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Interpretation guide for poultry water

Water is an important dietary requirement for poultry, as they typically consume twice as much water as feed. Unsuitable water can reduce performance, retard growth, curtail egg production, produce lower egg quality, cause illness or in severe cases cause death. When chronic poor bird performance continues despite changes in management, nutrition, environment or the health program, water quality problems may become suspect. Some natural water sources in Missouri are unsuitable for poultry, while contamination can spoil other sources.

The following list describes different water analyses and their relevance to livestock use.

  • pH
    A general water quality indicator, pH indicates whether water is acid or alkaline. The type of substances dissolved in water affects its pH. Acid water with a pH less than 6.3 may degrade performance, and a pH less than 6.0 is undesirable. Certain drugs that are administered in water may be poorly soluble in water with an improper pH. Consequently, birds may not get an adequate dose of the drug. Acid water can also be corrosive to the water deliver system. Water with a pH greater than 8.5 will have a bitter soda-like taste.

Total dissolved solids


  • 0 to 1000 ppm


  • 1000 to 2000 ppm


  • 2000 to 3000 ppm


  • 3000 to 5000 ppm


  • 6000 ppm
  • Total dissolved solids
    Total dissolved solids are effectively a measure of salinity. Water salinity may be derived from any inorganic substance dissolved in water, but the ions of magnesium, calcium, sodium and chloride are the primary contributors. As water salinity increases, birds will increase their intake of water until the salinity increases to the point that birds will refuse to drink it. Birds have the ability to adapt to slightly saline water, but abrupt changes from high quality to lesser quality water is likely to cause problems for birds. Tolerance to salinity varies with age, water requirement, season of the year and physiological condition. Fair to good water quality may cause temporary watery feces in birds not accustomed to the water. Poor water quality may cause refusal to drink and watery feces, increased mortality and decreased growth (especially for turkeys). Use the table below for guidance.
  • Electrical conductivity
    Electrical conductivity is another measure of water salinity.
  • Sodium
    Excessive sodium can have a laxative effect. A level greater than 50 ppm is detrimental if the sulfate level is 50 ppm or higher or the chloride level is 14 ppm or higher.
  • Chloride
    Excessive chloride has a detrimental effect on metabolism. A chloride level of 14 ppm or more can be detrimental if sodium is 50 ppm or more. If sodium is in the normal level, chloride levels as high as 25 ppm should not be a problem.
  • Nitrate
    Nitrate in water interferes with blood's capacity to absorb oxygen. Excess nitrate levels can affect weight gain, feed conversion and overall performance. Nitrate-N levels between 3 and 20 ppm have been suspected to affect performance. Effects are especially likely on young chickens.
  • Sulfate
    High sulfate in water is usually a natural problem, i.e. not caused by man's activities. The primary problem with excessive sulfate in water is its laxative effect. Birds given a new water source of marginal sulfate levels may experience a temporary laxative effect until becoming acclimated to the water. The effect is related to body size and young birds are most susceptible. High sulfate may also impart a bitter taste to water that can result in reduced water intake. Sulfate levels greater than 50 ppm may affect performance when sodium, magnesium or chloride levels are high.
  • Iron
    Iron supplied by water constitutes only a small portion of iron available to birds. But because iron is inefficiently absorbed, it poses no health hazard to birds. High iron levels can impart a bad odor or taste.
  • Bicarbonates and carbonate
    Bicarbonate and carbonate are negatively charged ions that associate with calcium and magnesium to form salt. Both can be a major contributors to water alkalinity.
  • Manganese
    High manganese concentrations can impart a bitter taste to water.
  • Copper
    Copper concentrations exceeding 1 ppm impart a bitter, metallic taste to water.
  • Calcium and magnesium
    These minerals are responsible for water hardness. Hard water when heated can result in the deposition of scale in pipes and water delivery equipment. High magnesium levels (> 50 ppm) can have a laxative effect when the sulfate or chloride levels are high.
  • Potassium
    Potassium has the same effect as sodium in water.
  • Phosphate
    While having no adverse effect on animals, phosphate in the ortho- form can sequester calcium and magnesium to prevent clogging of pipes that supply the water. High phosphate levels may be an indicator of water contamination.

Updated 3/1/11