This study was conducted to investigate three different litter materials, namely pine shavings (PS), bio-secure, fumigated pine shavings (BS) and sunflower hulls (SH) on their physical characteristics and how this influenced broiler performance parameters. The physical characteristics examined included bulk density (BD), pH, water-holding capacity (WHC), litter caking, proximate laboratory analysis of the litter materials and propensity to litter beetle infestation. Broiler performance was measured by production parameters: average daily gain (ADG), feed conversion ratio (FCR), production efficiency factor (PEF), slaughter weight, kilograms of broilers produced per m2, mortalities and total feed consumed. Broiler gut development (weight and length) and footpad dermatitis scoring were also investigated. The results of this study revealed that litter converged toward similar physical characteristics (P > 0.05) at the end of a production cycle due to addition of feed, feathers and excreta. Broilers that had access to litter materials consumed their litter which was evident in the increased acid detergent fibre (ADF) levels found in gizzard contents versus feed. This led to improved gut development in the case of SH which translated to improved (P < 0.05) ADG, kg/m2 and slaughter weight. The SH contained more nutrients (P < 0.05) based on proximate analysis as compared to the other litter types. However, improvements seen with SH did not alter (P > 0.05) the commercially measured figures of PEF and FCR. The SH was associated with an insect (Tribolium castaneum) not often associated with poultry houses which could hold as yet unidentified disadvantages to producers. The SH had the lowest overall Alphitobius diaperinus activity (P < 0.0001) which may offset disadvantages. Biosecure pine shavings had no superior effect when compared to PS (P > 0.05). Management of litter remains an important part of achieving production targets, irrespective of the litter type used.
Dissertation (MSc (Agric))--University of Pretoria, 2017.