Are you an up-and-coming farmer looking to generate a sustainable income? Chickens might be the best option for you. Not only are chickens great multipurpose animals, being a great source of eggs, meat, and fertiliser, they are also fast growing and provide an income quickly.
It might be a great time to enter the industry: 2020 also saw the introduction of a new poultry sector masterplan for the country, announced by the department of trade and industry. It aims to stimulate local demand, boost exports and protect the domestic chicken industry.
These facts may be enough to convince you to finally take the plunge and start farming with chickens. If so, you’re in luck, because we’ve compiled a list of the things you should know if you want to start your own chicken farm this year.
This article is a shortened version of our Farmer’s Inside Track guide “How to start a chicken farm”, which you can download for free here. It features links to handy online research resources for prospective chicken farmers. It also contains more information on each of the topics in this article.
1. Starting out
If you’re a small-scale producer interested in starting your own poultry business, it’s important to decide which sector of the industry you want to serve. This will determine how you go about setting up a business and making money.
There are two options for entering the poultry business: One is to hatch and sell day-old chicks to the big producers, a second is to buy day-old chicks yourself and grow them, selling their eggs or the chickens themselves as fully-grown chickens.
2. Find a market
“The first advice I would give someone who is just starting would be to make sure that they have a market for (the chickens or eggs),” says Masimbonge Vuma, owner of Indyebo-Agricultural Co-operative. “Before worrying about what type of breed to farm, housing equipment, and the amount of capital they need there must be a market.”
Even if you know nothing about formal market research practices, you can do your own research by setting out to learn more about your potential customers and distribution channels.
Read more: How to start your farming business
3. Chickens for eggs or chickens for meat?
“Poultry farming is a wide industry, so a person must decide if he wants to farm broilers (meat production) or layers (egg production),” says Vuma. “Or both if they have enough resources.”
“It’s important to choose the correct chicken breed for the market you have identified,” says Manyano Rasmeni, owner of Rasmeni’s Farming. “There’s layer chickens and there are broiler chickens, for eggs and meat respectively.”
Our Farmer’s Inside Track guide “How to start a chicken farm” provides more detail on how to choose between “chickens for egg production” and “chickens for meat production”, as well as an overview of the best breeds to consider. Download it here.
4. Building a chicken coop
A good chicken coop should give your chickens a comfortable and healthy environment that is secure and clean and has enough space for all the chickens. The chicken house should also be well-ventilated to discourage the occurrence of disease among your chickens.
Anything that disrupts the comfort of the chickens in the poultry house will significantly impact the feed intake which subsequently affects the egg production and the weight gain for chickens that are raised for meat.
“Feed is the one factor that every poultry farmer complains about,” says Rasmeni. “Because feed takes about 60 to 70% of your operational costs.”
This means that minimising the cost of operations by reducing the feed is your best option of increasing profits. Rasmeni advises you to buy directly from suppliers and manufacturers to avoid agents’ mark-ups.
When you decide on the number of chicks you want to start with, make sure that you know how much and the type of feed that is required for them.
“You must make sure there are enough feeders and drinkers inside the chicken coop,” says Vuma. “On the farm we make sure that there are 12 birds per nipple drinker, and 45 birds per pan feeder.”
For bedding you can use wood shavings, dry saw dust or chopped straw.
If you want more tips on building a chicken coop, and the basic equipment you need, click here for our Farmer’s Inside Track guide “How to start a chicken farm”.
7. Disease management
Disease management is a great challenge for small-scale farmers, because it results in poultry not performing optimally, eventually driving up costs and negatively affecting your earnings.
Birds that are sick or recovering from a disease generally eat less and produce less meat or eggs. Some diseases can be treated, which adds to cost of production, but in extreme cases, whole flocks might have to be culled to eradicate a disease. 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.
“Prevention is better than cure,” says Rasmeni. “Chickens have different stages where you need to give them vaccinations against viruses and diseases to protect them.”
8. Marketing your chickens and eggs
“This is the most important section when you are done raising your broilers,” says Vuma. “When it is time to sell them, it will be alive per bird or on a weight basis.”
If you sell through a middleman you will lose some profit. Otherwise you will have to dress, pluck and eviscerate the chicken yourself if you don’t sell to an abattoir for processing.
“This is time consuming, but worth it,” says Vuma.