Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched. There is much truth in this saying which means that you should not count on anything before it actually happens. But with good planning, you can achieve your goals, also with poultry farming.
In the previous issues, we discussed the advantages and challenges of poultry farming, how you should plan for it and what expenses to consider when deciding whether it will be a viable and sustainable business. This planning indicates what you need to do to be successful. In this chapter we discuss how you go about raising chickens from one day old to broilers for meat, or layers to produce eggs.
Different poultry breeds
Each chicken breed has its own advantages and disadvantages.
These chickens are suitable for meat and eggs. They include traditional breeds, such as Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rock. The disadvantages of these breeds are that they eat a lot, but do not efficiently convert feed into eggs, because they do not lay enough eggs, or provide enough meat, as they grow too slowly. Yet, if they are all you can get, or if the quality of feed is not very good, you can use them for your poultry farm. Remember, chickens and feed cost money, and the longer you need to feed them, the more money you will need to spend before you start getting an income.
These breeds have been selected for egg production. They include the White Leghorn, which has a small body (1,5 kg) and lays many white eggs. The Black Australorp weighs 2,2 kg and eats a lot of feed. It lays light brown eggs. If you want free-range layers, which means you want them to walk around outdoors, this is a good choice as they are docile and quiet and won’t venture outside your fences.
Hybrid breeds, which means a crossbreed of more than one type of chicken, are most often used. These hybrids are selected for either meat or egg production and not both.
They lay large, brown or white eggs. They are more economical, as they eat less feed per kilogram of weight they gain for meat, or the number of eggs they produce. Hybrids grow faster than other breeds, and they produce more meat, especially breast meat, which consumers prefer.
Mike Bosch of Boschveld Chickens breeds a special hybrid of chicken on Mantsole Ranch near Radium in Limpopo Province in South Africa. Mike used indigenous Venda, Ovambo and Matabele chickens as parent stock to breed what he calls a synthetic hybrid cross called Boschveld chickens. These chickens are light brown and white, and they blend into the landscape. In addition, they are alert, which is necessary when there are numerous predators prowling around on the ground or flying overhead. They are also hardy to survive in free-range conditions and can withstand poultry diseases.
Hybrid breeds are only available through a company, such as Boschveld Chickens. These companies may be far away, even in another country, and it may be expensive to transport them to your farm. So, even though hybrids are the best option, they may not be easily obtainable.
If you only want to keep a few chickens, like eight hens to one rooster, you can allow them to brood naturally, but this will remain a very small-scale operation. The hen lays the eggs and hatches them. Her body heat provides enough warmth for the eggs to hatch, and she takes care of the chickens herself, providing heat and protection, and teaching them by example how and what to eat and to drink water.
But if you would like to develop a small business starting with about fifty chickens to raise hens for meat or egg production, you will have to make use of a brooder. This can be a heated brooder that provides warmth and light for the chickens by means of electricity, gas or paraffin, or a heatless brooder constructed of materials that will provide sufficient protection from the elements.
Raising chicks in a brooder
Day-old chicks need extra special care from the day they arrive on your farm until they are about three to four weeks old, depending on the outside temperature. This period is called the brooding period. When they have enough feathers to keep them warm, they are ready to be raised as broilers for meat, or layers to produce eggs.
The chicks arrive in a delivery box, from which they must be moved to the brooder. We shall focus on a heated brooder, but in the next issue also discuss the building of suitable heatless brooders.
Getting the brooder ready
You must prepare the brooder before your day-old chicks arrive. This brooder, whether a room or a specially built structure, must stand empty for at least two weeks before the chicks are placed inside.
The ceiling, walls, and floor must be dusted and then cleaned with detergent. An hour after washing it out, the detergent must be rinsed off with clean water and left to dry completely. Get rid of mosquitoes and flies that may carry diseases, and make sure they cannot re-enter the brooder.
Containers for food and water must be bought or made in advance. If existing containers are used, they must also be disinfected. Ensure you have a suitable source for heat and light, such as infrared lights. These lights must hang over the brooder’s floor space and you must be able to adapt the height to ensure the chickens do not get cold or too hot.
A few days before the chicks arrive, you must get everything ready. Buy fresh feed suitable for day-old chicks. Make sure it is the correct mixture and store it in an area that you can lock up and where no moisture, insects, rodents, or thieves can get to it.
The day before the chicks arrive
Set up a heater or infrared lights. Cover the floor with litter, such as chopped straw, shredded paper, or wood shavings, which will absorb moisture, such as water from the feeders and chicken poop. This layer must be at least 50 to 100 mm deep.
Surround the area where the day-old chicks will be kept with a border of cardboard or metal sheeting at least 450 mm high to protect the chickens from draughts and to keep them together under the lamps. These borders can later be moved outwards to enlarge the area as the chickens grow older and bigger.
Before you set out to collect your day-old chicks, fill the drinking troughs with fresh, clean water and fill the food trays with starter mash. Also sprinkle some food on cardboard or newspaper around the brooder, because in the beginning they will peck at anything that is put before them.
Chances are good that you will have to collect your day-old chicks, either from the hatchery where they were bred, or from a delivery point.
Check you tiny chicks to see if they are healthy. After hatching, they can last 24 hours without food or water. If you must travel a long way home, it is best to give them some water at the collection point. While travelling, make sure they don’t get too hot or too cold, as they may get sick and die.
Once you get home, immediately transfer the chickens to the brooder. Carefully pick them up one by one and put them near the feed and water troughs. Dip each chick’s beak into the water so that it can have a sip. If they look weak, put them close to the drinking and feeding troughs so they don’t stumble around and die.
Make sure the floor temperature of the brooder is between 30 and 32 degrees Celsius on the first day. Put the chicks under the source of heat.
One infrared lamp provides enough heat for fifty chickens. The lamp must be securely suspended 450 to 500 mm above the litter. These lights do not heat the atmosphere, but only the bodies of the chickens, who absorb it and transfer it into energy, which they need to grow. Measure the temperature with a thermometer that is placed on the litter. Make sure that you have a spare globe, as the chickens will suffer if the globe fails. During the next three or four weeks, the temperature can gradually be lowered to about 20 or 22 degrees.
Fewer than fifty chickens can be heated with a normal incandescent 100 W spotlight globe. When no electricity is available, use infrared gas heaters. For additional heat, a paraffin lamp with a protective wire netting frame can also be used, but be careful because these lamps can cause a fire.
The way the chickens behave will show you whether it is too hot or too cold in the brooder. If they huddle under the light and make a lot of noise, it is too cold, and when they move away from the heat, it is too hot. If they are happily and quietly pecking away at the feed under their feet, the temperature is just right.
Family poultry training course trainee’s manual http://www.sapoultry. co.za/pdf-training/trainers-manual-poultry-course.pdf
Cilliers, P.F. (July 2000) Small-scale poultry housing in South Africa. ARC-Institute for Agricultural Engineering Boschveld Free-range Chickens. (n.d.) Boschveld.co.za http://boschveld.co.za/