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10 key areas every poultry farmer should focus on to stay afloat

By Dr Watson Messo
Nicholas Mureithi at Ol-Njoro Poultry farm in Muranga. (Jenipher Wachie, Standard)

Poultry farming is one of the fastest growing businesses in Kenya. If you are planning to invest in poultry this year, here are 10 key areas to focus on to stay ahead of competition.

1. Stop buying cheap feed

Feed is the biggest component of the cost of any chicken production in Kenya, be it meat or egg production. It accounts for 70 per cent of all the other components. The major component of feed is maize and soya and those two are not cheap. Buy feed that will consistently give you the target kilo of meat per feed fed and the target amount of eggs per kilogram of feed at a lower cost and not at cheaper cost. The two are different.

2. Measure feed you give your flock daily

Some farmers give feed adlib to their birds. This must stop if you want to make profit. You must measure to a gram per bird of all the feed allocations daily as per the established standards of your breed. In some farms I have gone to, 10 per cent of the feed is wasted on the floor or the litter and go unaccounted for. Build a habit of calculating how much feed is being converted to kilogram of meat or eggs. As a rule of thumb, 1kg of layer feed should give you 5-6 eggs during production and 1.6-7 kg of broiler Crumble feed should give you 1kg of live weight, this is the feed conversion ratio.

3. Weigh a sample of your birds regularly

Make a habit of weighing 5 per cent of your birds from date of placement to week of slaughter or point of lay if they are pullets. This practice though laborious, will inform you when things are going wrong early in advance for you to make corrective actions.

4. Spend some time in the flock unit

Set aside some time to walk in your flock unit. The best times to visit the flock is very early in the morning during feeding time and late in the evening just before the lights go out. We refer this as ‘walking the birds’. It’s during this period when you physically appraise your flocks on feeding habits, watering, flock density and general health. It also reduces incidences of flip over or heart attack.

5. Invest on a footbath at every entrance to a poultry unit.

Footbaths are the best and first line of defence for your flocks in case of a disease outbreak. Ensure you always keep it clean and regularly replaced with potent disinfectant.

6. Restrict visitors into your farm

Biosecurity is all about processes or procedures that you must put in place to prevent introduction of disease - causing organisms or agents from infecting your precious flocks. Avoid unnecessary visitors into the precincts of your flocks, as history has it that people are the main conveyors of poultry disease agents.

7. Vaccinate your birds as per health plan

Just like you insure your car against unknown accidents, likewise you vaccinate your birds against airborne diseases whose spread cannot be prevented through  physical barriers. Do not skip vaccinations as this exercise is the single most important activity that boost the immune system of birds against some of the worst notifiable diseases like Gumboro, Newcastle and fowl typhoid.

8. Know your customers and reach them directly

Take time to know your customers and build a long-lasting relationship. This is your year of severing that relationship with power brokers or cartels, whose interests are buying birds cheaply and selling to restaurants, fast-food managers at high prices.

9. Keep records

Record keeping is an important tool to assess your performance and shed light on areas that need improvement. Record your feed consumption, weights, losses, temperatures, visitors, profit margins, water intakes and gains in weights. Compare performance of each crop against previous.  

10.Invest in animal welfare

Keep your chickens healthy and happy always, avoid use of unnecessary prescription medication, give them plenty of water and space for growing, playing and sleeping. Keep litter dry and allow birds to exercise and exhibit their natural feelings in a conducive environment.

[Writer is the Head Vet, Kenchic]

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