Water is a vital nutrient in poultry. Birds in general are very active creatures and thus need lots of water to meet their metabolic needs.
Water consumption is so closely linked to feed intake. Therefore, providing less than the amount of water needed leads to lower feed intake and ultimately a reduction in performance.
It thus goes without saying that, providing quality water, in quantities suitable for the precise stage of a bird’s life cycle, contributes not only to their welfare, but also stimulates proper health and optimal performance in meat or egg production.
To avoid the challenges related to inadequate quantity water supply to birds, it is advisable to avail plenty of water, at all times, in clean and easy-to-use drinking systems.
The water, of course, needs to be in close proximity to the feeders to allow access to water during feed times.
Water presented to chicken for drinking is considered to be of good quality if it is; safe, clean and fresh.
Quality water should be of normal taste, free of smells and should have no bacterial or chemical contamination.
Water quality challenges in poultry farms depend a lot on the systems being used. Though automated water systems are generally better in water quality and quantity supply, farmers using them in Uganda, also face challenges as those with manual drinking systems.
The most common water-related challenges on farms in Uganda include; bacterial contamination, micronutrient excesses, excessive organic matter, bio-film, water accessibility, environmental temperature and misuse of medicines in water.
Water sometimes can have excessive accumulation of minerals. Minerals like; sodium, iron, manganese plus other micronutrients like nitrates and sulphates can cause disruptions in water composition and nutrient imbalances in birds, leading to certain diseases or syndromes.
Such problems are observable in especially birds kept for more than six months.
Examples include lameness or blindness, laying small eggs and stagnated growth.
Extreme iron levels in water, for example, could lead to low water intake, promotion of bacterial growth and formation of a dirty layer in water pipelines.
It is also advisable to carry out monthly re-testing of the water to monitor micro-nutrient quality.
Excessive organic matter
Organic matter arises mainly from the remains of plants and animals in the environment. Water is known to contain certain amounts of organic matter including miniature rotting particles depending on where it has been sourced.
Presence of excessive organic matter in water, however, encourages exponential bacterial growth.
Biofilm is the slimy and often coloured (greenish or blackish) substance that is found inside water pipes or tubes.
Biofilm is composed of a slimy sticky substance formed by bacteria in water to allow them stick to and colonise water pipes. It can also contain organic matter and residues of substances that are usually added to the water.
From the biofilm, bacteria are able to multiply in millions and colonise the water system further leading to serious water contamination.
Though biofilm is typically known to contain bacteria, it can also have other microorganisms such as yeast, fungi, mould and viruses, which may affect the poultry.
Biofilm in pipes makes the use of chlorine-based water treatment in-effective, as the chlorine is unable to destabilise the biofilm.
Regular cleaning or flushing of water pipes with hydrogen peroxide is recommended in dealing with biofilm.
In addition, the use of pH reducing buffered organic acids such as Selko-pH can be effective in eliminating bacteria within the biofilm.
To maximise water consumption in poultry, water needs to be provided in easy-to-access, use and re-fill equipment. Every grown-up bird is entitled to at least 1cm of drinking space on a round water container.
With this in mind, it is the duty of the farm ownership or management to ensure that they provide drinking space for every single bird in the flock.
To encourage water consumption, the drinkers should in attractive colours of yellow or red. Keeping drinkers far away from feeders makes water inaccessible and thus discourages water drinking in especially young birds.
In automated water nipple drinking systems, it is possible to lower the water pressure so as to achieve the ‘hanging droplet’ on the water nipple
The most common source of water quality problems on poultry farms in Uganda is bacteria.
Currently, out of the more than 70 water samples that we have analysed for contamination, in the past one year, at the Central Diagnostic Laboratory in COVAB-Makerere University, more than 99% have high levels of bacterial contamination.
The most common bacteria is E.coli (Escherichia Coli) and other forms of Coliform bacteria.
Consumption of water with extreme amounts of bacteria, as seen on many farms in Uganda, causes an imbalance and damage to the bird’s gut, leading to inflammation (enteritis), low nutrient absorption and diarrhoea.
Besides the known physical damage to the gut, bacteria are also capable of triggering immune responses and breathing-related ailments. These responses require lots of energy utilisation to combat, leading to body weakness and drop in production.
Regular water testing and treatment to combat bacterial presence is highly encouraged on poultry farms.
Water testing for bacterial contamination is done at the CDL-COVAB, NWSC and Chemiphar laboratories.
Complied by Dr Samuel Sewagudde