By Allie Byrd
University of Georgia
Too much moistureFootpad dermatitis, a burn-like condition on chicken feet, is caused by excess moisture in chicken litter, Shepherd said. Litter, which is the wood shavings chickens walk on, contains bacteria naturally and from chicken waste. When there is too much moisture in the litter, however, it allows for greater bacterial growth and increases the bacteria count. Bacteria breaks down fecal matter and releases ammonia as a by-product, Shepherd said. And the chemical reaction of the ammonia causes the burns. To test litter moisture, poultry farmers scoop up a fistful of chicken litter and squeeze it. Shepherd is testing more accurate methods of moisture monitoring and researching moisture prevention methods. He hopes his research will improve the quality of the birds’ lives, make poultry farmers’ jobs easier, and cleaner, and help them produce better poultry.
Huge export for poultry industry“In the last decade or so, chicken paws have become really important to poultry companies in the U.S. because there is such a high demand in Asia,” he said. “If the paws have dermatitis, you can’t sell them.” Georgia’s is the nation’s leader in poultry production. The Georgia poultry and egg industry generated $18.4 billion for the state’s economy in 2006 alone. Although poultry producers in Georgia already sell an average of about 130 million pounds of paws each year, Shepherd and Mike Lacy, head of the CAES poultry science department, estimate producers could be selling about 320 million pounds of paws. With more precise testing techniques, moisture levels can be better monitored. This will help prevent dermatitis from occurring and increase paw exports.
Helping chickens and farmersShepherd is also look at ways to keep excess moisture out of litter. Moisture tests and preventative methods will help farmers eliminate dermatitis before it begins. Along with studies on litter, Shepherd observes and samples chickens with dermatitis and studies the burns. “I hope to help poultry producers better use the information learned through our research and convince them to spend a little bit of money up front to make their lives easier and make better products,” he said. The poultry industry employs over 100,000 people in Georgia.
(Allie Byrd is a writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)