BY: C.L.Bethke Ph.D. & Mark Goldman June 26, 2020
We visited Mountainside Organics in Williamsport, PA on June 26, 2020. I was accompanied by Mark Goldman with PittMoss LLC and Dennis Keener with AG Products. At Mountainside, they raise certified organic chickens and cannot use antibiotics, vaccines or many other commercial disease prevention materials. In this environment, manure management, moisture, odor and disease causing microbes are of great concern.
At the farm, we were greeted by owner Levi Stoltfus. He showed us the chicken house that held 4500 birds. The sides of the house were open for cooling and easy ventilation. A cement floor was the base where Levi applied 3”of PittMoss Roost™. The birds started as chicks held in a brooder section of the house. This area was opened after about 3 weeks, and the chicks ranged throughout the house after that. Overall, the birds had been in the house for about 8 weeks.
Above: (left to right) Levi Stoltfus greeting Mark Goldman and Dennis Keener at Mountainside Organics farm
Levi was extremely excited and praised PittMoss Roost™ Poultry Bedding as a replacement for wood shavings. Levi quickly elaborated:
- The birds were cleaner and obviously healthier.
- The birds’ feet were essentially free of sores and ulcers — a very common problem using shavings.
- The size of the birds was significantly greater, by ¼ to ½ pound per bird (although he had no data).
- Much lower losses (deaths) of birds than usual. Levi said he had lost only about 130 birds in the house of 4500, a loss of 3% compared to his customary loss of about 350 birds, a loss of 7-8%.
- The bedding was much drier, as much as 25% moisture reduction, and less sticky than with wood shavings.
- The ammonia, manure odor was much lower, almost unnoticeable, than with wood shavings.
- Dust levels were negligible and not a concern.
- Manure handling –shoveling & turning — with a lighter weight bedding was much easier than with wood shavings.
- Clean out at the end of the cycle would be easier with the drier, lightweight Roost™.
Above: The birds appear cleaner and healthier using Roost™ Poultry Bedding. Their feet free of sores & ulcers otherwise caused by using wood shavings.
Levi Stoltfus was delighted and praised the improvements. He remarked that he was waiting for his next contract to place a trailer load order for Roost™ Poultry Bedding.
During our visit, we measured the on-site moisture levels in the undisturbed, combined bedding with manure on the floor. Using a Blue Lab Pulse Moisture Meter, we registered moisture levels from 5% to 23% in the main sections of the house. This was excellent given that it is advised to keep the manure moisture low, below 50%, to reduce the ammonia levels In the house. Levi showed us a section where the drinking water line leaked and commented that with PittMoss Roost™ in place even that area was manageable, not wet or sticky — good for the chicken’s feet. In measuring that area, we found that the moisture ranged from 55 to 71% while the manure surface was still dry.
Above: Measuring on-site moisture levels with a Blue Lab Pulse Moisture Meter
Though there wasn’t a breeze or air movement while measuring the critical ammonia gas levels, we found that the ammonia levels in the house ranged from 2 to 5 ppm at waist level. Measuring at bird head level the concentration ranged from 5 to 12 ppm. This was good since many research reports recommend that the ammonia concentration should be kept below 50 ppm. Typically, no negative effects are observed in the research literature when levels were maintained below 35 ppm. It appeared that PittMoss Roost™ had a significant effect on lowering the ammonia gas emissions from the manure.
We obtained samples of the combined Roost™ bedding with manure from Levi’s house and samples of combined wood shavings with manure from his brother who owns a farm nearby whose recently emptied house at was bedded with wood shavings. These samples will be used for additional studies.
Dennis Keener from AG Products commented that he has visited several hundred poultry farmers and this was the cleanest and driest house he has ever seen. Levi Stoltfus summarized the cost savings of PittMoss Roost™ by stating that the higher cost of Roost easily paid for itself emphasizing cutting in half his chicken mortality, improving their health and weight gain, saving on labor by not adding bedding, creating a healthier and more pleasant work environment with odor and dust reduction, making it easier to clean out due to the lighter weight of Roost™ versus wet wood shavings, and reducing compost time — wood shavings can take 1 to 1 ½ years to compost on the field versus pH neutral PittMoss Roost™, taking only 3 – 4 months.