How Acidification of Water Improves gut Health. 



How Acidification of Water Improves gut Health. 



Acidifying water is a key part of eliminating pathogenic bacteria, promoting healthy gut flora and ultimately boosting bird health. However, it’s vital to get the right balance, as Olivia Cooper reports.

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Clean water is an essential part of bird health – but it’s not as easy to get right as one might imagine. There are many levels of water cleanliness and hygiene: Most people think of cloudiness and contaminants when it comes to dirty water, but even the clearest looking mains water can carry hidden dangers.

Water quality: Foundation of animal health

According to Richard Turner at Applied Bacterial Control (ABC), part of St David’s Poultry Vets, water quality is the foundation of good nutrition and animal health. “Birds consume nearly twice as much water as feed under normal climatic conditions,” he explains. “Water plays a vital role in digestion, transportation of nutrients, body temperature regulation and removal of waste products from the body. It has a huge impact on bird health and farm performance.”


There are two key aspects to clean and healthy water on-farm:

terminal hygiene at turnaround

ongoing water treatments like organic acids.


Farmers will already be flushing through their water systems at the end of every flock, but it’s the small details that can make a big difference to the effectiveness of this routine, says Mr Turner. “It sounds simple, but read the instructions on the cleaning product and follow them. Lots of people think leaving it in the lines for longer will produce a better result, but that isn’t always the case. It will break down the biofilm initially but if left too long it can resettle and become difficult to flush out.”


What is biofilm and how to remove it?

“It’s a community of bacteria, fungi and algae bound together in a slime which anchors them firmly to a surface and protects them from antibacterial agents, so they can proliferate,” he explains.

Peracetic acid-based cleaners are particularly effective in removing limescale-based biofilms, while hydrogen peroxide is good against biofilm and organic matter. “Whatever you use, follow the recommendations on the label.”

However, if there is a heavy bacterial load, a 1% concentration is unlikely to work well, so Mr Turner recommends going up to 2-3%. “Consider what was done in the crop before: If you tested the water and had no health problems 1% should be fine. If you put lots of additives and medicines through the line there will be more residue, so up the rate a bit.”


Testing the water

Water quality will affect how much the birds drink, and in particular pH can influence the taste and potential bacterial burden. “Pathogenic bacteria prefer alkaline environments while ‘good’ bacteria prefer acid conditions,” he explains. Water with a high pH can also affect the efficacy of antibiotics and vaccines, while very acidic water can be unpalatable and will corrode equipment.

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Optimum pH level

The optimum pH is between 5 and 6. Harder water will require more treatment to reach that target than softer water. “If you have a borehole, get it analysed every 6 to 12 months, to understand what minerals are in there, as different combinations can produce an adverse reaction in poultry.” For example, high sodium and chloride levels can cause wet litter issues, as can magnesium and sulphate or sulphate and sodium. “Even if you have mains water it’s worth getting it tested for hardness and pH, and use dip sticks or handheld meters more regularly to check water pH in the drinking lines.”


Water softening equipment

Typically, water softening equipment uses ion exchange to remove the calcium and magnesium ions and replace them with sodium ions. However, this can increase sodium levels to unacceptable levels, so producers should be judicial in their selection and use of water softening equipment, warns Mr Turner.

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Continual sanitation

To prevent the build-up of biofilm throughout the flock, water treatment options include ultraviolet filters, electrolysed water, chlorine dioxide, and chlorine tablets. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used while birds are in-situ, at a much lower rate than during turnaround – and is a useful option after including additives like vitamins, minerals or medicines to undo any damage to the line condition.


Organic acids

As well as the above options, producers should consider including organic acids, which act as a feed source for beneficial gut microflora, according to Mr Turner. “You don’t want any bacteria in water increasing the chances of birds picking up a health challenge.”


Organic acids have a triple benefit:

they help sanitise the water

break down limescale

promote gut health

Reducing pH with organic acids

Organic acids reduce the pH of water – when used in conjunction with another sanitiser like chlorine the optimum pH is 5.5. However, if using acids alone producers should take the pH down to between 3.8 and 4.2, to eliminate pathogenic bacteria from the water. “Birds do prefer acidic water and are quite tolerant to it, but if you get close to a pH of 3.5 it will damage the gut lining,” he warns.

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Using buffered or protected acids

It is important to use buffered or protected acids to ensure they reach the gut in their complete form. “Acids work in the gut by passing through the bacteria cell wall, where they dissociate and lower the pH inside the bacteria,” explains Mr Turner. “The cell then has to utilise its energy to restore its pH, disrupting the bacteria’s metabolism and preventing the pathogenic bacteria surviving. If the acids are un-protected they will dissociate before they reach the gut and be unable to have a positive effect.”


There are a wide range of organic acids available: Formic acid and propionic acid are particularly effective at controlling E.coli and Salmonella, whereas lactic acid and butyric acid are important in promoting beneficial lactobacilli in the gut microflora.

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Automated dosing system to ensure safety

Acids, chlorine and other sanitation products can be dangerous unless handled extremely carefully, so Mr Turner suggests investing in an automated dosing system which alleviates the need for manual handling and measuring. “You can also then be confident that you’re consistently using the correct levels throughout the flock.”


For optimum bird health he recommends including probiotics either in the water or feed, to boost gut integrity and immune function. But Mr Turner warns continual sanitisers will kill most probiotics, so it’s important to switch off when adding products.

Contributed By Olivia Cooper


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