Broiler and egg production are becoming increasingly popular among small-scale farmers. It is relatively easy to raise broilers and you do not need a lot of space. The initial costs are also lower than for other forms of livestock farming, and it has a good return on investment. Chicks can be bought from chick breeders and feed is generally available from the nearest feed mill.
The golden rule is to keep feeding and transport costs as low as possible without compromising on the quality of the feed. This will enable the farmer to sell the broilers at a more competitive price and still make a decent profit. Producing eggs is more expensive than producing broilers. The chicks for egg production are more expensive than broiler chicks, and you have to feed egg-laying chickens for 18 weeks before they start producing eggs. With broilers you only have to feed them for 7 to 8 weeks before they can be sold alive or taken to the abattoir to be slaughtered.
There is also a higher start-up cost to egg production, seeing that the chickens need the correct type of housing and nesting structures to produce eggs. Smaller-scale farmers can start off with fewer hens to limit the initial cost, and expand the business as their skills and knowledge improve and finance becomes available.
There are different breeds that you can choose from, but the best option is usually a hybrid breed. Chickbreeders will also be able to advise the farmer on which breed will perform the best for the purpose that the farmer intends to keep them. In general, hybrid breeds will require less feed per kilogram of weight gained and can also produce more eggs than dual purpose or special breeds.
The efficiency of the housing plays a major role in the success of poultry farming. Chicks are extremely sensitive to cold and can die easily. The housing also needs to be well ventilated. Ammonia is produced in the excrement of the chickens and if there is not sufficient ventilation to ensure clean, fresh air, the chicks can die from this.
Furthermore, the housing should not have any leaks that may expose the chickens to rain. It should be sturdy enough to keep the chickens inside and any predators outside. Rats and other small rodents pose a particular threat and should be prevented from gaining access to the chicken coup. Other birds should also be kept out as they may carry diseases that can affect the chickens.
A chicken house needs to have a strong roof to keep the chickens cool in summer, warm in winter, and dry throughout the year. There should be good drainage around the house so that the floor does not flood during heavy rain. It should be easy to clean and all entrances such as doors and windows should be properly secured to prevent theft.
The housing should also allow for at least four different camps so that chicks and chickens of various ages can be rotated to ensure a regular stream of income. Keep in mind while building the structure that there should be enough space to enable you to expand the coup as the opportunity to expand arises.
An area of 6,25 m2 (2,5 m x 2,5 m) will be sufficient to keep 125 chicks or 60 growing chickens (4 to 8 weeks old). The walls of the chicken coup need to allow enough ventilation, but at the same time keep the chickens warm during cold weather. Many farmers use large, open window frames that are covered with canvas so that the windows can be opened during the day and closed at night.
The floor should be level and smooth for easy cleaning. There should be a good layer of sawdust or straw on the floor to insulate the chickens from the cold. The floor covering should be raked regularly and changed for every second batch of broilers. The flooring that is taken out of the coup can be stored in bags and used as fertiliser for a vegetable garden. The manure needs to be stored for a period of at least two months before using it in the garden to prevent it from damaging plants.
In the next issue we shall discuss the equipment needed to ensure a successful broiler business.