium level is also 50 mg/L. High levels of sulfate may also interfere with intestinal absorption of other minerals such as copper.

Phosphate (PO4)

High levels of phosphate may indicate water contamination from sewage.

Sodium (Na)

Excessive levels of sodium have a diuretic effect. The normal sodium level in water is about 32 mg/L. Levels above 50 mg/L, together with high levels of sulfate or chloride, have been shown to adversely affect flock performance. High levels of sodium also increase water consumption and litter moisture. This can have an adverse affect on air quality in the poultry house.

Chloride (Cl)

Excessive levels of chloride have been shown to adversely affect metabolism. A normal chloride level is 14 mg/L. Levels of about 14 mg/L, combined with a level of 50 mg/L of sodium, are detrimental to flock performance. Poultry can tolerate chloride levels as high as 25 mg/L as long as the sodium level is in the normal range. High levels of chloride increase water consumption and litter moisture.

Magnesium (Mg)

The normal level of magnesium in water is about 14 mg/L. Poultry that consume water containing high levels of magnesium have loose droppings. Magnesium may interact with sulfate, and it is in the presence of high sulfate levels that magnesium levels are a concern. Levels as high as 68 mg/L have not been shown to adversely affect production when sulfate levels are normal. A level of 50 mg/L of magnesium in combination with a sulfate level of more than 50 mg/L will adversely affect flock performance.

Manganese (Mn)

Excessive levels of manganese can result in an off flavor, reducing water consumption.

Copper (Cu)

In combination with phosphorus, copper plays a role in bone development. Ruminants are more susceptible to copper toxicity than poultry. Too much copper can give the water a bitter taste and might cause liver damage. Problems with copper can occur when dietary molybdenum is either excessive or deficient.

Calcium (Ca)

Calcium does not appear to have a negative effect, even at levels as high as 400 mg/L.

Iron (Fe)

High levels of iron, up to 25 mg/L, have not been shown to adversely affect flock performance, but they will stain waterers. High iron levels may encourage the growth of bacteria that can lead to diarrhea. When iron in the ferrous form is exposed to air, it is converted to ferric hydroxide, which gives water the typical rusty color.

Profitability in poultry production can only be optimized when everything goes right, and that includes keeping the birds healthy.

Hygienic Water supply system is one of the most important key factors for good health and growth of poultry. It is important for water to remain hygienic all the way until it reaches the birds, and so water & drinker lines hygiene must be a focus of attention for the farm. Water lines should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized at regular intervals.

1. Adjust drinkers to correct height
2. Fix leaks
3. Look out for air locks
4. Install a filter to prevent sediment build-up
5. Prevent bio-film by flushing
~ immediately after any intervention of medication
~ one minute for every 30 meters of pipe length
~ at least once a week
~ more than once a day during warm weather
~ use high pressure (1.5-3.0 bars)
6. Use high quality acidifier in water for desired pH level
Water source get contaminated with various organic and inorganic substances resulting in high pH thus chances of growing pathogens including salmonella sp., E. coli and fungi is high.

Contamination of drinking water in poultry is formidable.

Generally it is recommended that optimum pH of drinking water of poultry should be around 4.5 to 5.5 and B value of feed should be low to maintain normal gastric pH of birds.

Since gastric pH is higher in chicks than in growers and adult birds, an utmost care should be taken during brooding period of chicks for:
-» Reducing chick mortality
-» Controlling E. coli, Salmonella and fungi
-» Improving FCR and weight gain
-» Reducing ammonia in litter
-» Reducing moisture in litter

To take care of the routine problems of poultry farm, we add sanitizers, acidifiers, medications, nutritional supplements & vaccines etc without understanding chemical interaction into the water which itself comes carrying its own baggage of organic & inorganic material.
We will have to keep in mind that while some chemical interaction could be synergistic, actualy helping one another to work better but in the mean time making wrong solution may create problem by reducing effectiveness of the additives and some time leading to hazardous effect to birds & environment.

Following are some action & interactions which we must understand while preparing drinking water to poultry:

☞ Hydrogen peroxide (H₂O₂) and Chlorine (Cl) are not compatible so should not be used at the same time. Both are oxidizer and they will turn on each other.
☞ Copper sulfate is not compatible with Chlorine (Cl) however Copper sulfate which is an antimicrobial & antifungal agent actually enhances the effectiveness of H₂O₂ so they can be run at the same time with separate medicators.
☞ Organic iodine (Not the inorganic) is very compatible with Chlorine. This combination can help to prevent a full-blown respiratory infection if it is used early enough to treat sniffing, a loose croupy cough.
☞ Iodine, like Chlorine, works better at a lower pH.
☞ Chlorine is not compatible with any compound that act as reducing agent which would include most minerals water additives.
For example, products that contain copper, sulfur or iron will tie up the Chlorine and make it unavailable to work effectively as a sanitizer.
☞ Antibiotic like Chlortetracycline & tetracycline works best in low pH range. If you have alkaline water, adding good acidifier liquid actually enhances absorption of these products. But product like Penicillin & Sulpha drugs works better in pH above 7 so turning off the water acidifier during medication with penicillin & sulpha group is recommended.
☞ Vaccines are typically protein so at any time vaccines are used in water, the water pH should be above 4.
☞ All sanitizers lose efficacy at colder water temperatures. Chlorine, chlorine dioxide & peroxide/ozone are all temperature sensitive so colder water will slow down their reaction time.
☞ Peroxide is strong oxidant and contact with personnel is extremely dangerous. Peroxide deteriorates gradually even when stored correctly.
☞ There would be slime blooms in water system after the use of antibiotics. The antibiotic disrupts the microbial population in waterline system just as it does in the GI tract, allowing microbes such as yeast & mould to grow undisturbed.

So, thorough cleaning of water pipeline system to remove the slime using 3% hydrogen peroxide solution with high pressure flushing water routinely is recommended as & when required.

Regular use of best quality acidifier in fresh drinking water of poultry farm will solve routine problems but it should have following traits:

• Ability to reduce pH of drinking water as well as GI tract content.
• Should reduce B-value of ingredients for improvement of digestion & assimilation.
• Must suppress bacteria that are “pH sensitive” like E.coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, C. perfringens, Listeria etc.
• Must work in fore gut as well as in hind gut
• Should be stable in all pH ranges.

Make sure that you are using perfect hygienic water for your birds and not a complicated solution.

When it comes to poultry production, birds are extremely sensitive to their water. From temperature, to taste, to the time of day they drink, providing a solid water management program is essential to producing a healthy and successful flock.

Beyond water, farmers provide things like probiotics, vitamins, and essential oils to their birds to improve overall growth and health. However, many of these common items can also create water issues if not properly managed. As these products are fed into the water systems and lines, they tend to stick to the walls of pipes and drinkers, accelerating bacteria growth and clogged lines. Eventually this can lead to poor water quality and flow, both of which are important in maintaining a productive flock.

The keys to keeping a clean water supply are:

• Knowing the water supply’s challenges and addressing them properly. Inadequate cleaning is a waste of time and effort.
• Using a daily water sanitizer best suited for the operation that is compatible with water, easy to use, ease to monitor and cost effective for the farm.
• Establishing a program to monitor and verify water quality.
While these tasks seem simple, the maintenance of a water system is best handled by professionals with the skills and resources to test, monitor and adequately treat the farm’s water supply.
• Along with properly treating the water itself, the water system also must be properly maintained. Leading poultry industry experts advocate the following water line cleaning fundamentals:
• Use the right concentration of a cleaner and give it the proper amount of time to work.
• The entire system must be cleaned: the water lines, standpipes, regulators and distribution pipes. If any part of the system is not cleaned of biofilm and other residue, it can undermine all the time and effort spent on cleaning and lead to health problems in a broiler flock.
• No two farms are the same, so it is necessary to have experts test for microbial content during all stages of the drinking water system.
• No matter how well the system was flushed clean, flush the lines after cleaning.

Birds drink water roughly about 2 litres for every kg of feed at 70ºF. For each degree of temperature rise about 75ºF, birds will drink about 4% more water.

The normal intake of feed : water is 1:2. But this ratio rises to nearly 1:4 or even more when temperature exceeds 95ºF.

Birds prefer cool water between 45ºF to 80ºF. Except for day old chicks, the temperature of drinking water for all categories of chickens should always be lower than the room temperature.

Provision of extra waters on deep litter is a must along with filling up these with cold water for 4-5 times a day.

Birds on cages should also get a continuous supply of fresh, cool water. Where there is a provision for automatic drinking devices, if necessary small ice pieces may be placed in drinking reservoirs.

When using water medication during severe summer heat, recommended concentration must be reduced as high amount of water consumption may increase excess of the normal levels, resulting in an overdose of the drug.

Improvement of water quality:

Treatment of drinking water with alum followed by sedimentation for 24-hours will purify the water.

Another way of purifying water for drinking of birds may be done by mixing 2 gms of bleaching powder containing 35% chlorine with 1000 litres of clean drinking water and ultimately exposing the treated water for at least 3 hours before its actual use. Alternatively, ʻMedichlor’ at the rate of 10 ml in 100 litres of drinking water can be used. The treated water should remain exposed for minimum 2-3 hours before being used.