You can feed poultry litter to cows, but....
Alfonse Okoth is a dairy farmer in Kitale. Okoth, had been told by a friend who is also a farmer that it is OK to feed cattle on poultry litter. So the man has been feeding his cows on poultry litter and has noted a significant improvement in production. But is it right?
Yes, poultry litter is a cheap source of proteins, energy and minerals for livestock. The use of chicken litter as cattle feeds is premised on the unique digestive system of ruminants which enables them to digest low cost feedstuffs not usable by other livestock species. Poultry litter is also cheap. Proteins are among the most expensive ingredients in ruminant diets; a cheap alternative like poultry litter is welcome.
Proper preparation of poultry litter is critical. Why? Poultry litter when not well processed can be a source of salmonella, mycotoxins and cocciodiosis to livestock. Dead birds are a source of clostridia toxin which causes botulism – a fatal disease. Here is how to process poultry litter to make it safe for livestock consumption.
The poultry litter can be ensiled with whole or chopped pasture. Ensiling creates acidic environment which kills any pathogens that maybe present. Ensiling also improves palatability by removing the poultry litter smell and minimises loss of nutrients. The poultry litter should constitute at maximum of 30 per cent of the total feed weight. An excess can easily result in intoxication.
Stacking of the litter for three weeks kills pathogens. This is done by pilling litter in two metres stacks. This catalyses fermentation which further processes the proteins into more digestible forms.
Heat or sun drying helps lower the moisture content and destroys heat sensitive pathogens like salmonella. Heat treatment or drying also makes the product easy to store for long.
Ensure poultry litter is free of foreign objects like metals and glass. They can be ingested by the animal and will cause internal injuries. Also, when there is too much soil in the poultry litter this can cause impaction of the rumen. Stacking and ensiling will kill micro-organism. Mycotoxins and aflatoxins are not a problem in poultry litter because the acidity is usually unfavourable for the growth of moulds that produce these toxins.
· Feeding poultry litter to pregnant cows predisposes them to milk fever to reduce this don’t feed poultry litter to gestating cows in their last month.
· Poultry litter is rich copper and can accumulate in the liver in toxic levels resulting in clinical signs that include jaundice. For this reason poultry litter should not be fed to sheep because of their susceptibility to copper poisoning.
· Do not feed livestock on poultry litter whose origin you don’t know.
· Vaccination against botulism.
· Store the processed poultry litter well to avoid increase in moisture.
· Feeding should be moderated 1 per cent of body weight once per day is the recommended ration or 4.5-6kg/head/day in cows.
[The writer was the winner of Vet of the Year Award in 2016 and works with Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council, firstname.lastname@example.org]