Potential of pelleted wheat straw as an alternative bedding material for broilers
Broiler chickens are commonly placed on wood shavings as litter, but alternative litter sources are required due to the scarcity of wood shavings in many parts of the world. This study aimed to compare pelleted straw, chopped wheat straw, wood shavings, rice hulls, and shredded paper as litter candidates. Three-hundred-sixty Ross 308 one-day-old male chicks were used in this study. There were 5 litter treatments with 6 replicate pens, each with 12 birds. The feed conversion ratio (FCR) of birds reared on pelleted straw was improved compared (P < 0.05) to that of birds raised on rice hulls, whereas it did not differ for birds placed on wood shavings, rice hulls, chopped straw, or shredded paper. It was observed that the birds reared on wood shavings had higher relative gizzard weight at d 24 compared to those reared on pelleted straw (P < 0.05). Gizzard pH and measured cecal bacterial groups were not affected by the type of bedding material. Cecal bacterial groups measured at d 10 were not affected by bedding material. Birds reared on pelleted wheat straw had a lower incidence of footpad lesions than those on chopped straw and shredded paper on d 24 (P < 0.001) and 29 (P < 0.01). Litter source did not affect the occurrence of breast blisters at d 24, 29, or 35. On d 24, 29, and 35, pelleted straw litter was less caked than chopped straw and shredded paper (P < 0.001) whereas no significant differences were observed among pelleted straw, wood shavings, and rice hulls. The study demonstrated the potential benefits to using pelleted wheat straw as a bedding material. Further assessment of pelleting of wheat straw and other materials on broiler health, performance, and welfare are needed to determine the economic benefits of pelleted litter.