In the Northeast, wood shavings are the predominant bedding material on which commercial broiler chickens are raised.
Because their availability and cost fluctuates and new concerns have emerged around biosecurity risks of transporting bedding to and from farms, Pennsylvania State University Master of Science student Amy Barkley used her Northeast SARE Graduate Student grant to explore switchgrass and willow as locally-sourced, renewable alternatives for broiler bedding.
Performance of the bedding, litter, and birds, as well as bird welfare parameters were tested. Amy found that both options performed well to keep the birds clean and dry, while protecting them from injury over the course of a single-cycle broiler grow-out.
She also concluded that these green materials can be provided at price points similar to softwood shavings while offering soil quality and other benefits. However, several factors need further consideration before adopting these alternatives on farm, including attention to density, particle size and shape to optimize performance; the need to meet integrator standards; and requirements of specialty harvesting equipment to process willow bedding.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant: