The Quick Start Guide to Raising Broiler Chickens in Zimbabwe

Monday, March 21, 2016

broiler chicken farming guide

Oh, chicken farming. We do love raising our broiler chickens.

From urban backyard farmers to medium and large-scale commercial farmers people are raising broiler chickens. Broilers are fast growing (they go from chick to market ready in just 6 weeks), giving them a quick return on investment.

However according to the Zimbabwe Poultry Association broiler chicken farming has come under a lot of pressure in the past year.

They found that producers face challenges of rising feed costs, a flood of imports, rising energy costs and falling consumer demand. Sales of day-old chicks saw a 4% decrease in 2015 from 2014 figures.

While it is certainly a challenge to raise broilers at the moment, it can still be done profitably but only if it's done properly. The key is to get fully prepared.

Here is what you need to get started.



You'll learn

  • How and where to buy chicks
  • Building a suitable chicken house
  • Feeding broiler chickens
  • Health and disease prevention
  • Processing your chickens
  • Marketing your chickens

What is a Broiler Chicken?

Very simply put broilers are chickens that a bred for meat in 5-7 week cycles. There are two  main types of white hybrid broiler breeds raised locally: the Cobb 500 (imported from the UK) and Hubbard (imported from France). These are fast growing chickens primarily raised in chicken houses.

Building Your Chicken Coop

Before you bring home your chicks you need to set up your chicken housing (also known as a coop or run). Take out a pencil, some graph paper or a math book and look around your farm. What other birds are you farming? Are you raising pigs? Where is your soil well-drained.

Set up your site away from other farm animals (like pigs and other poultry). If you are raising chickens for a contractor like Irvine's they will require you to locate your chicken runs, at least, a kilometre away from other on-farm birds and pigs.

Once you have chosen your housing site. The next step is to build or if you already have a structure, to renovate that structure. A good structure reduces disease and keeps your chickens safe from predators.

A good structure does not necessary mean an expensive structure, just a well designed one. In warm climates such as ours, most mid-size commercial chicken farmers use open-sided runs of various sizes. Large scale operations typically use climate controls.

Here is an example of an open sided chicken house:


How to build broiler housing
Image: via Farmers SA
Chicken house design considerations:

Floors: Lay a flat, concrete floor for easy cleaning and to reduce dust which affects the chickens breathing.

Orientation: The house should be oriented away from direct sunlight.

Roof: Your roof should be waterproof, high pitch and insulated. Insulation prevents heat loss in the winter and minimizes heat build-up in the summer. The high pitch helps with ventilation.

Walls: Build short side brick walls with wire mesh and curtains (see green curtains in the image above). Curtains should open from the top to bottom and not close too tight.

Bricks are a good option for building your coop. Avoid using corrugated metal to build your coop. Jan Grobbelaar states in "Why Poultry Farms Fail" that "corrugated chicken houses become ovens in the summer". This is not a comfortable environment for chickens, and can lead to heat stress and high mortality rates.

Space: Your chicken house must have enough space for your chickens. A stocking density of 10-12 birds per square meter is typically recommended to avoid overcrowding.

Examine and close any leaks and holes in the roof and floors. Make sure there are no holes for rodents, pests and predators to enter your run or that allow floor drafts.

Clear trash and weeds around the house to reduce pests, and add perimeter fencing.

Where to buy chicken house equipment: You can contact us to order farm bricks, hard commons or cement bricks for your chicken coop. We provide delivery in and around Harare.

Now that your first chicken run is properly set up. You need to buy your poultry tools.

Tools and Resources for Raising Chickens


A list of poultry tools

  • Water tank: a convenient clean water source near the chicken house
  • Fans: for ventilation
  • Brooder Box: get a carpenter to make you a brooder for spot brooding.
  • Gas or Electric Poultry Brooder: for heating and keeping chicks warm. You need 1 per 100 chicks
  • Baby Chick Feeders: 3 feed trays per 100 chicks
  • Chicken Feeders: spread out evenly and adjusted to chicken height
  • Chick Founts or automatic waterers: 3 per 100 chicks
  • Tube Feeders: 3 per 100 chicks
  • Drinkers: bell and nipple drinkers for water
  • Litter: white wood shavings or wheat straw are good options
  • Work suits: for people working in chicken runs
  • Gumboots: to protect your feet
  • Detergents and disinfectants: to clean houses
  • Thermometer: to measure temperature in house
  • Scale: to weigh your birds
Some places to buy poultry tools and supplies: PoltekJames North

Biosecurity

Once your chicken run is set up and equipped its time to consider biosecurity.

When we hear the word biosecurity some emerging farmers get intimidated. Biosecurity is not scary or just for large-scale operations.

We all need to implement biosecurity measures at our own scale to protect our investment and reduce the risk of disease spreading and wiping out our flock.

Biosecurity measures you can take:
  • Place a footbath with disinfectant at the front of the door of your coop
  • Encourage proper hand-washing and provide farm workers with hand sanitizers
  • Provide protective clothing (overalls) for farm workers
  • Set aside gumboots for the chicken runs
  • Don't allow or limit visitors to chicken house{fight the urge to show off your birds}
  • Provide visitors with boot covers
  • Clean and disinfect your coops (walls, ceiling, and equipment)
  • Set up semi-automated drinkers and tubular feeders
  • Set up brooder 
  • Provide deep, clean bedding 
  • Keep litter clean
  • Park away from poultry houses
  • Fence perimeter
  • Provide signage
  • Visit sick flock last
  • Control any pests (using flycatchers, rodent traps and securing holes)
  • Build concrete floors to limit dust 

Chick Pre-Arrival Checklist: 

Before you bring home your vaccinated chicks make sure that you are prepared. It is important to give your chick a good start. The first few days of a chick's life are critical.

Here is a chick pre-arrival checklist, to help you get started right:

broiler chick pre-arrival checklist

Selecting a Hatchery and Buying Your Chicks

Ask other farmers who have successfully raised broilers to recommend a good commercial hatchery in your area. A commercial hatchery generally has good quality chicks. 

Decide on the number of chicks you want for your first run and place your order. Make a note of your scheduled date of pick-up. Select chicks that are vaccinated, disease-free and not deformed. Starting with good quality chicks is important for your poultry survival rate. Double check your chick quality yourself before you leave. Note the number and weight of your chicks for your records.

Where you can buy chicks: Drummond Farms (Bulawayo); Masvingo Chicks;  Surrey Huku; Hukuru Chicks/ Charles Stewart

Brooding Your Chick

Why brood chicks?

Baby chicks need artificial brooding (heating) for the first days of their lives. They are unable to maintain their own body temperature without external support. In the natural setting the hen keeps the chicks warm.

Build a brooder: You need to build a brooder for your chicks. A brooder is a box where new chicks live during their early days. You can find a carpenter to make you a simple wooden brooder with high sides. Cover the brooder with wire mesh to protect your birds and keep them from flying out.  Cover the floor of your brooder with wood shavings or straw.The size of your brooder depends on the size of your flock.

First chick feeding: place your chicks in the brooder as soon as possible on arrival and close the door. Give your chicks broiler starter feed (crumbles) on the floor in a chick feed tray either immediately or within 3 hours of arrival. Also, give them warm water with a sweetener (sugar) for first few hours, to replenish chicks especially if they have travelled long distances.  Water helps them with feed consumption and reduces dehydration.


 Leave them for one hour to adjust to their new environment.

Check chicks every 4 to 6 hours for the first 24 hours.

Heat the Brooder: You need to have some sort of heat source for your birds, such as this infra-red lamp. A simple light bulb is not adequate to keep your chicks warm.  For the first 7 to 10 days of a chick's life they need to be kept warm (brooded). Heat is important  for preventing heat loss and death. Make sure that you select a heat source that doesn't cause a fire. Check on your chickens during the evening.

Chick Behavior: Chick behavior is important to monitor to determine chick comfort levels. Your chicks should be evenly spaced out in the brooder and have easy access to feed and water.

You can use a thermometer and visual clues to for signs of discomfort. If  your chicks are too loud it's a sign that they are too hot. If they are huddled  and sleeping in the feeders they are likely too cold. An even spread is a sign of comfort.

Adjust temperature and pay attention to any floor drafts. A good temperature is important for your chick growth and health.

Lighting: Chicks are attracted to light. They don't eat or drink in the dark. Lighting stimulates early feed intake in the first 7 days of  your chicks' lives. Provide chicks with even and continuous lighting in the early days. Recommended lighting is 23 hours on and 1 hour off. An option for frequent power outages is a solar powered henlight.

Lighting can be gradually reduced as chicks grow.

Ventilation: ventilation brings in fresh air and removes heat. The open sides of your run provide air flow into the coop and remove gases. Opening and closing coop curtains can help with ventilation when there is the wind. Make sure you have only ventilation but no cold drafts in the floor. In hot periods ventilation can be supplemented with evenly spread fans.


Weighing chicks: At day 7, weigh a sample of your chicks to see how they are growing. Your chicks' seven-day body weight is correlated with their market age weight. The target is for the seventh-day weight to be about four times their arrival weight.To weigh your chicks, get10 chicks weigh them to get their total weight and divide that number by 10. This will give you an idea of the average weight of your chicks.

Chicken Coop

Once the brooding stage is complete chicks need to be transitioned into the general chicken coop. This must be done carefully and gradually. Continue to maintain good spacing, feed, and water to continue growth.


Ventilation: Increase ventilation in the general coop to prevent build up of gases. Extreme heat causes chickens to have heat stress. When it's too hot chicks pant to try breathe better, but it is not always sufficient. You can help them manage heat stress with air, water, more space and not feed them when it's too hot.

Litter: Use good chicken litter like wood shavings or wheat straw on the coop floor. These materials absorb water well and are comfortable for your birds. Spread the litter evenly to a depth of  about 7.5 to 10cm.

Rake the litter weekly and top up litter over wet litter to keep birds comfortable.  Letting your manure build up causes your chicks to have health problems. Cleanliness is key to good chicken farming. Joel Salatin in "You Can Farm" states that a properly managed livestock housing facility does not smell. Smelling, he says, is a sign of mismanagement.

Feeding Your Broiler Chickens

Feed:Your broilers need high-quality feed to efficiently convert it into meat, and to meet their target market weight. Commercial feed makes up about 60% of your chicken farming budget. This is a significant portion of your costs.


Pay attention to how you mix your feed, and follow the supplier guidelines.

How to feed broilers: poultry feed comes in starter, grower and finisher forms. Broilers need different energy, protein and mineral  requirements depending on their stage of growth.
Follow the recommended feed schedules to provide your chickens with the right amount of nutrients at the appropriate growth stage.  If you attempt to reduce their feed intake from what is suggested you will reduce your profits as your chickens won't grow as much.

When to feed chickens: Provide feed in the early morning, evening and night. Adjust feeders to chicken height to ensure minimum spillage. Make sure that your feeders are filled regularly, but not overfilled.

Storing feed: If you are storing your feed long term place it in a cool, dry place to reduce spoilage due to mold and vitamin loss.

Water

Water is a critical and often overlooked part of chicken farming. Your broilers need clean water to digest food and rehydrate. They drink twice as much water as food consumed especially during hot periods.

Make sure have a good source of clean water that is easily accessible. Keep you water tank in a cool spot, or paint it white to keep it from overheating. Clean out drinkers and nipples regularly, they get dirty quickly.

Some places to buy feed and water tanks: National Foods, Profeeds, and Novatek. Check the classifieds and auction sites for water tanks. 


Health & Disease Prevention

The biosecurity measures described above are a good way to prevent or limit disease. Clean housing, feed, and ventilation are important in chicken farming. However, even when you follow good guidelines your birds can fall ill.

Broilers grow fast and sometimes their growth outstrips their bodily functions and they need help.

Some measure you can take to help:

Vaccinations: Check with your hatchery  for the vaccinations they have administered and for a recommended vaccine schedule. Chicks need to be vaccinated against common diseases like gumboro and Newcastle's disease. The vaccines are put in the water. Do not vaccinate sick birds.

It's important to recognize common diseases and make necessary adjustments to housing temperatures, spacing, biosecurity, water, and feed.

Here are 4 common diseases to watch out for:
  • Infectious Bursal Disease (gumburo)
  • Newcastle Disease
  • Infectious Bronchitis
  • Coccidiosis
Some signs that you birds are sick: weight loss, swelling, scaly legs, excessive scratching, sneezing, wheezing and coughing, blood in droppings and greenish watery droppings. Check with your extension agent or poultry vet. Fivet has some good advice on poultry diseases.

Isolate any sick chickens. Remove dead chickens immediately from the coop, and dispose of them properly. Wash hands after handling dead birds. Poultry disease when it spreads can wipe out your entire investment.

Make sure birds are getting adequate food and water. If you have high early mortality rates, check your transport and your hatchery and contact a poultry vet for proper diagnosis.

Your target is to keep our mortality rates at 1-2%. Vaccines can reduce risk, but good hygiene is much more important. Treatment only increases production costs  and is not always effective especially when overused.

Where to get vaccines: Fivet

Pre-processing

You need to manage the final stage of your growing operation so that your birds are transferred to your abattoir in optimum condition.

Step 1:  two to four days before you plan to process your chickens for slaughter return to 23 hours of lighting.  

Step 2:  withdraw feed 8-10 hours before processing and reduce lighting intensity. 


Step 3: raise drinkers above head height before catching birds.


Step 4: when transport is ready, birds should be captured and held with both their legs to minimize distress.  Leave farm as soon as chickens are loaded on to transportation.


Once your chicken flock has been removed. Remove and compost all litter from the shed and fully clean and disinfect chicken houses before your next batch. Allow 2-3 weeks between you bring in your next batch.

Marketing and Sales

Financial viability will be dependent on selling your chickens as soon as they reach market size. One of the mistakes newbie farmers make is to grow first, and market later. This is a costly mistake with broilers because it increases your feed costs. Before you buy your chicks you should be brainstorming and exploring where you are going to sell them.

Here are some options for where to sell your broilers:

Selling to Abbatoirs: You can sell your live chickens to an abattoir or directly to a butchery. Two examples of poultry abattoirs are Koala Park Butchery & Abbatoir and Surrey

Direct Live or Slaughter Bird Sales: You can sell your live birds or dressed chickens directly to individuals or traders. You need to qualify your buyers before you sell to them especially on credit to make sure you get paid.


Contract Farming: Surrey, Drummond and Irvine's do contract farming.  Ask other farmers about their experience before picking a contractor.  When you are ready, contact the contractor you are interested in working with directly for their contract requirements.


Fully read and understand the contract terms. In a typical arrangement, you are responsible for the poultry housing, tools, labor, and litter. This can require a significant capital investment. The contractor will provide you with day old chicks, feed, transport, vaccines, medication and cleaning supplies. Assess the pros and cons for your specific situation.

Budget & Recordkeeping

One super easy way to estimate your costs is the use Profeeds' calculator.

This is an awesome tool that calculates all the costs that you will incur when raising your batch of broilers.

Some of your costs will include:
  • Day old chicks
  • Stockfeed (starter, grower and finisher)
  • Litter
  • Energy bills  (heating and lighting)
  • Labour
  • Processing fees
  • Transport
It is important to keep good records throughout your growing cycle. Good record keeping even if it's just writing everything down in an exercise book is the key to profitability and recognizing and correcting problems.

Next steps:

Consider joining the Zimbabwe Poultry Association: this is the group that lobbies on behalf of chicken farmers and poultry related companies.

It keeps members updated on developments (market prices; feed costs etc) in the industry. It's not enough to grumble about illegal imports. Collective action can help educate consumers and government about the health and economic impact of imported expired chickens on domestic industry.

Let's stop "winging" it! Read up, get educated, take a practical training course and then get started.

Contact us and sign up to our email list to receive this Emerging Farmer's Quick Start Guide to Raising Broilers in Zimbabwe as a pdf.

Images: Poltek/ Amazon




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