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Organic Acid Use in Layers

Sophie Pentecost, Applied Bacterial Control and Richard Turner MA VetMB MRCVS, St David’s Poultry Team

The use of organic acids in water for poultry has long been recognised as beneficial to performance but there are several areas that need to be considered when embarking upon water acidification.

The first point to consider are the reasons you are looking to acidify the water, as this can affect the type of product you choose and the rate at which it is applied. One of the reasons why you may be considering acidifying water is to make it more appealing to your birds to encourage water consumption. Poultry tend to prefer water that is slightly acidic so if the incoming supply is of an alkaline nature (pH over 8) then this may be putting the birds off drinking. Therefore, by acidifying the water with an acid product you can encourage the birds to drink more simply by improving the taste of the water.

There are certain organic acids, such as Formic and Propionic Acid, that have been shown to be effective at aiding in the control of pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella or E.Coli. However, when selecting your product there are a couple of points that need to be considered. The first is ensuring that the product contains the right organic acid for the job, and the second is to ensure that the product contains a sufficient level of this acid.

When looking to help control pathogenic bacteria the success of the product is determined by the concentration of the acid that reaches the gut of the bird, not the pH of the water. It is also key to establish whether the acid product is buffered or not. This will determine whether the acid blend can reach the lower gut of the bird un-dissociated or whether it will be dissociated in the water before it reaches the gut. The acids need to reach the gut in their un-dissociated form so that it is here where they will give up their H+ ions and disrupt any pathogenic bacteria present. If the product is not buffered the acids will give up their H+ ions in the water, lowering the pH of the water but not having any impact on the gut of the bird.

Alternatively, you may be looking to organic acids for gut health enhancement. The gut of the bird contains a population of bacteria, algae and fungi known as the microflora and it is this that the acid blend is looking to help. By acidifying the water with a buffered acid product, it ensures the organic acid reaches the microflora where it helps to maintain the acidic environment required for the microflora to thrive. The composition of the microflora changes throughout the bird’s life so certain organic acids such as lactic acid can be hugely beneficial in the early stages of gut development. As well as promoting the microflora, organic acids have also been shown to help with food digestion, as they aid in the conversion of pepsinogen to pepsin which increases protein and amino acid absorption. By ensuring the microflora functions well and the bird has good gut health, enhancements in litter quality and FCR should be seen.

Once you have selected your product it is critical that a titration is carried out using the farm’s specific water to determine the dose rate. Whilst most products will have a recommended dose rate, the range can sometimes be quite wide. This is to compensate for the variation in water supplies, whether borehole or mains, hard water or soft water. Therefore, by carrying out a titration you can ensure that the dose rate will achieve the recommended pH with your specific water supply.

We also recommend regular monitoring of the pH water when using acid products. Whilst a titration will provide a recommended dose rate, it is key to monitor the pH at the end of the drinking lines to ensure nothing has gone awry. If the pH is not kept at a certain level there is a risk that biofilm and algal blooms may form in the drinker lines, potentially leading to blocked drinker lines.

There are also some practical concerns to be aware of when acidifying water, specifically the hardware of the drinking system. Prolonged, long-term use of acid products can lead to corrosion of metal fittings and pipework. Generally, copper and brass fittings are most susceptible to corrosion, while galvanised and stainless steel are more resilient.

It is also essential that you consider your water hygiene status before embarking upon acidification as bacterial contamination in the water can hinder the effects of any acid products. Before commencing any water acidification we would encourage farmers to examine their current water hygiene status by testing samples from the end of the drinker lines for bacterial contamination and if there are any issues to resolve them before adding organic acids to the water. We would normally recommend acidification alongside a water sanitation programme to ensure the water is kept clean and free from bacteria.

There are multiple reasons to look to using organic acids to promote your flock, whether it be for water conditioning, gut health or pathogen control, but it is important you select the most suitable acid product and ensure it is used correctly.

Originally for September Ranger publication

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