For many turkey growers, a management program that includes regularly tilling litter is a thing of the past. For others, it’s a necessary tool to maintain quality litter. Why the difference? In a recent article surveying turkey flocks across Canada, only 18.5% of farms employed tilling, with the primary litter maintenance strategies being top dressing with new litter (82.7%) and additional heat to prevent caking (32.1%)1.
Litter is a valuable resource. Consequently, there is nothing worse than kicking the top, wet layer to reveal soft, dry material underneath. These findings prompt growers to till, mixing the wet surface litter with the dry litter below to increase the absorptive capacity of the bedding. Tilling can certainly benefit the flock, but it must be scheduled and executed correctly to prevent challenging the flock during the process. Additionally, it takes time which is a limited commodity on a turkey farm.
The most significant flock challenge caused by tilling litter is the release of high levels of ammonia when the wet, ammonia saturated litter is exposed to the air. It is not unusual for ammonia levels to be well over 600 ppm in broiler houses that have been tilled2.
In Place of Tilling
For growers who no longer till, maintaining good litter quality requires that the variety of factors contributing to wet litter be addressed.
When implemented collectively, the above measures result in drier litter thereby eliminating the need to routinely till litter. However, if economics or other constraining factors do not permit these processes and tilling is essential to maintain litter quality, then attention must be paid to when and how it is done to prevent flock challenges through ammonia release or the introduction of disease agents from tilling equipment.