Starting a small poultry business can be a very profitable venture. To run a small poultry farm you do not need lots of labour – just dedication and will. Small chicken houses are easily available in South Africa. Just make sure you buy from someone involved in poultry houses and equipment – not some guy who puts up steel sheds – these structures are quite specific to poultry farming and if you are going to spend money get the right equipment and structure!
You will need to decide whether you want to raise chickens for eating – called broilers, or raise chickens to lay eggs – called layers. Both forms are fairly easy to manage and with the food industry growing you will likely make a good profit. You can see a walk through video of a government funded small farmer production unit here. This is a typical small broiler unit – easy to put up and perfect if you want to dip your toes into the poultry farming business. One person can easily manage and run a chicken house this size – and handle all the marketing and sales.
Broiler house for producing chicken meat
Broiler houses will need poultry equipment to feed and water the birds. Depending on how lazy you are – you might want to put in a nipple drinking system and a chain feeding system (although these poultry systems are usually for larger chicken houses) If you plan to do up to 1000 birds then bell drinkers and tube feeders will suffice. This is the most popular form of chicken farming and has the lowest entry level costs – as well as the quickest return on investment. You will sell your broilers every 6 weeks to 8 weeks. You will need to find a slaughter house or a chicken processing company to handle the fully grown birds. This will all need to be done long before they are ready for sale – otherwise you will end up with a bunch of chickens that need feeding and watering for no extra profit. Once the birds reach their optimum weight they need to be sold ASAP.
Laying house for egg production
This kind of poultry farming requires a fair amount of capital – and your returns will take longer to come – you will need to have a farm that produces a fair amount of eggs to make any kind of serious money – although if you are doing hens for eggs at home or for your neighbours it is really a satisfying way of farming. You also avoid the whole slaughtering process – which if you are like me, is very distasteful. Maybe I am squeamish – but raising a flock of chickens only to kill them kinda goes against my grain – certainly not the type of farming if you have any kind of heart. For a laying house you will need to decide whether or not to use layer cages – very controversial as they are not considered animal friendly. If you decide against layer cages, which is a kind thing to do – or if you are doing free range or organic chickens then you will need to put in nest boxes. These are made from galvanised steel and they are a place for the hens to lay eggs. They make you life easy because there are only so many places to collect eggs from – and they stop the eggs from being broken when they lie around. If you cannot afford nest boxes – they are fairly pricey – then use old paint buckets or plastic drums – just make sure that they are properly cleaned first. Mount them off of the floor – hens prefer a dark place that is off the ground to lay eggs – you will need one bucket per 5 hens for these home made laying boxes. You will need to think about packaging – egg boxes etc. and about weighing the eggs so you can grade them These are details that I did not look at too closely when I started my free range farm. As the eggs started to flow I had to scramble to get my ducks in a row.
What ever your choice - starting a small poultry farm will make you a profit. If you are an emerging farmer looking to start a small chicken farm you will probably be able to access government funding. Starting a chicken farm may seem daunting when you first look into it – but in fact the principles of chicken farming are very simple – and if you follow them religiously you will have no problems at all. Like all businesses there are pit falls – but in chicken farming these pitfalls come in the form of marketing, suppliers and customers – not in the actual farming itself. You would do well to visit the poultry forum where you will be able to talk to other small South African poultry farmers. There are also suppliers and customers who use the chicken website to ply their trade. The most useful aspect of the website though, is they ability to ask other farmers questions about chicken farming – and they are really helpful.