I tried my hand at chicken farming because of my love for eggs and love for its meat. It also helped that we had chicken growing up and during the holidays , I would go visit my grand mum and play with the chicken.
The chicken I decided to keep was the indigenous chicken and not the broiler or layer type. This was specifically because I love the flavour of indigenous chicken. I find broilers and the ex-layers to be rather bland and require a heavy hand while seasoning for any semblance of taste. I believe in rearing something that I would consume.
chicken in their coop
I began by doing market research on how to best start my venture. After doing the pros and cons of each, I decided that starting off with day old chicks would be the better option in my opinion. At the time I felt that starting with mature hens and cockerel would take longer than I was willing to wait before the income generated was meaningful. I wanted to rear the chicken for about 8 months to a year, then when all were mature, sell as a batch. The other option would have been to have a hen(s) brood, but I felt this would be slow and hens tend to not hatch all eggs given to them. This would work against the objective of having all chicks as an age-set grow together, and thus ready for market at the same time.
My research led me to a few options on where to source my day old chicks. Some only sold in batches of 100, which I thought was too ambitious a number to start with. The smallest number I could start with was 50, which in my opinion sounded right for cutting my teeth into the poultry business.
I rehabilitated an old chicken house for the venture. Since it was mostly intact, it just required a little repair. I also sourced for wood shavings for the floor. Saw dust was readily available, but I was rightly advised that saw dust is dangerous to the chicks as they would eat it as feed and die from being unable to digest it.
I placed my order with the company that was closest to me and they told me I would have to wait a few days for them to be ready. As I waited I got feeders, drinkers and chick mash for my new venture. Once they were ready I was told to collect them at their depot. chicks were packed in a card board box with perforations for them to breathe.
I thought I had it all figured out as I got down to the business of rearing the chicks. As they say, experience is the best teacher. I had heard that at night due to the cold, I would require a heat source to keep the chicks warm. I had a raised charcoal jiko(heater) which I thought was just right. From its size I figured it would be enough for the chicks to gather around at night for warmth.
The nasty surprise waiting for me from the first morning when I was going to tend to my chicks.
I found that due to the lack of enough space for all the chicks under the heater, some had been suffocated due to crowding. I counted three dead. This experience gutted me. I however figured this as part of the experience of raising chicks. However, every day that week I woke up to a few dead chicks. By the end of that week I had lost 15 chicks. In as much as I was beginning to have serious doubts on my poultry farming abilities, I soldiered on.
The other thing I hadn't budgeted for properly was feed. Noting had prepared me for the amounts of feed that the chicks would eat. I would fill feeders on the morning thinking that that would be enough for the day. When I would go back to check on the in the afternoon, I would be met by shrill chirps from hungry chicks and would have to add some more feed.
Vaccinations also had to be done, but I had some good advise from my local agro-vet dealer who pointed me in the right direction. All were duly done and vaccination schedule followed.
As they were indigenous chicken, the weight gain was not as fast as broiler chicken would be. By instead of the 2-3 months broiler chickens take to get to slaughter weight, these chicken started to look ready for market at around the 6 month mark. This was where the cockerels started to get a comb and wattle. The hens started showing signs of laying eggs. As I raised the chicken semi- free range, meaning I had to supplement their feed , cost of raising the chickens was made high by this.
After the sixth month I started looking for market. Luckily for me indigenous chicken are loved for their meat flavour. their eggs are also preferred to the layer chicken eggs for the same reason. It didn't take me more than a week to sell of my entire flock.
When I did my math, I think I just about broke even with no profit to speak of. The early mortality of some my chicks early on, and added to the high cost of feeds that I was supplementing made the venture turn out as it did.
Would I do it again?
Experience is the best teacher in some of these matters. If I was to do it again, I would change the mode of feeding.
The cost of commercially made feeds is really high in my country. There have been attempts by many farmers to concoct their own feed rations to varying degrees of success at lowering the cost of feeding, not only chicken, but farm animals in general.
In my research on lowering cost of feeding chicken especially, I came across breeding black soldier fly larvae. This looks like the cheapest way to make high protein feed at a low cost to make chicken farming profitable, that I have come across. I believe once the larvae breeding setup is done, the day to day running of the process can be handled by 2 people when starting out and scaled up accordingly and still maintain profitability.
The video below explains how to go about it.