In this concluding article we summarise the whole poultry series published in the previous issues of ProAgri BNZ.
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. Chicken meat is also extremely popular throughout the world. It is seen as a healthy meat that is low in fat and rich in protein (lean meat).
Chicks are extremely sensitive to cold and can die easily. The housing 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, it may cause the chicks to die. Furthermore, the housing should not have any leaks that may expose the chickens to rain.
A chicken house needs to have a proper 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.
Basic equipment can be bought or made from available material. There are two basic necessities when it comes to broiler production. They need to have adequate feeders and drinking apparatus. Ensuring that the chickens have enough clean water is essential for their survival. The quality and availability of feed has a significant impact on the growth rate, which translates to more money in your pocket in the long run. Feeders need to be closed at the top to prevent foreign objects from polluting the feed.
Brooding means taking good care of small, vulnerable chicks. Chick deaths are common during their first ten days of life. During this time, you need to keep chicks warm and comfortable. When your baby chicks arrive, they will need special care. This is the time when you can expect a few chicks to die. In tropical countries it may not be necessary to provide extra heat during the day, but only at night, and then only for the first 10 days. Dead chicks should be removed and buried in a hole in the ground. Sick and weak chicks should be kept separately and given special care.
Health and disease prevention
Chickens are fragile and can get sick very easily, especially when they are young. There are two major sources of disease:
• If their diet is not correctly formulated, the birds can contract a metabolic disease due to a nutrient deficiency (vitamins or minerals).
• Other diseases are caused by minute organisms called bacteria and viruses.
It is often necessary to treat the chicks with a vaccine as soon as they hatch, which allows them to resist the disease if it occurs. This is normally done at the hatchery. Newcastle disease is present in many countries and chickens need to be vaccinated more than once.
Commercial broiler meat production
To prepare for the chicks’ arrival, it is best that you have a time plan or schedule to ensure that:
• the house will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected,
• there are no shavings or litter on the floor,
• the brooder heater is checked and adjusted (if there is one),
• feeders and drinkers are in place; chicks usually look for water first,
• a small quantity of starter feed is scattered on paper on the floor of the brooder so that the chicks can start to eat,
• For the first 7 to 10 days, special care should be taken to ensure that the chicks eat and drink well, and that they are comfortable. Broiler chickens can grow very fast, but only when well looked after and given good feed.
• After 3 weeks of age when the house temperature is less than 28 to 30˚C, they grow best. In the tropics, the temperature is normally above 30˚C in the daytime, so they will grow a bit slower than usual.
Some chickens will die in the first week, particularly those that are small and weak. You must remove and bury them immediately. You can expect to lose at least 4 to 5 chicks out of 100 in the first 3 weeks. Another two may die later. Mortalities can be much higher, especially if management and housing conditions are poor.
Selling your chickens profitably is essential.
You can sell them:
• alive on a bird or on a weight basis,
• through a middleman who will take some of your profit for himself,
• dressed, plucked, eviscerated (gutted) and organs (lungs, liver, heart) removed,
• to an abattoir for processing.
In some regions you will not have all of these choices.
Chicken litter will produce very valuable manure, rich in nutrients. You can:
• use it on your garden,
• make it into a compost,
• sell it.
It is essential that you keep good records of feed used, dead birds and the final weight of the chickens. These records will then be used to determine whether you made a profit or a loss.
There are several choices of housing hens for egg production:
• in group battery cages (expensive but saves floor space),
• indoors on the floor (barn hens or deep litter),
• free-range outdoors during the day,
• large groups or colony cages indoors,
For replacement or point-of-lay pullets (young hens not yet in lay) there are two options. The farmer can either purchase hybrids or pure-bred chicks from a hatchery, or he can hatch and raise his own chicks. The former is often more expensive than the latter.
Free-range is the perfect way to start your poultry farm
The term free-range cannot be used loosely in order for farmers to appeal to the consumer’s market. According to the European Union, eggs or meat offered for sale as free-range must be from flocks that are kept in the following conditions:
1. The hens must have continuous daytime access to open-air runs.
2. The ground to which hens have access must be mainly covered with vegetation.
3. The maximum stocking should not exceed 1 000 birds/hectare (or 1 bird/10 m2).
The biggest disadvantage of a freerange production system is a lower rate of production and higher feed costs. Due to the fact that the chickens will spend a lot of energy moving around and foraging, there is less energy available for growth. In order to achieve the same growth rates as conventional production systems, the farmer will need to increase the quantity of feed per chicken per day.
Process your poultry to boost your profit
A farm is above all a business and should therefore be operated on sound business principles to be successful.
In order to produce profitable poultry, the farmer should ensure that:
• everything is done in strict hygienic conditions,
• quality and appearance remain consistent,
• prices are affordable,
• the product is produced with a realistic expiry date.
Small-scale farmers can also capitalise on the opportunity to expand their chicken farms into a poultry producing enterprises. However, certain aspects need to be kept in mind when planning a poultry processing plant.
The correct steps in the slaughtering process
A few steps need to be taken to get the chicken from the farm onto the plate. The first is transport and receiving facilities for live birds. Second, the birds then need to enter the production line where the next steps of stunning, scalding, defeathering and evisceration will take place. After this, the poultry can be portioned, packaged, and kept in cold storage for distribution to the retail market.
Receiving live birds
This part of the process starts on the farm. It is important to choose the abattoir closest to your farm to limit transport costs, and to limit the stress that the transport may cause the birds. Stress can have a negative impact on the quality of the meat, as well as causing mortalities in transit. Birds that are dead on arrival will be discarded for hygienic reasons, and can therefore lead to a loss of income for the farmer.
The abattoir must have a roofed receiving area where the crates can be unloaded. Gates are essential to ensure that access to the facility can be controlled with strict bio-security measures in place.
The production line
After the birds have been received, they are attached to the production line. This is done by attaching their feet to the conveyor and hanging them upside down. The live poultry receiving and stunning areas must have dimmed lighting. One minute must be allowed between the hanging and stunning point. Approximately 15 to 18 birds per minute per handler are permitted.
Hangers hanging the birds must treat them in a humane and calm way. Birds must be hung facing the same direction. Both legs must be secured into the shackles. A guide rail is usually provided, which will relax the birds. Bends in the slaughtering line should be kept to a minimum, and any disturbing obstructions should be removed. Supervision is important.
After all is done, the packaging and distribution of the chicks are also important to make your product acceptable for the market.