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Making the water taste good: Water pH modification on the poultry farm

“Would you like lemon with your water?” is a question heard at restaurants across the country. For those who answer yes, a splash of acidity makes their drink a little more pleasant to drink.

“Acidic beverages tend to be more palatable— for example coffee, soda and sports drinks,” said Neogen poultry expert Lindsay Good. “That principle extends to poultry water as well.”

Previously, we’ve covered how important it is to clear mineral buildup from poultry water lines, and disinfecting the water provided to birds. Once this is done, the focus can shift to enhancing the water to encourage more consumption. Higher water intake correlates to higher feed intake, ultimately leading to improved daily gains and overall performance. Modifying the pH level of the water can improve both the palatability and odor of the water.

In addition to improved palatability, acidified water has been shown to:

  • Increase efficacy of some disinfectants
  • Increase mineral absorption in the GI tract
  • Aid in preslaughter Salmonella programs

“Birds have consistently shown to prefer water with a slightly acidic pH, ranging from 6.0 to 6.5. While some water sources may meet that requirement without any intervention, pH modifications can be made with commercially available acidifiers,” said Good.

These acidifiers fall into two general categories: organic acids (meaning those that contain a carbon chemical makeup) and inorganic acids (also known as mineral acids).

Organic acids, such as citric acid, acetic acid (commonly known as vinegar) or lactic acid are considered weak acids, meaning it takes more of the product to lower the pH of the water when compared to similar levels of mineral acids. Organic acids, however, are used to increase water consumption by birds and to increase solubility of supplements that require lower pH levels to properly dissolve into solution.

Mineral or inorganic acids are typically strong acids and are very effective at reducing pH, even in the face of water profiles that have a high buffering capacity, meaning they are more difficult to acidify. Examples of mineral acids include nitric, phosphoric, and hydrochloric acids. Mineral acids are used when a prescribed pH level is necessary as part of nutritional or water treatment program. In addition, because of their lack of carbon, mineral acids do not encourage the biologic growth that is sometimes seen with the use of organic acids.

Water acidifiers can be applied using a medicator or metering pump. Because the water profile on every farm may be different, it’s important to verify the water’s pH level to determine the proper way to use these chemicals. After collecting samples of the water along the water line, pH level can be determined using a pH meter or pH test strips to verify that the pH of the water is within the range of the water treatment program.

“At the end of the day, a bird who drinks more water will perform better,” said Good. “Providing clean, pathogen-free water at a pH level that is preferred by birds rounds out a robust water treatment program.”

This post is part of our series on water lines in the poultry house. See the rest of the articles here.

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