Raising broiler chickens to sell as meat can be a profitable addition to your present small-scale farming.
Chicken meat is a popular source of protein in diets everywhere in the world. Because chicken meat contains little fat, it is regarded as a healthy food and many families eat chicken more than once a week.
Countries in Southern Africa are no exception, and many families are already keeping a few hens and a cockerel or two. The eggs are eaten or sold to neighbours, and the hen is allowed to brood her own chickens. Because a chicken is just about the right size for one family meal, people do not need a fridge to keep the meat cold.
If you decide to expand you existing chicken farming to sell chickens as meat, whether alive or slaughtered, the suggestions in this article can provide you with the necessary knowledge to make a success of your business. A business must be sustainable, and you must calculate the costs before you can count your profit.
In the previous chapter explained how to raise day-old chickens in a brooder. This is an important phase, because the success of your broilers depends on the health and growth of the chickens in the brooder.
The chickens remain in the brooder until they are about three weeks old. During this time, they need food that is suitable for their age, enough cool, clean water, and an environment that is neither too cold nor too hot. There must be no draught, but enough fresh air. There must also be enough light to encourage them to eat so they can grow.
When the chickens three to four weeks old, they are called pullets and they are strong enough to move to the broiler house.
Pullets can be regarded as the teenage phase of chickens, which lasts until they are about twelve weeks old. During this phase, the males and females can be detected. Both can be raised as broilers, but because they have different feed needs, they are usually separated.
Pullets are usually raised indoors, but if you have a suitable safe, fenced-in space outdoors, called a chicken run, they can go there during the day but sleep inside the house at night.
Like the chickens in a brooder, pullets are sensitive to high temperatures, and they will grow slower when it is hotter than 30°C. The same applies to broilers. Remember, the longer they take to reach their sell-by weight, the more food they will eat, so it will be to your advantage to try and keep them cool.
If the conditions in the broiler house are not favourable, the broilers may also catch disease, such as lameness, which will prevent them from reaching the food. This could be a breeding problem, but also the result of a poor diet.
It is important to check on the chickens several times a day to make sure they have enough feed, fresh water, and that the temperature is comfortable.
The correct feed for broilers helps them gain weight to prepare them for the market.
The pullets must be fed broiler starter feed. This is replaced with feed for growing pullets until they are about seventeen weeks old. Until they reach the target weight, they receive a finisher mix.
If the pullets are raised to become layer hens, they must receive a layer diet that includes calcium (3%) and phosphorus (0,5%) to help them lay eggs with hard shells. At the age of 20 weeks, they are moved to the layer house where they will start laying eggs.
The easiest way is to buy formulated feed, especially during the first ten days of the chickens’ lives. A grower diet is then introduced. Mix the starter diet with the grower diet for the first few days so that the chicks will adjust to the new feed. After that, they can be fed a grower mix. They need a finisher mix until they are about 35 to 42 days old and ready for slaughter.
To make sure you chickens are growing at the correct rate, which means they are gaining weight in line with the quantity of feed they are eating, it is necessary to weigh a sample of ten birds picked at random at least once every two weeks.
Other feed sources
The cost of feed will be up to seventy percent of your overall costs. Feed is expensive, and the right mix of feeds may not be available in your region because it is not grown there.
If feed must be imported from another country, transported to the nearest city and from there to your village, it may be very expensive. As transport is not always reliable, it is wise to order feed in advance so that you never run out of feed.
Feedstuffs such as fish meal or fish waste, palm kernel meal, brewery waste, copra meal, wheat bran, rice bran or broken rice may be available, but these are not sufficient for feeding your broilers. They need high-quality protein, such as soya bean and fish meal. They also need a source of energy, such as wheat bran, cereal grains, or cassava to grow well. In addition, they need small quantity of nutrients such as minerals and vitamins.
Even if the feedstuffs are available, you may need a specialist to help you mix them correctly. If you can get the raw ingredients, you will have to weigh them and mix them in a home mixer. Do not prepare too much feed at a time, as it can only be stored for a short period of time. Always store feed in a safe, dry place where no rodents, insects like weevils, or damp can reach it.
If a balanced mix is not available, it is possible to supplement the feed by placing several feeds in different containers on the floor so that the hens can choose whatever they need or like. They will usually eat what they need and in the correct quantity.
How to calculate the average weight
Weigh ten chickens by capturing them by the leg with a leg catcher. Tie the legs and hang the chicken upside down from the scale. Write down every chicken’s weight.
Weight gain is weight of every bird divided by the age in days, then divided by the total number of birds. This will give you the average weight gain of one chicken at that age.
Feed efficiency is calculated by the quantity of feed consumed (kg) during a fixed number of days, divided by the total weight of all the birds (kg) that ate that amount of feed. The feed efficiency should be under 2,5 kg of feed for every one kilogram of weight gained at seven weeks of age.
Preparing for market
Broilers are ready to be marketed from 35 to 42 days. The best time to catch them is very early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the light is dim. Care must be taken not to frighten them with loud noises or fast movements.
Food must be withdrawn four to six hours before they are to be slaughtered, so that the crops are empty. Water can be withdrawn an hour before slaughter.
During the capture and loading, care must be taken that the chickens do not pile up, as this will cause suffocation. They must also not step on each other, as injuries caused by their nails can decrease the value of the meat.
Captured chickens must be put into crates which are not so deep that the chickens can climb on top of each other. Commercial catching crates are available, but expensive. Cardboard boxes or home-made wire cages will do fine.
Most people prefer to buy slaughtered chickens as it is more convenient, and not everybody is up to or have the necessary equipment for slaughtering at home.
In the next issue, we shall learn more about layer hens and how to best take care of them to make sure they lay enough good quality eggs for your own use and to sell at a profit.
Cilliers, F. (Project manager) (2001) Small-scale broiler house (combined). ARC-Institute for Agricultural Engineering. Family poultry training course trainee’s manual. http://www.sapoultry.co.za/pdf-training/trainers-manual-poultry-course.pdf
Lesley, C. (2020) The complete life cycle of a chicken explained. Chickens and more https://www.chickensandmore.com/life-cycle-of-a-chicken/