Open Access
Barkley, Amy Marie
Graduate Program:
Animal Science
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
July 07, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Paul H. Patterson, Thesis Advisor
  • R. Michael Hulet, Committee Member
  • Jude Liu, Committee Member
  • Renewable
  • Bedding
  • Broiler
  • Performance
  • Welfare
  • Environmental Impacts
  • Miscanthus Grass
  • Switchgrass
  • Production
Increases in price and variability of the softwood shavings market have prompted exploration of alternative, renewable bedding resources on which to rear broiler-type chickens in the northeastern United States. Although there are many available alternatives used to bed birds across the United States, these are limited by region. An option for sustainable, locally produced bedding comes from the use of biomass grasses. However, processing techniques of the biomass are numerous and have the potential to result in variability of physical properties between processed materials, which may influence their success as bedding. It is paramount that the materials offered as alternatives perform well compared to the current industry standard of kiln-dried softwood shavings. Because the profit margin per bird is small and bedding is an important contributing factor to the environment of a chicken house, there is no room for reduced performance due to the bedding. This bedding environment is defined by moisture index, litter scores, temperature, ambient ammonia, and ammonia flux. Furthermore, the welfare of the birds must be maintained to allow for proper growth. Maintaining welfare standards allows growers to continue to be good stewards to their birds. Footpad and breast cleanliness scores can be reflective of the house environment and can directly impact the welfare of birds reared in said house. Another consideration with bedding material is the litter’s end use. It can be used as either fertilizer or fuel with thorough consideration of the nutrient profile and energy density before application of these materials. The availability and success of an alternative bedding material will only happen in a market willing to accept it. It is therefore pertinent that the current bedding use for broilers in Pennsylvania be evaluated to determine the materials typically used, constraints set in place by integrators and growers, preferred properties, and willingness of the industry to try alternatives. Research Objectives 1.) Evaluate the current bedding environment in Pennsylvania and see if alternative renewable bedding materials are a valid option for growers. 2.) Determine if miscanthus grass performs similarly to a softwood shaving/ sawdust bedding mixture in terms of litter parameters and bird performance and welfare. 3.) Define the role switchgrass particle size plays on litter performance, bird performance, and bird welfare and compare the differences between these materials and a baled softwood shaving. 4.) Determine what the ideal particle size for switchgrass is in a commercial broiler house by evaluating litter performance, bird performance, and bird welfare using two differing bedding treatments suggested by the results from objective 3. 5.) Quantify the nutrient and energy parameters of alternative bedding materials to approximate their value as a fertilizer or fuel source.