Marymartha Agbonlahor, in this piece shares some insight into a number of key areas to help improve profitability in your poultry business.
Poultry production particularly chicken; is increasing among rural and urban dwellers, young school leavers, graduates and retirees in Nigeria. The comparatively low start up requirement, in terms of capital and space/land, short generation interval, and flexibility in terms of the stage in which to engage in the business of poultry production contribute to the attractiveness of the poultry enterprise as a business. From raising day old chicks to growers (3 to 4 weeks) and selling off, raising broilers to 6 weeks or conventional market weight of 2kg, raising day-old pullets to point of lay, starting from the point of lay through the laying period etc.
However, the profit margin differs especially for small flock size. Also, some entrants into the business do not have prior knowledge or experience of the practice and business of poultry production and are faced with more risks of going out of business. High cost of feed, disease outbreak, poor stock/breed, poor management etc are some of the factors that reduce profits for small poultry holders.
Where small farms may not be able to enjoy expert consultants’ services and economies of scale associated with large poultry farms; they can increase profit margin by reducing mortality through the following practices:
Good Stock: Source day old chicks (broilers, cockerels or pullets) from renowned hatcheries. Where the focus is for egg production, farmers can avoid the stress and risk associated with the brooding period and rearing period by purchasing Point of lay birds. It is also important that POL birds are sourced from farmers with a track record of producing good birds. The quality of the rearing period is a determinant of the level of productivity achieved during the laying period.
Good housing condition: Most small chicken farmers do not use the conventional open-sided pens/housing. Whatever the system adapted to house the birds, it is important to ensure flow through ventilation and reduce heat stress in adult birds. High temperature conditions reduce feed intake by birds as birds eat to meet their energy requirement. This in turn reduces productivity in laying birds. Temperature can be managed through the use of fans, feeding cool water; ensuring water tanks are kept shaded, use of mist sprayers to spray cool water over birds on hot days, managing the energy content of feed relative to other nutrients. The latter requires knowledge of feed management and formulation. As most small poultry farms use commercial feed, keeping the environmental temperature locally managed as much as possible is important. Where birds are raised on deep litter; use good litter materials (such as wood shavings, maize cobs, chopped straw etc) that are water absorbing and dry easily; provide insulation against heat stress, light weight and are readily available. Ensure good litter management. Litter should not be too dusty or too wet. Poorly managed litter favors proliferation of pathogens and exposes birds to respiratory disease due to high ammonia concentration.
Feeding and feed management: Feeding and drinking troughs, bags for storing feed, that have been previously used in raising birds should be well disinfected before introducing to a new flock of birds. The same applies to the housing should be well fumigated).
Commercially prepared feed should be sourced from distributors with fats turnover. To ensure that feed have not been in storage for too long as this would result in deterioration of nutrients, moldiness and development of feed-storage microbes-the Aflatoxins and other Mycotoxins. When feed is formulated use good quality feed ingredients.
It is also important to note that a bird will produce as much as it is fed (in quantity and quality). A laying bird requires all nutrients to be available in quantity and quality to produce an egg. A bird will rather not produce any egg than produce an incomplete egg if nutrients supplied in the feed are inadequate to meet it maintenance and production needs. Feeding time can also be used to reduce heat stress in birds. On high temperature days; feed birds during the cool hours of the day (early morning and cool evening) to encourage feeding. On cold days, birds will need to eat more to first meet their body heat requirement before production needs can be met.
Strict farm hygiene and bio-security measures: There should be restricted entry into the farm, as fomites could be a medium of disease transmission. A foot dip at the entrance of the pen, wash hand basin, entrants at the gate house should be disinfected (shoes and clothes using disinfectant sprays and foot dips). Proper disposal of dead birds and waste, restrict the mixing up of egg crates from customers with those of the farm.
Adherence to vaccination requirements and other routine management (proper de-beaking, deworming, delicing, pest control (rats, snakes, flies etc)
Observation and record keeping: Observing the feeding habits of birds can alert the farmer to any drop in feed or water intake, onset of a disease condition. The level of activity is most obvious at the time of feeding. Record of daily feed and water intake, production level, observation of the droppings (color and consistency) are also important pointers to the performance of birds.
Also feeding nutrient dense feed in laying birds may result in prolapse which if not well managed may result in loss of affected birds. Prolapse is a condition in laying birds where the lower part of the oviduct of the bird does not retract after the egg has been laid. It may sometimes be accompanied with bleeding. Below are some of the possible causes of prolaspe:
Body weight: Too high body weight due to excessive fat deposition, which may result from high energy content of the feed. Too low body weight and body frame due to early start of lay, day length light stimulation without attaining standard body weight and carcass frame.
Dietary factors: Low Ca content of diet, Calcium-Phosphorus imbalance; resulting in inadequate calcium to maintain egg production and oviduct muscle integrity, high energy feed resulting in fat deposition and blockage of reproductive tract, high protein feed that increases egg production and weight with attendant stresses to the oviduct, deficiency of vitamins (A, D and E).
High level of production
Cannibalism due to High light intaensity, poor debeaking
Diarrhoea predisposing factors
Reproductive age of flock. Prolapse is more common at peak production because of demand on birds’ metabolism for egg production.
Networking with other poultry farmers, vet. doctors, researchers and consultants in the industry to gain new insights and assistance when necessary.
Small holder poultry farmers may not be able to control feed cost or enjoy large scale economies but by reducing mortality can increase profitability of their small flock size.