Water is a required nutrient that is easily overlooked until it is absent. Water represents between 55% and 75% of the weight of a chicken and 65% of the egg. About 70% is inside the cells and 30% is in fluid surrounding the cells and in blood. As fat increases in the carcass with age, the percentage of total body water decreases. Water acts as a solvent for other inorganic and organic nutrients, is essential in metabolism and is required for movement of feed through the digestive system. Water is able to store a large amount of heat in liquid form and then lose heat upon evaporation. This makes it extremely important in temperature regulation. Water is also a useful medium for flock medication. Water quality must consider temperature, dissolved minerals, organic material, and microbial contamination. The poultry farm must be managed to provide clean and cool water to all birds at all times.
Brooding and Dehydration
Upon arrival at the farm, everything should be done to rehydrate chicks as soon as possible. Early morning delivery is best. Access to water but not feed for the first 5 to 6 hours improves rehydration. A 5% addition of glucose (dextrose) to this first water is also helpful. Higher percentages of glucose should be avoided to prevent dehydration especially when other additives are added to water. Sucrose or table sugar is not as digestible as glucose and therefore not as good.
Maintaining body water status is extremely important in day old chicks. While people often blame early mortality or “starve outs” on feed particle size, pellet hardness, nutrition or some exotic disease, the condition is often caused by dehydration. With proper attention paid to conserving body water, it should be possible to reduce mortality and culls by at least 2% to 3%.
Transportation during chick delivery is a major factor in dehydration. Several thousand day-old chicks generate a great deal of heat. When confined to a small area inside of a delivery truck, there must be an adequate way to remove this heat evenly without causing dehydration, heat stress or chilling. Refrigeration and ventilation systems should be adequate and preferably operated by an auxiliary engine. Dehydration will occur when the air temperature around the birds exceeds the body temperature of 39 deg C. This is especially true when the outside relative humidity is below 70% and the delivery is delayed. Chicks that lose more than 25% of their hatching body weight have little chance of surviving in a competitive commercial environment.
Sanitation in the Watering System
Sanitizers and cleaners should be used routinely to reduce microbial population and flush out scale buildup. Between flocks, water lines should be flushed with high pressure water then filled with a cleaning solution and allowed to sit overnight before flushing again. Chemicals such as citric acid and vinegar can be used to remove scale. Ammonium hydroxide, quaternary ammonium salts, sodium hypochlorite, powdered dry chlorine sources, iodine solutions and hydrogen peroxide can be used to sanitize the system. Chemicals should be used separately to prevent a chemical reaction. All chemicals should be handled with gloves and goggles to protect eyes and hands. Excessive use of chlorine at high concentration is corrosive to stainless steel.
Orthophosphates have been used with some success to prevent scale buildup in watering systems for poultry. Water softening is also helpful but it should be noted that this process replaces calcium and magnesium ions with sodium. Although sodium is an essential nutrient, its requirement is usually met in the diet as most formulations contain about 0.35% salt. Higher levels of sodium intake will result in excessive drinking and cause wet manure and reduce eggshell quality. A doubling of the required sodium intake will begin to result in mortality.
Water samples should be collected from drinkers and then sent to a laboratory to assay microbial load and mineral content. Clean, sterile and dry plastic bottles should be used for sample collection
Medication and Vaccination
Water is an important and often overlooked nutrient. Clean uncontaminated water should be available at all times for broilers and layers. Any water restriction program designed for breeders or layers should be applied with the utmost caution in the tropics. It is important that ample drinker space be available for birds. Water should not be allowed to become warmer than the air temperature in hot weather and should be preferably kept below 25º C. Automatic watering sytems using nipples and cups are the most hygeinic but require maintenance to keep the level at the proper height for the birds and to prevent leakage and overflowing. The basic rule is that if water is suitable for human consumption it is usually so for chickens.