Hendrik-Jan Wittenberg Technical Advisor
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How to reduce the risk of salmonella via drinking water

Salmonella is a threat to the health and productivity of your chickens. But with careful drinking water management, you reduce the risk of salmonella infections in your poultry house. That is why, in this article, we will look at the connection between salmonella and drinking water. This way, you know how to reduce the risk of salmonella.

Salmonella (symptoms) in poultry

Salmonella is a bacterium that settles in the intestines of animals. It impacts the functioning of good bacteria by disrupting the delicate intestinal balance. This can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, dehydration, debilitation, and even hinder growth.

The symptoms usually depend on the type of salmonella and the age of the animals. Older chickens can have a salmonella infection without any symptoms, but for chicks from 1 to 2 weeks old, it is often fatal.

Why you want to keep salmonella out of the poultry house

  • Salmonella has a negative impact on the health, productivity, and well-being of your animals. An infection ultimately influences mortality, slaughter weight, and egg quality, thereby decreasing your profits.
  • Salmonella increases antibiotic use, leading to a higher risk of antibiotic resistance. This is not only a big problem for animals but for people as well.
  • Salmonella is a threat to food safety. Large-scale outbreaks can lead to international restrictions on the import and export of chicks, meat, and eggs.

Causes of salmonella infections in poultry

Salmonella infections usually stem from the following (contaminated) sources:

  • Food or drinking water;
  • Manure or litter;
  • Poor biosecurity.

It is also possible that new chicks or young laying hens are already infected and carry salmonella into your poultry house.

Origin of salmonella in drinking water systems

So salmonella can also appear in drinking water. The presence of biofilm in drinking lines can be the cause of this. Biofilm is a slime layer of accumulated bacteria and fungi on the inside of the drinking line. This biofilm forms a protective layer, allowing harmful organisms to multiply undisturbed.

This is how biofilm forms in drinking lines

The combination of a high water temperature (approx. 250C), low water flow, and the presence of certain nutrients contribute to the formation of biofilm in drinking lines.1 Residue of medicines and additives are ideal breeding grounds for bacteria.

Biofilm build up

Biofilm also reduces the effectiveness of disinfectants and provides the perfect environment for the salmonella bacteria to thrive and multiply.

How do you reduce the risk of salmonella infections via drinking water?

> Regularly check the water quality of the water in the drinking lines and the source as well
Additionally, send a sample of the water to a lab for testing at least twice a year. Cloudy water and organic matter in the water increase the risk of salmonella. Too high iron levels ensure salmonella stays in your drinking lines for longer.

> Clean the drinking lines regularly
For example, by automatically flushing them with our i-Flush automatic flushing system. This reduces the build-up of biofilm.

> Prevent vermin in and around the poultry house
Mice and rats can contaminate litter, feed, and the drinking water through their faeces, thereby spreading salmonella.

> Make sure the surface of uncovered outlets is as flat as possible
Salmonella can also occur in surface water and shallow groundwater. Therefore, make sure the surface of uncovered outlets is as flat as possible. This prevents the formation of water puddles and thus infection by droppings of wild birds. Pigeons in particular, are major spreaders of salmonella. Also, drainage in the outlet helps to prevent puddles as well.

> Check the moistness of the litter under the drinking nipples
Salmonella thrives well in the moist litter. Proper water pressure and the correct height of the nipples reduce the risk of wet litter and leaks. In our drinking water management guides for laying hens and broilers, you can read more about the optimal water pressure for your animals.

Preventing salmonella is better than curing it

Salmonella is pretty difficult to get rid of. Preventing is therefore better than curing it. That is why we advise you to prioritize your drinking water management and give it proper attention.

By regularly checking the water quality and properly cleaning and disinfecting the drinking lines, you help reduce the risk of salmonella infections. 

Would you like to read more about drinking water quality & hygiene? Check out our other articles on this topic.


1 Maes, S., et al (2019). Occurrence and characterisation of biofilms in drinking water systems of broiler houses

Hendrik-Jan Wittenberg Technical Advisor
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