Poultry farming is one of the most widely practised forms of farming globally. That is because it does not involve a lot for poultry rearing to succeed. Many rural households in the world have some form of poultry in their homesteads. With the growing demand for poultry and its products, educating people on the recommended practices for this critical venture has become crucial.
Poultry farming practices have improved with new technological advancements. The modern poultry farmer has advanced in the ways of poultry farming. That is because many have come to view the rearing of poultry as an income-generating activity as opposed to a subsistence one. With this farming increasingly being a good source of food and extra household income, people need to know about the best methods of practising poultry farming.
Read this article to learn most of what you need to know about poultry farming. You will learn about organic and conventional poultry farming for both eggs and meat. At the tail end of this article, we will answer the most frequently asked questions about poultry farming.
Table of Contents
- Definition of Poultry
- Methods of Poultry Farming
- Techniques of Poultry Farming
- 1. Egg-Laying Poultry Farming Techniques
- 2. Meat-Production Poultry Farming Techniques
- Benefits of Poultry Farming in Kenya
- Challenges Facing Poultry Farming in Kenya
- Emerging Issues in Poultry Farming
- FAQs About Poultry Farming
- Final Thoughts
Definition of Poultry
Poultry refers to domesticated birds that are kept in homesteads or farms. Chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, geese, and turkey are the most common types of birds found on most farms. However, pheasants, quail, and ostriches have also increasingly become popular with most large-scale farmers. Among all domesticated birds, chickens form the bulk of the population, with over 90% of all bird farming being chicken. In this article, poultry farming will be interchangeably used with chicken farming to mean the same thing.
Methods of Poultry Farming
The following are the methods of chicken farming practised in Kenya:
1. Intensive farming
As the name suggests, intensive chicken farming means high poultry stocks in limited space. It is a method used to utilize resources like space, labour, and feeds. It is aimed at maximizing production with the least expenditure. Experts estimate that over 75% of all poultry products are produced through this method. Most of the farmers who practise this system of chicken farming are large-scale farmers, whose main objective is income generation. It is the method that creates almost all employment opportunities in the poultry sector.
2. Free-range farming
The free-range method of chicken farming is the opposite of intensive farming. Here, the birds have more space and are less strained in their movements. The method is mostly practised in small homesteads and households since it is less demanding. However, the farmer has less control over the birds, and this may negatively affect the final production of the farm. Free-range birds have one distinct advantage over intensive birds in that disease outbreaks are easily controlled and managed and the farmers suffer fewer losses when these outbreaks occur.
Techniques of Poultry Farming
The techniques used by farmers in the rearing of poultry depend mostly on the size of the farm, and the method of poultry farming practised. To simplify the techniques used in chicken farming, this article will separate the techniques used into two main categories of egg-laying birds and meat-producing birds.
1. Egg-Laying Poultry Farming Techniques
The following are the main techniques used in egg production in chicken farming:
A. Free-range system
The free-range system is whereby the birds are free to roam around large areas during the day and then confined during the night in shelters. The night confinements are mostly done to protect the birds from predators and adverse weather conditions. In most countries, there are minimum conditions that are set by the authorities for laid eggs to qualify as free-range eggs. For example, most agricultural authorities stipulate that the egg-laying hens should have unlimited open-area runs during the day and that the bird population should not exceed 1000 per hectare.
The only daytime confinement allowed in free-range poultry farming is the one imposed by vets. Such confinement should also be for a limited period after which the confinement should end. These strict conditions are imposed on farmers so that eggs produced using the other methods, mostly the intensive methods, do not pass for free-range eggs. That is because the demand for free-range eggs is constantly increasing and the consumers should be protected from unscrupulous farmers.
The benefit of free-range poultry farming is that birds can keep their natural behaviour like pecking, foraging, scratching, and exercising outdoors. Eggs produced through this system are also said to be healthier than the ones produced using intensive methods. The farmer also uses less feed on free-range birds.
Although this system has a lot of benefits, especially for the farmer, there are some drawbacks. The biggest concerns are the exposure of the birds to predators and also the lack of control during disease outbreaks. There is also the size of the space required o keep birds under this system, which is more than most people have, especially beginner poultry farmers.
B. Free-run system
The free-run poultry farming system can be said to be a restricted free-range system. That is because the egg-laying hens are free to roam around but in a restricted and enclosed area. Although the birds are freer to move around, they are still enclosed. The housing also provides for chicken structures like laying boxes and bird perches on the floor of the structure.
Free-run poultry systems are considered better for the bird than the cage systems since the birds are not movement-restricted, hence better exercise means better health for the birds. The system also improves the control of the birds in case of disease outbreaks as compared to the free-range system.
The downside of this system is that the increased activity of the birds means the structure has increased dust levels, which leads to poor air quality. Poor air quality leads to reduced production levels since the health of the bird is adversely affected. The saturated environment is also a health risk to the caretakers of the birds.
C. Yarding system
The yarding poultry farming system is a limited free-range system. That is because, in this system, the birds are free to roam during the day and kept inside structures at night. The difference is that whereas the space in the free-range system is unlimited, the space in the yarding system is limited by a fence. It can be said to be the system practised by those who wish to practice a free-range system but have limited space. Since the space is limited in this system, it means that the birds will also be limited, and hence the eggs produced.
The yarding system offers the farmer improved control over the birds, especially in cases of diseases, but it can also be complicated especially when the hens have roosters for fertilizing the eggs. That is because roosters are aggressive and too many of them in a limited space may cause severe fights, which may result in injuries.
D. Battery cage system
The battery cage poultry farming system is an intensive method of egg production. It is a widely used system in many large-scale farms. In this system, small meshed cages which can house one to three birds are built in rows with sloped floors to allow the chicken droppings to drop to the floor. Food for the birds is provided in the front of the birds using bisected metal semi-circle plastic pipes. Water is served using an overhead nipple system. When the eggs are laid, they are collected in a conveyor belt of the cage.
The cages are built in multiple rows on the same structure, which means that one structure can hold thousands of birds. In addition, the light in the cages is kept at a minimum to avoid pecking among the birds.
The battery cage poultry farming system has some distinct advantages over the free-range systems. These advantages are:
- The system provides an easier way to care for the birds in case of diseases.
- It is easy to collect the eggs.
- The eggs are safe from bird-related damages.
- Less feed is used for maximum production.
- It requires less space.
- The birds are free from internal parasites.
- It is not labour intensive hence low labour costs.
Although the battery cage poultry farming system has many advantages, especially for the farmer, it comes with several shortcomings. These shortcomings are:
- The birds don’t have adequate breathing air due to the accumulation of carbon dioxide within the structures.
- The birds are not free to perform their normal activities like the flapping of wings, movement, scratching, or perching.
- The birds may develop aggressive behaviour due to frustrations and boredom.
- The system is banned in some countries since it is considered cruel to the birds.
E. Furnished cage system
The furnished cage poultry farming system can be said to be an improved form of the cage system. That is because the cages are modified to allow for the natural behaviour of the birds while maintaining the advantages of the caged system. In this system, the birds can move around, flap their wings, scratch, and perch. The system is designed with enlarged cages to mitigate the negative effects of smaller cages. The furnished cage poultry farming system is usually practised in those countries which have banned the conventional cage system.
The furnished cage system allows for better health for the birds, especially good bone development since the birds have increased activities. The birds have reduced aggression toward each other and also the eggs produced are of a higher quality and are cleaner.
Although this system improves on the conventional cage system, it also has its drawbacks. One of the main disadvantages is that the birds may experience skeletal weaknesses since they use large amounts of calcium to make the eggshells. That may lead to bone breakages especially when the birds are removed from the cages after the egg-laying period.
F. Organic system
The organic poultry farming system can also be practised in egg-laying birds. Organic systems are also free-range systems, with stricter controls on the density of the bird population, medications used for diseases, and the type of food given to the birds. The main difference between organic egg production and free-range systems is that while the farmer in free-range systems can feed the birds any kind of food and use antibiotics for the control and treatment of diseases, an organic farmer is only allowed to feed the birds organic food and antibiotics are not allowed, unless in extreme emergencies.
The organic food given to the birds should be grown through organic methods, with no synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. The organic feeds should only be sourced from certified organic farmers. Organic feeds should also not contain any animal by-products as part of the ingredients.
For the birds to be considered organic, they must have unrestricted access to open areas during the day, with confinement in structures done only during the night. Also, the only time an organic egg farmer can use antibiotics is when there is an outbreak of diseases, which should be recorded together with the kind of antibiotics used.
With many people considering organically produced eggs as the healthier alternative, the organic farm should be certified by the relevant authorities before being allowed to sell the eggs as organic products. That is because there is a need to protect consumers from products that may be labelled as organic while they fall short of the requirements.
In Kenya, the leading organic farming brand is the Biozone range products. These products have been tested, certified, and approved to be 100% organic. The Layers Pro-BFB is the ultimate food concentrate for the modern organic egg-producing farmer. The product is rich in probiotics and enzymes which are the best for egg production. The main advantages of the product are:
- Increased calcium retention hence better egg quality.
- Increased egg production and hatchability.
- A source of vitamins and digestive enzymes.
- Reduces early bird mortality rates.
- Helps in the digestion and absorption of food, hence better health for the birds.
2. Meat-Production Poultry Farming Techniques
The following are the main types of meat (broiler) poultry farming techniques:
A. Indoor technique
The indoor technique is the widely used type of broiler chicken production. That is because it accounts for over 85% of all the chicken meat on the market. Unlike the cages used for intensive egg production, broilers are raised in large open structures, with some structures holding thousands of birds at the same time. Broiler birds are selectively bred for rapid growth and development, with most sales done when the birds are between five and nine weeks old. At that age, the birds should weigh between two and four kilograms.
The floor of the production houses is littered with wood shavings, rice hulls, or peanut shells. The houses also have systems that deliver feed and water to the birds. They are also well ventilated, with lighting systems to provide heat for the birds during the first week of growth. The farmer will receive the broiler chicks from the hatcheries when they are one day old, and keep them for 5-9 weeks depending on the required weight.
The recommended space for broiler birds is 1.5 square feet per bird, with the birds decreasing according to the weight requirements. The food for broilers is mostly made of corn and soybeans, with an addition of the required vitamins and minerals. Farmers should note that feeding broiler birds growth-enhancing hormones is prohibited in many countries. Unscrupulous farmers may be tempted to feed the bird’s growth enhancers and steroids to hasten the growth process and cut costs, but that is not only unethical also but poses health risks to the final consumer of the broiler meat.
Although many bird meat farmers employ this system profitably, it has some drawbacks, especially where the birds are concerned. The first shortcoming is the pollution of the air by ammonia from the droppings. It causes the floor of the structure to be hotter than normal which may cause burns to the bird’s legs. The other shortcoming is the level of distortions of the legs and pelvis of these birds. That happens because these birds are selectively bred for faster growth, which means their feeble legs cannot support their body eight. These birds are also at risk of heart and lung diseases due to rapid weight gain. Many of the birds die out of this complication before they are sold.
B. High welfare indoor system
The high welfare indoor poultry farming system is an improvement on the indoor system. Just like the furnished cage system improves the cage system in the egg-laying birds, the high welfare indoor poultry farming system is designed to mitigate the effects of the indoor system on the meat-producing birds. In this system, the birds have a larger space and a richer environment that allows proper movement and perching.
Although birds under a high welfare poultry farming system take longer to mature than the ones in the intensive indoor system, animal welfare associations recommend the method more than the other one. That is because, under this system, the birds are less crowded and have more opportunities for normal bird behaviour.
C. Free-range system
The free-range poultry farming system can also be applied for meat production. For the birds to be considered truly free-range, each bird should have more than one square meter. The broilers under this system take longer to reach the market weight since the feeding is not intensive. The benefits of this system are that the birds have the opportunity to practice their natural behaviour like flapping, perching, foraging, pecking, and scratching. The birds are also healthier with stronger legs and fewer disease attacks.
Broiler birds from a free-range poultry farming system have tastier meat, which is more appealing to many consumers. That is because the meat is studier and firmer due to the delayed growth and development.
D. Organic broiler production system
An organic poultry farming system can also be used in meat-producing birds. It is a system that has gained popularity in recent times due to consumers’ preferences. Many people around the world are moving from conventionally produced food to organic foods. That is because of the growing concerns over health issues associated with conventional production processes. To be certified as an organic farmer, you have to meet strict requirements.
The process of organic poultry farming for the production of meat starts immediately after the birds have been hatched and delivered to the farm. The farmer should select the breed which best suits the climatic conditions of the farm. It is very important to match the climate with the birds selected since different breeds thrive in different conditions.
The feeding approach for organic birds is one of the most important for the product to be considered truly organic. Organic broiler birds should be fed on purely organic feeds from certified organic farmers. Synthetic feeds, growth hormones, animal by-products, and feeds containing other inorganic materials are prohibited. That means any feeds for the broiler birds should be certified as organic.
The next step in certification for organic production of broiler birds is health care. The use of antibiotics to treat or prevent diseases is prohibited unless there is an outbreak. Organic regulations stress the need to prevent diseases through the adoption of practices that do not expose the birds to diseases. A clean environment, good sanitation, biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of diseases, and reduction of stress for the birds are the encouraged practices. An organic poultry farming system to produce meat can use allowed vaccines to prevent known diseases as long as the vaccines are not genetically modified.
The living conditions of broiler birds are the other determinant in organic farming. The birds should have unlimited access to the outdoors, with only shelter for the night and during bad weather conditions. The birds should be free to adopt and practice natural behaviour like pecking, flapping, perching, and exercises. Any confinement done to the birds after the brooding period of four weeks should be documented and the reasons thereof explained.
Proper record-keeping is also an essential part of organic poultry farming in meat production. The farmer should document their adherence to organic practices to create confidence for the final consumers. Records should be kept of the source of the birds, the source of feeds, preventive health care practices, production, and sales records. These records are important in the certification of any product as truly organic.
In Kenya, the best-known brand in organic farming is Biozone. The Biozone products have been certified as truly organic and have been used by countless farmers. For organic poultry farming in broilers, the Broilers Pro-BFB is the best food and food supplement for meat producers. It has the following benefits:
- To improve and reduce feed costs.
- To improve body weight.
- Breaks Anti- Nutritional Factors and makes nutrients.
- Phosphorus is available in the intestine.
- Improves the quality of the litter.
- Lactic Acid and acidic pH are created in the intestine.
- Competitive inhibition and exclusion of harmful Pathogens.
- Good source of B-vitamins and certain digestive enzymes.
- Protease and Lipase for optimum digestion and absorption of feed.
- Immunostimulation by activation of at least three specific antibodies.
- An unfavourable atmosphere aids in the reduction in E.Coli Salmonella,
- Staphylococcus sp count.
- Reduces the incidence of early chick mortality.
- Improves Feed Conversion Ratio. Due to better enzyme activity weight gain in broilers is better achieved.
- Improved Resistance to diseases.
- Minimizes stress due to various kinds; de-beaking, vaccination, and summer stress.
Benefits of Poultry Farming in Kenya
The following are the benefits associated with poultry farming in Kenya:
- Chicken is a good source of proteins and therefore makes a good source of food for many families in Kenya.
- Poultry farming provides a source of money for many chicken farmers in Kenya. It helps improve their standards of living.
- Poultry farming is also a source of employment for many people, especially in rural areas.
- Kenya exports poultry products hence a good source of foreign exchange.
Challenges Facing Poultry Farming in Kenya
The following are the challenges that poultry farmers face in Kenya:
- Disease outbreaks are the major challenges many poultry farmers face, especially those practising intensive farming systems. In case of an outbreak, many chickens die hence making the farmers lose their investments.
- Poor infrastructure in the poultry farming areas makes farmers not earn fair prices for their birds and products.
- Poultry feeds and medicines are very expensive and therefore out of the reach of many farmers, especially small-scale farmers.
Emerging Issues in Poultry Farming
The following are some of the issues that farmers and stakeholders should address in poultry farming:
- Animal welfare. The issue of poultry welfare is a point of contention in many quarters. Many animal rights advocates raise issues about how poultry is reared and how they are slaughtered for the market. That has been the reason why many counties have banned the use of some intensive poultry farming methods like the cage system in egg production. Many countries are also advising their farmers to move towards better methods of poultry farming like free-range systems and organic methods.
- Beak trimming. There are also questions raised about the suitability of beak trimming in poultry. The supporters of the practice claim that it is necessary to reduce pecking, aggression, and cannibalism. Opponents of the practice claim that it causes chronic pain to the birds as well as problems in eating and drinking. Animal activists claim that it is inhumane to have the beaks trimmed, especially when the birds are older.
- Antibiotic treatments. The use of antibiotics in prevention and disease treatment in poultry is another contagious issue. Experts argue that antibiotics make birds reach market weight faster, lay more eggs, and reduce chick mortality. The use of antibiotics is vital, especially for large-scale farmers where disease outbreaks mean exponential losses. However, many consumers are gradually moving towards organically produced poultry products. That is because there are health risk concerns raised in conventionally produced poultry and its products.
- Growth hormones. Many countries have banned the use of growth hormones in poultry production. It is considered unethical to feed poultry growth hormones or feeds that contain such hormones. Rapid growth in chickens, especially broilers is attributed to their selective breeding and not growth hormones.
- E. coli and other bacteria. There has been a growing concern that some bacteria can be passed from poultry to the consumers of the products. Although these concerns have not been proved to be entirely true, it is always recommended to thoroughly cook all poultry products before consumption.
- Bird flu. The avian flu, commonly referred to as bird flu has been said to spread quickly in intensive chicken farms. That means that people near those farms are at risk of the flu, hence a risk to the general public health. It is one of the reasons that has forced many counties to ban some forms of intensive poultry farming systems.
- Economic factors. It has been proven that there are factors that affect poultry farming that are beyond the farmers’ control. For example, increases in maize and soybeans, the main ingredients of chicken feeds can adversely affect poultry production. That means production, especially on the large-scale farms will be negatively affected leading to poor profits for the farmers.
- Bird mortality. Intensive poultry farming comes with many challenges, one of them being high bird mortality. Bird deaths cause huge losses, especially to large-scale farmers. But the issue with bird deaths is the disposal of the carcasses. Different types of carcass disposal like burial, compositing, and incineration have given rise to environmental concerns. Environmentalists claim that these disposal methods pollute the surrounding soil and underground water systems. That is why the burial of bird carcasses in pits is discouraged or banned in many countries. Farmers are forced to construct or buy disposal equipment, which is an extra cost.
- Predators. Bird predation is another issue that affects poultry farming. That is because farmers have to take extreme measures, usually at huge costs to keep the predators away from the birds. The most common bird predators are foxes, weasels, birds of prey, raccoons, skunks, rodents, snakes, and pet dogs. When building the poultry housing structures, farmers should put the necessary preventative measures in place.
- Workers health. The workers in poultry farming farms are exposed to a lot of health challenges. The poultry structures have high concentrations of carbon dioxide and ammonia gasses. The majority of the workers are exposed to respiratory diseases to prolonged exposure to the harmful gasses.
FAQs About Poultry Farming
Which is more profitable between broiler and layer farming?
Many people ask which is more profitable between broiler farming and layer farming. It is not simple to categorically say which is more profitable, but experts say that layers will be more profitable than broilers in the long run. But the profitability will start after the layers have started laying the eggs. The layer birds can also be sold for meat after the laying period, albeit at a lower price.
Is poultry farming profitable?
The profitability of poultry farming is also a concern for many people, especially for those who wish to start. Poultry farming is a profitable and lucrative venture, but it requires commitment and dedication, especially when you are starting. But before the profits start coming in, you should be prepared to invest heavily, especially if you want to practice large-scale farming.
How do I start a poultry farming business?
Many ask how to go about starting a profitable poultry business. There are a few steps you have to follow before your venture is successful. The following are the steps to follow:
– The first step is to identify the type of bird to keep. You can choose between broilers and layers.
– The second step is to select a suitable farm site. The site of your farm will determine how successful your venture will be.
– The third step is to put up a good housing structure for your birds. The kind of structure will depend on the type of farming you want to practice and the number of birds you want to start with.
– The fourth step is to prepare the feeds and medications for the birds. Commercial birds need proper feeds for growth and development. They also need medications to cure or prevent diseases.
– Marketing and sales are the last steps for poultry farmers. The broiler birds mature and are ready for the market in five to eight weeks. That means the farmer should start looking for the market immediately after the birds come to the farm.
Poultry farming is a profitable venture and a good source of livelihood, especially for unemployed people. That is because it will take little start-up costs to start and generate good profits. When starting, you should decide between the free-range and the intensive methods. The free-range method is the most recommended for starters while the intensive method is for large-scale farmers.
Some are going for the organic methods of poultry farming. These methods have gained momentum as people worry about the health concerns related to conventionally produced poultry products. Organic farmers sell their products at a higher price than conventional farmers at lesser production costs. That makes organic poultry farming worthwhile and a good starting point for new farmers.
For organic farmers, it is good to have a trusted brand of organic products that will help you achieve your desired goals. In Kenya, the best organic brand is Biozone. The Biozone range of products has been certified to be 100% organic and the best in all types of farming. Hopefully, this article will help poultry farmers, especially the starters, to make sound decisions as they start their new ventures.