It can be a lucrative business but also fraught with many challenges, experts say.
A minimum of 300 layers is the least number one should keep to make good commercial sense. This could fetch you up to Sh700,000 a year, while having 1,000 layers can rake in Sh2.4million a year. However, this business can be capital intensive and fraught with challenges. It is a good idea to start small to help you get to where you want to be.
Layers need to be carefully raised from when they are one-day old. They start laying eggs from 18 to 19 weeks old (about four-and-a-half months), until 72-78 weeks or more, depending on the breed and management. There will be days when the hen does not lay an egg at all.
Its body begins forming another egg shortly after the previous one is laid, and it takes 26 hours, meaning that it will lay later and later each day and then skip a day at some point. Traditional chickens produce eggs on and off and for three to four years. The longer the length of production, the fewer the eggs produced, though the size increases with time, while shell quality decreases. How you handle your chickens when they are pullets, feed management and other factors also contribute to the number of eggs and for how long the chickens will lay.
To be successful you must understand the circle from acquiring chicks through to the time they start laying eggs. Knowing the importance of brooding, lighting, temperatures and so on are also critical
To be successful you must understand the circle from acquiring chicks through to the time they start laying eggs. Knowing the importance of brooding, lighting and temperatures; diseases, vaccination and so on are also critical.
Diseases can be very devastating, with whole flocks wiped out in one night. Have a business plan, no matter how simple you begin, to be sure about what you require; your projections of what to expect and when you expect to break even and start making profits. Keep proper records of stocks, feeds, vaccination, mortality, weight, sale of birds and eggs, and other expenses. Knowing your market is also critical. The market is always available, but most farmers don’t go out in search of it. One can market poultry products through family, friends, institutions, supermarkets, and open day markets. To be a good poultry products supplier, you must be consistent. Give enough time to the business by watching the number of hours spent on feeding the birds, and vaccination and other tasks and avoid being an online or telephone farmer. When buying chicks, go for breeders who offer after sales services and who will guide and mentor you throughout the rearing process.
To get more information on rearing layers, we visited Mr Apollo Ngugi, the manager of Kukuchic Farm in Eldoret and Mr Stephen Kariuki from in Mugumo, Nyandarua. Kukuchic is a chicken breeder that sells day-old chicks. Mr Ngugi has seven years’ experience and expertise in poultry farming. Mr Kariuki has been keeping layers for the past two decades and maintains a maximum of 300 birds per cycle. He currently specialises on the improved kienyeji breed. Hygiene and well-balanced feeds are the pillars of successful poultry farming, says Mr Kariuki.
For the almost two decades that he has kept chicken, the farmer says the experience has taught him that housing with proper ventilation and cleanliness, “means a healthy chicken, which ultimately rewards the farmer with increased production of between 80 to 90 per cent chance of the hens laying eggs daily,” he says. The farmer adds that a hen requires enough space to exercise; while feeding troughs must be clean at all times. “It’s also important to ensure that your chicken have a clean sleeping area away from the feeding and laying areas.” Provide a clean, dry area for your chicks to protect them from predators, cold, rain, and hot sun. You need enough space to build the flock house that should be not less than 50 square feet. In this article, we focus on housing for the deep litter system.
- The house should protect the birds from rain, wind and sunshine.
- Construct in an isolated area to risk of contamination.
- Ensure enough space of two square foot per bird (2 foot²/bird).
- It should be rectangular with walls not higher than 3ft on the longer side.
Use off-cuts, iron sheets, silver boards or bricks for the walls and wire mesh of a small gauge ½”, to prevent entry of wild birds, cats, dogs and rodents on the rest of the side. It should be open-sided for ventilation and have an east-west orientation on its long axis. The roof should have a reflecting surface and be pitched with overlaps. Cement floors are easier to clean though you can also use murram.
Provide bedding material or litter for your chicks that will absorb moisture from the manure and keep the brooding area clean. A variety of materials can be used, including wood shavings (most effective), ground corn cobs, peanut and rice hulls, and hay or straw chopped into small pieces.
Never place hatchlings on a slick surface such as cardboard, plastic, or newspaper. Smooth surfaces can lead to leg problems. The bedding should be six inches deep. Use carton boxes, triply, pieces of wood for brooder guards. For heat, use pots, jikos or infrared bulbs. Other requirements are;
There should be a disinfectant at the footpath that should be changed after three days
Feeders: One for 20 to 50 birds;
Drinkers: One for 20 to 50 birds;
Feeds: Should be available two days before the chicks arrive;
- Feed for the first one month;
- Glucose and liquid paraffin for the first 2days;
- Vitamins for the first five days;
The drinkers should be cleaned every morning and only one person to work at the poultry farm to avoid stress and diseases.
Ventilation, the movement of air through the poultry house is critical for providing oxygen and removing harmful gases, reducing dust, thus improving the air quality, and removing excess heat and moisture. This is achieved when air passes from one side of the house and out through the other. The house should, therefore, be open-sided for ventilation and have an east-west orientation on its long axis to reduce the sun’s heat. Narrow houses with high-pitched roofs provide more natural air movement. Curtains made from clean feed sacks stitched together or canvas can be used to manage ventilation.
Brooding: Clean and disinfect the house three weeks before the arrival of the chicks and prepare the brooder two days before. Six hours before they arrive, put on the heat source, and ensure that the chick feed and water are in place. The water should have glucose, paraffin and disinfectant.
When the chicks arrive: Count the chicks and then put them in the brooder and check their condition. They should be uniform, alert, active. Give them water and fill the feeders for the first two days or put feed in a shallow pan or a carton to make it easy for them to find the food. As they get older, provide them bigger feeders and reduce the level of feed as they get older. Make sure there is enough feeder space.
Distribute drinkers evenly throughout the house, alternating them with the feeders so that they are easily accessible. To give the birds time to find feeders and waterers, provide them with light round the clock for the first week. After the first week, provide the number of hours of light per day that is appropriate for that type of bird. A 15-watt light bulb should be sufficient for every 200square feet of floor area.
Brooder guard: For the first seven to 10 days, use a circular barrier called a brooder guard to confine the chicks. It prevents them from wandering too far from the heat source and reduces drafts of cold air. It should be about 15 to 16 inches high and large enough for chicks to move towards or away from the heat source.
Chicks need warmth until they are well-feathered, because they are not able to regulate their own body temperature for the first few weeks of life. If the heat is removed too early, they can develop respiratory problems. If the chicks crowd under the brooder, it means that they are cold, and you should increase the heat. If they try to get far away from the brooder, the heat should be reduced. If you have a small flock, use a heat lamp and suspend it with a chain or wire at least 18 inches above the bedding material.
Chickens require carbohydrates from foods such as maize, wheat, rice, millet, sorghum and their by-products for energy. They also need vitamins and minerals, which they can get from fruits and vegetables and protein from both animal and plants. Animal proteins are found in fish meal, insects and worms. Plant proteins are found in soya beans, peas, and groundnuts. Plant protein should be pre-cooked for easy absorption. Feeds are made with combinations of ingredients to provide all the nutrients in one package. Do not mix feeds from different millers. Follow the feed instructions provided. It is important to understand the nutritional requirements needed by the chickens at different stages in life. “Chicks require feeds with higher levels of protein, energy, vitamins and mineral supplements for rapid growth and feather development,” says Mr Ngugi.
On the other hand, growers will require feeds that are rich in nutrients which maintain growth rates and are well-balanced to avoid obesity, said the expert. At this stage, they require less energy and protein than that given to chicks. Layers will need higher levels of calcium-concentrated feeds. However, different breeds of chicken require different diet formulas. Farmers should seek expert advice at all stages of chicken husbandry.
Chickens require carbohydrates from foods such as maize, wheat, rice, millet, sorghum and their by-products for energy. They also need vitamins and minerals, which they can get from fruits and vegetables and protein from both animal and plants
Feeding from day one to lay
For the first two months, feed the chicks with chick mash (eight weeks). “A chick eats an average of 40 to 50 grams of food every day, which gradually increases as it grows towards maturity when feed intake is increased to an average of 100 grams in a day,” Mr Kariuki says.
Follow the chick mash with growers mash up to two (2) weeks before the expected point of lay. From this point, provide them with layers mash. Do not introduce new feed abruptly as it can stress the birds and affect performance. Mix the two rations so that the change is gradual. Provide vitamins to reduce stress. “Sudden change of type of feeds or time can be a disaster. Chicken are very sensitive, avoid stressing them by abruptly changing their lifestyles,” Mr Kariuki says.
Some breeds available in Kenya
One of the best egg-laying chickens. They are prolific layers of large white eggs and produce about 300 or more eggs a year. They are friendly, bear confinement well, calm, flighty, noisy, shy, and very active.
KARI Improved indigenous chicken
- One of the most popular breeds in the country
- Produces 220 to 280 eggs a year
- Can survive in harsh climatic conditions
- Starts laying eggs five months after being hatched
- It is highly-resistant to diseases
- Can be reared in free range conditions
- Can attain 1.5kg in 5 months
- Has a quiet temperament, excellent feathering and quickly adopts to conditions under which it is kept.
- Do not perform well in cages
- Need time to free range and a free run
- Hens cannot sit on their eggs to hatch and you will need a hatchery.
- Originates from India
- Can lay 150 to 200 eggs a year, which are larger than those of indigenous chicken
- Is a dual breed (can be raised both for meat and eggs)
- Has indigenous traits and can survive on free range.
- Mature between two and four months and weighs up to 3kg
- Start laying eggs at three months for the next two years.
- Are resistant to most diseases.
- Cannot sit on their eggs to hatch and need incubators.
Diseases and control
Disease outbreaks can lead to the loss of a whole flock as it did for Mr Kariuki, “last year, I had to clear the batch of chicken I had after waking up one morning to a devastating sight. 120 of my flock lay dead. What a loss! I decided to give it a break for few months break,” says the farmer who is now de-stocking.
Treatment of sick flock can also cost huge chunks of money. It is, therefore, important to observe good bio-security to avoid contact between the flock and disease-causing organisms. Prevention is better than cure, goes the old adage. Avoid over-crowding or over-stocking, ensure good ventilation and sanitation, good quality feed, avoid stress and watch out for possible disease outbreaks in the neighbourhood. Attendants should check the chickens’ behaviour, droppings, feed intake, and mortality rates to detect disease. Report to a veterinarian any signs of disease, and do not treat on your own.
Poultry diseases include coccidiosis caused by protozoa, fowl typhoid or salmonella, CRD Micoplasma caused by bacteria, and viral diseases such as foul pox, Newcastle disease, and infectious bronchitis.
They can also be infested by pests and worms. Be on the lookout for Mareks disease, Infectious Bronchitis (IB), Newcastle Disease (NCD), Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD/ Gumboro disease), Fowl pox, Fowl Typhoid and Fowl Cholera.
This is a must to boost disease resistance and keep birds free from diseases. Vaccination reduces death rates and disease prevalence. Vaccines are given through eye drops, intranasal, wing wave and thigh muscle injections, drinking water and spray.
Store vaccines between two and eight degrees centigrade. Transport in a cool box. Wash vaccination equipment with boiled water or germicide medicine/antiseptic. accinate during cooler part of the day or in the evening. Ensure water supply is free of vaccines, chemical and medicines for 48 hours before vaccination with drinking water and 24 hours.
Parasites can cause weight loss of the birds due to a reduction in feed conversion efficiency. This leads to a drop in egg production. De-worm at eight weeks and again at 18-20 weeks, just before production commences. Do not de-worm again until after peak production, unless there an infestation, as it could affect peak production. Subsequently, de-worm every two to three months.
Keeping records is critical. Have records of daily feed intake, mortality, culls and egg production, vaccination and medication (age of flock when vaccinated, vaccine or drug type used, method of administration, batch numbers, expiry dates and who has given the medication). These will help you to determine the level of profit or loss. Farm records measure progress and help a farmer to make the right decisions. Weigh your flock weekly on the same day to give you an idea of the growth rate. This will also give you an indication of when the first egg is expected.
Eggs should be collected regularly and transferred from the hen house to an egg room where they are checked for weight and damaged shells. Pack into cartons of 12 eggs or trays of 30 eggs for sale.
Choosing your breed
There are various breeds available for laying eggs in Kenya. Ask yourself:
- Do you want to do free range or intensive?
- What do you want to achieve?
- Not all breeds produce the same number or size of eggs. Others produce white and others brown eggs. What does your market prefer?
- What type of chickens work well in your area?
- How much are you willing to spend?
Hens are served through Artificial Insemination
Many Kenyans know that the AI technology is widely used in livestock. But Eldoret’s Kuku Chick Farm uses this method for poultry breeding. Eggs produced through AI have 99 percent chances of fertility, while those fertilised naturally have a fertility rate of about 85-90 percent. Early morning and Eldoret town is cold and wet. You will have to drive at a snail’s pace along Airport road, as it is rather foggy. About 10 kilometres from town, you will need to take a right turn, along a muddy, but passable road. Everyone here will easily direct you to ‘kwa kuku’, a place with long storey buildings and green roofs, as locals describe this.
Welcome to Kuku Chick poultry breeding farm; where breeding is done through Artificial Insemination (AI) rather than the natural selection. At the reception, we meet Mr Apollo Ngugi, the farm’s manager. He first gives us the set of rules that anyone getting into the farm should always observe. Top among them is the fact that you have to literally take a shower in a nearby bathroom, and change clothes; wear sanitized gear, as if you are going to a hospital theatre.
“We do not like at all, to risk the health and lives of our birds, that’s why we are very keen on bio security measures,” explains Ngugi as he directs us to the bathrooms. After taking a shower, the walk inside the farm starts. But not before being further sprayed with a special sanitizer, as a further bio safety measure. Still, before entering the chicken house, you will have to dip your feet in a sanitized bath. There is no taking risks here.
At last, we get into the chicken house; Flock 11 in particular. This is home to a flock of 24,000 layers, and 6,000 cocks. This structure, we are told, can host up to 50,000 birds. At any given time though, the males should be at least 10 percent of the total population, according to Ngugi.
In the structure, two male workers are busy extracting semen from the cocks, and inseminating the hens. To undertake this procedure, you will need an AI kitty, which comprises of a silage, a pipette and a collection funnel. The procedure of AI involves holding the cocks, one by one, and ‘milking’ semen, by use of fingers, into a collection funnel. You are not supposed to hold the cock for more than 10 seconds as he will become too shy to release the semen. Therefore, this should be a quick process. After collecting the semen, it is then sucked into a silage, through a pipette. Then, the semen is transferred to the hens through the respective reproductive canal. Each hen receives 0.5mm of semen. The procedure is repeated after every 72 hours.
According to Ngugi, AI has several benefits the highest being high fertility rate. “Eggs produced through AI have 99 percent chances of fertility, while those fertilised naturally have a fertility rate of about 85-90 percent,” says Ngugi
Ordinarily, it would be almost impossible for the rainbow roosters reared here, to naturally mate with the females due to variance in weight. The males weigh between 6-12 kilogrammes while the females weigh between 1.7-2 kilogrammes. This means that the males would naturally injure or even kill females in the process of mating, thus making AI more viable. The mother flock hens lay an average of 285 eggs yearly. However, if a farmer buys chicks from this farm, he should expect an average production of about 220 eggs annually, according to Ngugi.
After 72 weeks, the mother flock (both male and female) is disposed for slaughtering and meat consumption while a new flock is brought in after the houses are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised. According to Ngugi, the idea of establishing this poultry breeding farm was conceived after one of the directors, who ran and still runs a kienyeji kuku eatery in the outskirts of Eldoret town, could not get enough supply.
It would be almost impossible for the rainbow roosters reared here, to naturally mate with the females due to variance in weight. The males weigh between 6-12 kilogrammes while the females weigh between 1.7-2 kilogrammes. This means that the males would naturally injure or even kill females in the process of mating, thus making AI more viable
He was concerned over the cause of irregular and unpredicted supply of kuku kienyeji, prompting him to do a research. It was through the research that he discovered that poultry farming lacked a proper and reliable production system, and was only reliant on traditional breeding and rearing methods. Besides, he discovered, there was barely any disease control measures among poultry keepers, thus causing high mortality. This is one of the reasons that triggered the high-level bio safety measures in this farm.
“Sometime a supplier would promise to deliver chicken, only to again report that he lost the flock to a strange disease, thus inconveniencing both the hotel management and clients,” recalls Ngugi. It is in the line of research that he ended up in India, from where he imports his chicks for the mother flock, and from where he also learnt about the Rainbow Rooster breed as well as about AI. Currently, Kuku Chick has a total of four farms, including two production farms, a brooder and a hatchery. While they import the mother flock at Sh500 per chick, they sell one-day old chicks at Sh100 each. On average, the farm produces between 50,000-70,000 chicks monthly. The farm’s management, Ngugi adds, would like to see every Kenyan homestead owning at least 20 Rainbow Roosters in a bid to enhance food and nutrition security, as well as economic empowerment. Farmers are offered training and farm tour free here, in a bid to encourage them to buy chicks and venture into poultry farming.
According to experts, AI in poultry would be most eligible, especially if a breeder wants to get desired traits from particular males. Peter Kimondo, a veterinary doctor at the Department of Veterinary Services, says breeders can extract semen from cocks and transfer to hens to enhance higher fertility levels.
If the ratio of male poultry to female is small, the males may find it taxing to mate naturally, thus the need for AI. Ideally, he adds, one cock can serve more hens vial AI, without straining, compared to natural fertilisation.
Global lessons: Value addition in chicken processing
The most common product produced in poultry slaughterhouses is the whole bird. However, poultry meat can be further processed into various products based on the type of poultry meat desired (e.g. from simple cuts to ready-to-eat meals). In fact, during recent years there has been a shift from fresh, whole-bird sales to sales of cut-up bird parts and convenience products because these products have higher value. Whole chickens can be available fresh, frozen, bone-in, boneless, uncooked, fully cooked and seasoned. Chicken parts are available as drumsticks, thighs, wings and breasts. They are also available as legs (drumstick and thigh attached), leg quarters, breast quarters, breast halves and poultry halves. Wingettes and drummettes made from the wing are available. Chicken products taken from the breast and wing are considered white meat and the products taken from the drumstick and thigh are considered dark meat.
Cutting up and further processing chickens add value to the product and increase convenience to consumers and value to producers. Because poultry meat is a perishable product (chilled poultry meat must be sold to consumers within 72 hours after processing), the conception/organization of the slaughterhouse must be closely adapted to feed cost and availability, meat supply conditions and consumer markets (average weight and age of animals, available quantity of animals per week and seasonality of supplies).
The birds are usually transported by truck to the poultry slaughterhouse. Upon arrival, the birds are held in the reception area in the transport crates, pending veterinarian inspection. In most countries, the official veterinarian then inspects each transport crate of live birds to approve them for human consumption. Sick birds are killed and disposed of. After inspection, the birds are removed from the crates in the reception area and put on the killing line. The birds are hung upside down by their feet by shackles on a conveyor, which moves them to the stunning area.
Once the birds are shackled, stunning is carried out using one of three possible methods that include (i) an electrically-charged water bath, (ii) gas inhalation or (iii) a blow to the head using a blunt object. Slaughtering can be performed manually or by using an automatic circular knife system. The birds should bleed for at least two minutes to ensure a total bleed-out. The blood is collected in a tank and handled as an animal by-product for further processing.
Chicken parts are available as drumsticks, thighs, wings and breasts. They are also available as legs (drumstick and thigh attached), leg quarters, breast quarters, breast halves and poultry halves
After bleeding, the birds are exposed to either steam or hot water as part of the scalding procedure. Scalding loosens the feathers and facilitates plucking. Feathers are removed in a specially designed plucking machine or by hand.
Feathers are collected and treated as an animal by-product. The birds are showered with water during the automated plucking operation and the feathers are collected in a trough under the plucking machine. Following scalding and plucking activities, the head and feet are removed. Inedible organs, including the intestinal tract and lungs, are removed and treated as animal by-products. The eviscerated carcass should be rinsed internally and externally with potable water before further processing. Depending on country-specific regulations, companies may use disinfectants (chlorine or trisodium phosphate solutions) to reduce the bacteriological contamination on meat surfaces. After rinsing, the carcass should be cooled as quickly as possible to or below 4 °C. Several methods are used for chilling, including: air chilling, which takes place in either a chill room or by continuous air blast; spray chilling whereby water aerosols are added to the air; and immersion chilling, which involves moving carcasses through a counter-flow current in a water bath.
Birds are weighed individually and sorted according to their weight. After weighing, the birds are inspected visually and categorized. Whole birds are typically packed in plastic bags or in containers wrapped in film. Birds are stored before sale at or below 4 °C. Birds intended to be sold as quick-frozen poultry are frozen in a blast freezer or similar equipment that enables rapid freezing.
Cleaning of the plant is one of the most important tasks in a poultry processing plant. Some rinsing and cleaning should occur during working hours. After working hours, a total cleaning and disinfection of the plant is carried out, normally on a daily basis. Cleaning involves the following major steps, including disassembling of machinery and equipment, as necessary; physical removal of solid material; cycles of rinsing and washing; disinfection; drying; and application of lubricants.
Rendering is the heat treatment of animal by-products to eliminate the risk of spreading disease to animals and humans and to produce usable products such as proteins and fat. Rendering involves evaporative processes that may generate a foul odour. Low-risk by-products are by-products obtained from poultry that have been approved as fit for human consumption (e.g. blood, heads and feet). Blood is collected in a separate tank. Depending on the storage time before further processing, the need for cooling and chemicals that can prevent coagulation should be considered. Blood is filtered and spray-dried to produce blood meal. Blood meal can be used for feeding fish, pets and other animals.
Feathers are collected in a separate container. Before transfer to the container, water from the scalding process has to be pressed out of the feathers. Because the plucking process can remove portions of the heads as well, some head bits may be present among the feathers. Feathers can be burned to produce heat or processed with heat to hydrolyse the proteins.
The low-value proteins from feathers can be used in pet food or animal feed. Heads and feet that are not destined for human consumption are collected in a separate container. When these by-products are to be used for human consumption, they should be approved during the inspection process. Typically, feet used for human consumption are heat treated in order to remove skin and nails before packing. Heads are normally not used for human consumption, although duck tongues are consumed in some countries. High-risk by-products include birds that have died for reasons other than slaughtering, condemned birds, and condemned parts of birds, as well as all other by-products not intended for human consumption.
Solid organic material that is captured in the wastewater treatment system screens and has a particle size of 6 mm or greater should also be treated as a high-risk by-product and sent for rendering. Grids used in the slaughterhouse and pre-filtering of waste streams should be designed so that these kinds of animal by-products can be recovered and sent for rendering. By-products should be collected in separate containers, which are isolated in such a way that food safety is not jeopardized.
The containers should be covered to prevent wild birds and animals from coming into contact with the material they contain. At the rendering plant, the materials are chopped up and then heated under pressure (e.g. in the conventional batch dry rendering method) to kill micro-organisms and remove moisture.
The liquefied fat and solid protein are separated by centrifugation or pressing. The solid product can then be ground into various animal protein powders for animal feed or pet food. The effectiveness of the heat process used for rendering depends on various factors, including the holding time, the core temperature and the particle size of the products treated.
The rendering process should produce final products that are free from salmonella and clostridium and contain only a limited number of enterobacteriaceae. Water contamination has become a major issue confronting industrial poultry operators.
Almost 18 billion birds are raised each year in the world and produce more than 22 million tonnes of manure. Poultry manure is rich in nitrogen and phosphorous and contaminates groundwater and surface waterways such as rivers and bays
Almost 18 billion birds are raised each year in the world and produce more than 22 million tonnes of manure. Poultry manure is rich in nitrogen and phosphorous and contaminates groundwater and surface waterways such as rivers and bays. Ammonia gas must be ventilated from the chicken houses and can contaminate soil and water. Arsenic, an additive to chicken feed, contaminates litter or waste generated each year by the broiler chicken industry and also contaminates the communities in which it is generated or disposed.
Chicken guts, heads, feathers, blood and wastewater that remain from the processing are rendered down to their essence before being hauled as sludge to fertilize farmlands in the area. Treated wastewater is released into nearby streams or sprayed on farmlands in the area.
Three thousand five-hundred litres of water are used in the production of 1 kg of meat. Modern broiler houses (e.g. typically 500)