We have all seen the effect of pH on the poultry farm. For example,
pressure drops in plumbing, clogging nipples and foggers, scale buildup
on cool pads can be attributed to a high pH. Corrosion on nipples and
foggers, well pumps and equipment can be attributed to a low pH. In
order to correct the problems associated with pH, one must first gain
an understanding of pH and water chemistry.
Intec has taught poultry water seminars for over 20 years. During these
seminars, we always ask the same question: "Can anyone explain the pH
scale for me?" Many have explained that it is a scale from 0 to 14 with
7 being neutral and everything below 7 is acidic and corrosive and
everything above 7 is basic and scaling. This is only partly true. When
we then ask someone to explain the difference between 7.0 and 7.5, we
always get the same answer, that supposedly "the difference is 1/2 of one point, or 0.5. "
While teaching a seminar in Williamsport, PA a young lady who had
recently graduated from college gave a complete and technically
accurate answer. She said, "pH is the negative of the logarithm of the
hydrogen ion concentration in a solution." A simpler but adequate
definition is, "pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity of water."
It is important to understand that pH is logarithmic to a nomenclature
of ten. Therefore, 7.5 is 5 times or 500% more alkaline than 7.0. A pH
10 is 10.0 times as alkaline as pH 9.0 and 100 times as alkaline as pH
8.0. The opposite is also true. A pH 3.0 is 100 times more acidic than
pH 5.0 and 1,000 times more acidic than pH 6.0.
pH Concentrations Scale
Concentrations of Hydrogen ions (H3O+) compared to distilled water
Solutions that typically have this pH
pH = 0
pH = 1
pH = 2
lemon juice, vinegar
pH = 3
grapefruit, orange juice, soda
pH = 4
tomato juice, acid rain
pH = 5
black coffee, rain water
pH = 6
pH = 7
pH = 8
pH = 9
pH = 10
milk of magnesia
pH = 11
pH = 12
soapy water, bleach
pH = 13
pH = 14
liquid drain cleaner
What do the lower case "p" and the capitol "H" stand for? In the
United States, the "p"normally stands for "potential" and some regions
call it "possibilities" We prefer the European version as they say the
"p"stands for "power" Everybody agrees that the "H" stands for
"Hydrogen", Therefore pH stands for the "power of" or the "potential of
Hydrogen" It is the hydrogen ion that determines the level of acidity
An acid can be defined as a substance that releases hydrogen ions when
dissolved in a solution. The higher the concentration of these ions in
a solution, the lower the resulting pH will be. In general, acids have
more or less a sour taste, they change litmus paper red, and they react
with bases to form salts and water. An example of a weak acid is acetic
acid (vinegar), which releases only small amounts of free hydrogen ions
into solution. Sulfuric acid is considered a strong acid because it
releases more hydrogen ions into solution. Carbonic acid is usually
responsible for the low pH values found in private wells and streams.
Carbonic acid is naturally formed by the combination of gaseous carbon
dioxide and rain falling to the earth. It is also formed in vegetated
areas where the oxygen is consumed and carbon dioxide is released
through the decay of vegetation.
An alkali can be defined as a substance that releases hydroxyl ions
when dissolved in a solution. The higher the concentration of the
hydroxyl ions in a solution, the higher the resulting pH will be.
Alkali substances create a bitter taste, have a slippery feel, and will
turn litmus paper blue. Highly alkaline waters can dry out the skin.
Common alkalis include hydroxide, carbonate, and bicarbonate salts such
as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium.
When one considers treating their water for impurities/contaminants
such as iron, manganese, TDS, arsenic, nitrates, microorganisms, etc.,
one must first take the water's pH into consideration. It is possible
that one must adjust the pH before treatment. Many filter medias and
softening resins utilized in the removal of impurities are optimized
only within a certain pH range. Water treatment systems operating
outside of that pH range may produce less than desirable results. Some
disinfectants, especially chlorine or bleach, will not effectively kill
microorganisms outside its recommended pH levels.
It is imperative that one knows the pH of the water supply before
chlorination. When the pH of water supply is 7 or below, chlorine will
act primarily as a sanitizer. At this level, it is very effective at
killing bacteria. At a pH of 7.4 chlorine will act equally as a
sanitizer and oxidizer. Above 7.8 the chlorine will act principally as
an oxidizer. The pH of chlorine is 11.7 and it would seem logical that
adding chlorine into water having a neutral pH would make the water
more alkaline. This is true in the majority of the cases. Keeping this
in mind, it may be necessary to lower the pH of water with an acid in
order to increase the efficacy of chlorine. Lowering the pH too much
may cause the chlorine to dissipate or evaporate at a faster rate.
There are solutions available to adjust the pH of water. The pH may be
increased by passing the low pH water through a bed of chemically
reactive media (Neutralizing Filter). The pH may also be increased or
lowered by feeding a liquid neutralizing solution into the stream of
water (Chemical Injector). It is imperative that you consult with a
water treatment specialist on methods of adjusting pH. Fortunately,
adjusting pH is neither expensive nor overly time consuming.
Many poultry farmers use acidification products to lower the pH of
their water to 5.5 while others have a pH of 8.5 and do not acidify
their water. Surely, they cannot both be the ideal resultant pH. A pH
somewhere in between might be more effective, less expensive, more
profitable and require less present and future labor.
The most commonly asked question we have received is, what is the ideal
pH for drinking water in broilers and breeder hens? In humans, research
has shown that the consumption of slightly alkaline water is healthier.
Past field research on broilers indicated that drinking water with a pH
lower than 6 can impair broiler performance. Other research has
suggested that broilers drinking water with a pH between 5.5 and 6.0
improved feed conversion. It was recently reported that acidification
of water less than 7.0 had no statistical improvement for feed
conversion. To our knowledge, no research has provided indisputable
evidence as to the answer of this question. If this is the case, why is
acidification so actively utilized?
There are three core areas that have shown positive results with acidification.
Acidic water tends to keep minerals in a solution which helps with scaling issues in plumbing.
water is a less inhabitable environment for microorganisms (this should
not by any means be considered as a disinfectant).
Acidification during feed
withdrawal has shown a reduction of salmonella in the crop and ceca or
broilers. More research needs to be conducted on this area and a
comparison of various disinfectants introduced at various pH levels to
determine optimal water quality guidelines.
In this article, the focus
on pH has been related to water. However, it should be noted that pH is
measurable and very significant in other areas such as feed and litter.
For instance in the medication of poultry, the pH of the medication,
the pH of the water that carries the medication, and the pH of feed
that is introduced to the medicated water will relate to the
effectiveness of the medication. Certain drugs may be poorly soluble in
water that is extremely hard or has an improper pH. Feeding broilers or
breeder hens acidified feed in areas of acidic water sources may not
perform as well those being fed the same feed in areas of alkaline
It is also equally obvious that in all things human, as well as animal,
a slightly alkaline pH is to be desired. In its natural state, the body
is slightly alkaline. The body must maintain this slightly alkaline
state for its very survival, and it has developed complex mechanisms to
ensure that this balance is maintained. The majority of today's
population begins to become overly acidic as we grow into adults.
Nearly everything we are exposed to - foods, environmental toxins, even
stress - contribute to an acidic condition in our bodies. Our natural
buffer system becomes less efficient over time at neutralizing acids.
All cellular activity in the body is affected by an imbalanced pH. This
imbalance leads to the progression of most degenerative diseases such
as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, kidney stones,
arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular
disease and heart disease. Body pH can also be at the root of many
common symptoms such as digestive problems, heartburn, headaches,
fatigue, constipation and sleeplessness, just to mention a few.
Water, and its potential to increase profits, reduce labor, preserve
equipment and improve health, is generally overlooked, misapplied and
misunderstood in the poultry industry. Water is the last frontier for a
poultry profit revolution and pH is its commander.