As a component of internal biosecurity and hygiene, litter management contributes to optimize the control of health risks in livestock farming.

Litter materials & usage:

Depending on species and areas, litter materials can be from different/ diverse origin. Main ones remains straw, sawdust or directly floor. As animals are directly in contact to it, depending on species, main roles of the litter used in farms are to ensure animals’ comfort through thermal insulation, moisture absorption and the prevention of pathologies. It also influences animal behavior; its characteristics play an important role in the performance of the animals, the air quality and the work of the farmer. Throughout the rearing phase, the litter will receive the excreta from the animals that will provide organic matter, water, and an abundant and varied intestinal microflora. Along with dejections other factors such as animals’ respiration, watering losses, condensation and sometimes inadequate cleaning management will produce water. After weeks of rearing, it will therefore become a complex and favorable environment for the development of a microbial flora.

Some microorganisms coming from animals’ digestive tract are not directly pathogenic but, in high quantity, may induce digestive troubles in weak animals. However, many pathogens responsible for infections or parasitic diseases are present in animal secretions or dejections (fecal or other). To develop, these bacteria need air, optimal temperature and humidity.

Bacteria development & litter deterioration:

Bacteria will develop more or less depending on their environment. For instance, straw is favorable to the development of streptococcus while sawdust is a good substrate for coliform bacteria. But, beyond the concentration of germs excreted by animals (feces, urine, uterine and vaginal secretions…), litter accelerates the contamination dynamic (increase of the number of germs) when it is wet (insufficient ventilation) and/or thick (excessive mulching, insufficient cleaning). Wet litters are mainly due to watering system and dejection. But, it can also come from wet weather conditions, animals’ respiration, poorly ventilated building, hermetic flooring under the litter, condensation and cleaning process. Then, whatever the composition of the litter is, the combination of 3 factors promotes bacterial growth: presence of air, optimal temperature and high humidity level.

Furthermore, the combination of temperature, pH and wet environment will create a conducive environment for the degradation of urea coming from dejection and will lead to an higher ammonia concentration in the barn. Ammonia emission will then degrade animal and farmer environment.

Litter management consequences:

All these factors combined decrease the litter quality and cause troubles for animals such as respiratory, digestive, locomotive issues. Indeed, diseases such as food pad lesions, breast blisters and necrotic enteritis in poultry, mastitis and lameness in cattle and UTI in sows can be widely limited with a right litter management. It is a fundamental hygiene and biosecurity element!

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