Pine shavings have long been the gold standard for poultry house bedding in the U.S., but this byproduct of the lumber industry is sometimes in short supply. The poultry industry’s interest in a cost-effective alternative litter material can be demonstrated by the results of an audience poll taken at the “Litter management between flocks & grass bedding webinar,” part of WATT Global Media’s Poultry Grower Webinar Series, sponsored by Jones Hamilton. The audience was asked, “Would you completely clean out your broiler house more frequently if you had year round access to a high-quality bedding material?” Just over three quarters of the respondents said “yes.”
Dr. Jesse Grimes, professor, poultry science, North Carolina State University, said that researchers have conducted field and university trials looking at switchgrass, Bermuda grass and Miscanthus grass as bedding materials for broilers and turkeys. He told the webinar audience that Miscanthus grass just might provide the kind of poultry house bedding alternative the poultry industry is looking for.
Grimes said that any alternative litter material needs to be absorbent; have a reasonable drying time; have a good post-bedding use; be readily available and cost competitive; and it must be non-toxic to the birds and the environment.
Miscanthus grass is native to some parts of Asia and Africa and is used as an ornamental grass on other continents. The type of Miscanthus being used for bedding is an infertile cross, which is propagated using plugs in a similar manner to how infertile Zoysia and Bermuda grasses are grown.
Miscanthus grass is harvested after it has dried in the field, usually in the wintertime. It is chopped into pieces less than one inch in length, and it can also be ground to expose more of the inner part of the stem, which increases its absorbency. Dr. Grimes said that a lot of work has been done looking at different ways to chop or grind the grass.
Miscanthus can be harvested at the end of its first growing season, but yields will increase each year until the field is fully established. After 3 or 4 growing seasons, Grimes said a mature field can produce 10 to 12 metric tons of Miscanthus at 10 percent moisture.
In field and university research trials, turkeys and broilers perform just as well on the Miscanthus grass as on pine shavings. Since Miscanthus can be grown on marginal soils, it could provide an alternative bedding material produced on poultry farms on land that is currently used for grazing.
To learn more view videos about Proper ventilation improves poultry liter conditions and Ammonia control critical to poultry litter reuse.