How much does a typical two-chicken house grower earn in a year?
Chickens in extensive and semi-intensive poultry production systems account for more than 75% of all poultry in the South. Owned by smallholders in rural areas, these birds provide food security and family income and play an important role in socio-cultural events.
Poultry is an important farm species in almost all countries. It is an important source of animal protein, and can be raised in situations with limited feed and housing resources. Chickens are ‘wasteconverters’: they ‘convert’ a scavenged feed resource base into animal protein. They are therefore by far the most important species for generating income for rural families.
People raise chickens all around the world under widely varying circumstances. Their main objective is generally the same: maximum production for minimum costs and with minimum risks.
The two main forms of keeping small-scale chicken are small-scale subsistence farming and commercial farming. If poultry is mainly kept for home consumption of eggs and meat, costs and effort can be kept to a minimum. But for a poultry enterprise to be successful, it must have a reliable market for its products and a steady supply of reasonably priced quality feed. It is important that feed resources are locally available.
This Agrodok refers mainly to semi-intensive farming. It can help beginners and experienced poultry raisers to solve problems that come up. Its focus is on keeping layers. Keeping broiler poultry presents different problems and requires particular expertise. Nevertheless, some attention will be paid to keeping cocks as these have to be fattened too.
All over the world, more than 300 breeds of the domestic chicken species (Gallus domesticus) exist. We distinguish three main categories of chicken breeds: pure commercial breeds, hybrid breeds resulting from cross-breeding, and local breeds or land races.
We can roughly divide commercial breeds according to their main production aim:
- egg laying, mainly with lightweight laying breeds or layers
- meat production, mainly by heavyweight breeds or broilers
- both egg-laying and meat production by so-called dual-purpose breeds.
Layer, broiler and dual purpose breeds can be distinguished according to their shape.
Commercial and hybrid breeds
A well known lightweight layer breed is the White Leghorn (figure 3). White Leghorns are known for laying lots of white eggs. They need less feed, due to their small size. White Leghorns are therefore very efficient layers. At the end of the laying period they give relatively little meat.
Some heavier layer breeds are meatier and still lay many eggs. These are hence fit for dual-purpose production. These chickens lay brown eggs and usually have brown feathers, but this can vary per breed. We mention the brown-coloured Rhode Island Red (figure 4) and the light-brown New Hampshire. These are kept for both meat and egg production and can hence be categorized as dual purpose breeds. Heavier dual-purpose breeds are very suited to small-scale chicken raising in the tropics. They are usually sturdier than the light breeds.
Medium-weight and heavy chicken breeds are raised for meat production. Cocks of medium-weight chicken breeds can also be kept for slaughtering. Breeds like White Cornish and White Plymouth Rock are important meat producer breeds and hence better suited as pure broiler chickens.
These heavier birds have more muscle. They grow fast and can quickly reach a high slaughter weight. This requires plenty of high quality feed. It requires special skills to keep this in good supply and balance.
Hybrids or cross-breeds result from combining special lines or strains of chickens developed for this purpose with e.g. a local breed. The hybrids are more productive. In countries in the South, cross-breeding between pure breeds is also common, e.g. White Leghorn crossed with Rhode Island Red. Nowadays hybrid breeds have become very common.
If you want to breed your own stock of chickens, you cannot go on using the hybrid breeds, as their high productivity will go down. You can only get high production with hybrid layers if you buy chickens regularly. It is therefore advisable to use local breeds, which are often much cheaper to keep. Another advantage of local chicken breeds is that they are better adapted to local conditions and are less susceptible to diseases than the more fragile hybrids. Local breeds are usually lighter in weight and have smaller eggs than those of hybrid breeds. Local breeds can be distinguished according to their appearance.
However, local chickens are far less productive in terms of egg numbers. In rural areas, local chickens lay about 50 eggs per year, while hybrids can lay 250-270 eggs a year under favourable conditions. On the other hand, local breeds make better use of waste material than hybrid chickens do, so they are more suitable for keeping around the house.
This booklet discusses various factors influencing egg production and methods for improving it, with the aim of reaching medium to high production levels.
Important factors when choosing the best breed of chickens for your situation are: price, market situation, experience, farm management, local preference and availability.
The price will determine your choice. Modern hybrids are very expensive. They also need very good care and high quality, balanced feed to be productive. Local breeds are cheaper and better adapted to local conditions. With adequate care, they are reasonably productive. However, if you want to raise chickens on a larger scale and decide to buy balanced feed, it is better to choose the more expensive hybrids.
It is important to consider the local market situation. Medium-weight hybrids should only be chosen if there is a good market for eggs and meat and a steady supply of good, balanced chicken-feed. If you want to concentrate on selling eggs, consider buying lighter, white layers. In all other situations, the heavier, usually brown breeds would be a better choice. If you live far from a market and mainly want to produce for home consumption, only selling extra eggs and meat locally, you are best off with a local breed.
If you have no experience of raising chickens, it is best to start with a cheaper, local breed.
If farm management is good, you can buy the more expensive and profitable hybrids.
In some countries local preference favours brown eggs.
Hybrids are not always locally available, so you will be dependent on what can be obtained in your area.