Keeping Backyard Chickens: Emerging Farmer's Guide to Raising Roadrunner Chickens for Profit

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Raising Roadrunner Chickens in Africa

Growing up we kept indigenous free range chickens in our backyard. My siblings and I enjoyed chasing after them and watching them freely roam the yard. It was fascinating how they would constantly be foraging naturally for bugs and seeds on the ground. As soon as the sun went down they would go seek shelter in the coop we built for them and stay there until morning. I have found that they are such happy chickens. It must be all the vitamin D from being out in the sun.

They are many good reasons why you should consider raising indigenous chickens (roadrunners):

First, it is unlikely that you'll find a cheaper, easier and more efficient animal to raise than the indigenous chicken. It can be raised to produce meat, eggs or both under simple conditions. You do not need to go into debt to get started with roadrunners.

Second, because they are bred for our local conditions they are less susceptible to diseases. Breeds like Boschveld chickens are resilient, dual-purpose (meat and eggs) and can withstand various climatic conditions. This can reduce your costs for antibiotics and total losses.

Third, there is a growing interest in eating more roadrunners as consumers develop an interest in good health and wellness.  I personally appreciate this more now that I have grown older and become more health conscious.  Roadrunners are not injected with routine antibiotics or growth hormones to make them grow faster or to fight disease. They are the ultimate organic chicken, much healthier to eat.

Fourth, they taste so much better than broiler chickens especially the unnatural imported chickens. The main challenge though for most consumers is how to cook them? I've found that the best way to cook roadrunner meat is to leave it in a slow cooker for at least 5 hours to avoid the meat getting too chewy.

Lastly, chicken manure is great for your other crops. This makes raising roadrunners a great complementary farming activity. The manure is high in nitrogen and when well aged it will help boost your plants.

Choosing and Buying Your Indigenous Chickens

To get started with chicken you need to get your chicks. When you are choosing which breeds of 'roadrunner' chicks you are going to choose you need to know if you want to raise chickens for meat, eggs or both. Some breeds you will find that are adapted to our local climate include Boschveld, Rhode Island Red, Australop, New Hampshire, White Leghorn and Koekoeks.

You can order day-old chicks from a reputable hatchery or poultry supplier like Novatek. Most suppliers sell them for about $95/100 mixed gender chicks.

When you purchase your chicks, look for chicks that are healthy and in good condition. Don't take a deal on any sick chicks, it won't be worth it in the long run. Your chicks should also be vaccinated against common chicken diseases such as New Castle's Disease (NCD).

Chicken Housing

Before you run out and buy your chicks you need to build a chicken coop for when you bring home your chicks. You should also clean up the coop before your chicks arrive. The basic needs of your free-range poultry include fresh air, water, light, darkness, thermal environment, space and protection from predators. While roadrunners mostly live outdoors they do need housing to protect them from the rain, when it's night time and for their general security from predators and thieves.

When your chicks arrive they will need a brooder, which is a special home that provides warmth, light and comfort for your chicks. Chicks need to be kept warm as they grow. You can check in the city or in the classifieds for a brooder or get your own made by a carpenter. The brooder should have an infra-red heat lamp, a chick feeder, a chick waterer and a thick layer of bedding (wood shavings). The waterer needs to be the right size so that birds do not drown in it.

Check on your chicks at least three times a day during the brooding period and when it's cold. Chickens do a poor job of regulating their own temperature. You need to check their behaviour to see if you need to adjust the conditions in the brooder. If they are too cold, they will huddle together, and if they are too hot they will stay at the edges of the brooder away from the heat lamp. Your chicks should stay in the brooder for their first six weeks. You can read more about brooders and chicks in our guide to broiler chickens.

When the chickens reach 6 weeks, you can transition them to the larger coop. Your coop should be large enough to give your birds adequate space so they are not overcrowded. The recommended spacing in your coop is 10 birds per square foot. Your coop should also have good ventilation. Place a thick layer of bedding in your coop. You should replace and add extra bedding (wood shavings) as it gets wet. To keep your coop warm in the winter you can line the edges of your coop with stacks of hay. If you care for your flock properly it will thrive and you will soon have chicks roaming around everywhere.

I remember we used to make cool nesting boxes for the hens to lay their eggs in. This is a fun activity that even kids can help with. Fill the nesting boxes with straw. The nests make collecting eggs a couple of times a day that much easier than having eggs all over the place.

Feeding you Chickens

You should keep your baby chicks in the brooder on deep bedding before going to pasture (grass). Give your new chicks starter feed and water to get them started off right.

Though they do find their own feed (plants and insects) it helps to give them supplemental feed if you want to make them grow faster and healthier. On our farm, we make our own chicken feed. The feed is cereal feed made up of maize meal, wheat, and minerals. We supplement the feed with commercial feed (starter and grower) that we buy from agricultural suppliers so they can get their complete nutrients.

All life needs water so if you don’t have nearby water sources for them to drink freely it is important to provide water for them. Breeding hens need all the water they can drink.

When they reach six weeks you should switch them to grower feed. Your feeders and waterers should be evenly spread out inside the coop so all your chickens have easy access to them. For layers, you need to provide them with layer feed when they reach laying stage, at about 21 weeks. Also, remember to always provide a constant supply of clean, cool water for your chickens.

Chicken Health

Check with your hatchery or supplier that your birds have been vaccinated against common chicken diseases like New Castle's Disease (NCD), coccidiosis and infectious bronchitis. Also, request a vaccination schedule. Watch your chickens and if you see any signs of disease and isolate any sick chickens. You can adjust conditions in the coop to try and address your chickens' comfort. Regular deworming may also be necessary since free-range chickens are susceptible to intestinal worms. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling sick chickens.

Processing Your Chickens

You can process your own chickens on your farm or in your backyard. You don't need any special equipment. The first step is carefully catching them, then slaughtering them using a sharp knife and then scalding them in hot water to then hand pluck and process them. This is not easy emotionally but is part of the process of getting your chickens to market.

Selling Your Chickens

Look at the menus and establishments in your area to get an idea if this will be a good fit for your free-range chickens. Restaurants and hotels that promote local (Zimbo) cuisine are a good start. Other options are catering businesses, supermarkets, and butcheries. You can advertise your chickens on websites that target those customers.

Kundai is the co-founder at Emerging Farmer and an award-winning farmer and entrepreneur.

Disclaimer: while Emerging Farmer does everything to ensure the accuracy of our guides, it is important to contact an agronomist or your Agritex officer for accurate recommendations for your farm. Emerging farmer takes no responsibility for any losses or damage incurred due to information in this guide.

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