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AgroInnovation

The A to Z of keeping layers

This post was originally published on this site

It can be a lucrative business but also fraught with many challenges, experts say


A minimum of 300 layers is the least number one should keep to make good commercial sense.

This could fetch you up to Sh700,000 a year, while having 1,000 layers can rake in Sh2.4million a year. However, this business can be capital intensive and fraught with challenges. It is a good idea to start small to help you get to where you want to be. Layers need to be carefully raised from when they are one-day old. They start laying eggs from 18 to 19 weeks old (about four-and-a-half months), until 72-78 weeks or more, depending on the breed and management.

There will be days when the hen does not lay an egg at all. Its body begins forming another egg shortly after the previous one is laid, and it takes 26 hours, meaning that it will lay later and later each day and then skip a day at some point.

Traditional chickens produce eggs on and off and for three to four years. The longer the length of production, the fewer the eggs produced, though the size increases with time, while shell quality decreases.

How you handle your chickens when they are pullets, feed management and other factors also contribute to the number of eggs and for how long the chickens will lay.

To be successful you must understand the circle from acquiring chicks through to the time they start laying eggs. Knowing the importance of brooding, lighting and temperatures; diseases, vaccination and so on are also critical. Diseases can be very devastating, with whole flocks wiped out in one night.

Have a business plan, no matter how simple you begin, to be sure about what you require; your projections of what to expect and when you expect to break even and start making profits.

Keep proper records of stocks, feeds, vaccination, mortality, weight, sale of birds and eggs, and other expenses.

Knowing your market is also critical. The market is always available, but most farmers don’t go out in search of it. One can market poultry products through family, friends, institutions, supermarkets, and open day markets.

To be a good poultry products supplier, you must be consistent. Give enough time to the business by watching the number of hours spent on feeding the birds, and vaccination and other tasks and avoid being an online or telephone farmer.

When buying chicks, go for breeders who offer after sales services and who will guide and mentor you throughout the rearing process.

Getting started:

To get more information on rearing layers, we visited Mr Apollo Ngugi, the manager of Kukuchic Farm in Eldoret and Mr Stephen Kariuki from in Mugumo, Nyandarua.

Kukuchic is a chicken breeder that sells day-old chicks. Mr Ngugi has seven years’ experience and expertise in poultry farming.

Mr Karuiki has been keeping layers for the past two decades and maintains a maximum of 300 birds per cycle. He currently specialises on the improved kienyeji breed.

Hygiene and well-balanced feeds are the pillars of successful poultry farming, says Mr Kariuki.

For the almost two decades that he has kept chicken, the farmer says the experience has taught him that housing with proper ventilation and cleanliness, “means a healthy chicken, which ultimately rewards the farmer with increased production of between 80 to 90 per cent chance of the hens laying eggs daily,” he says.

The farmer adds that a hen requires enough space to exercise; while feeding troughs must be clean at all times. “It’s also important to ensure that your chicken have a clean sleeping area away from the feeding and laying areas.”

Provide a clean, dry area for your chicks to protect them from predators, cold, rain, and hot sun. You need enough space to build the flock house that should be not less than 50 square feet.

In this article, we focus on housing for the deep litter system.

The house should protect the birds from rain, wind and sunshine. Construct in an isolated area to risk of contamination.

Ensure enough space of two square foot per bird (2 foot²/bird).

It should be rectangular with walls not higher than 3ft on the longer side.

Use off-cuts, iron sheets, silver boards or bricks for the walls and wire mesh of a small gauge ½”, to prevent entry of wild birds, cats, dogs and rodents on the rest of the side.

It should be open-sided for ventilation and have an east-west orientation on its long axis.

The roof should have a reflecting surface and be pitched with overlaps.

Cement floors are easier to clean though you can also use murram.

Provide bedding material or litter for your chicks that will absorb moisture from the manure and keep the brooding area clean. A variety of materials can be used, including wood shavings (most effective), ground corn cobs, peanut and rice hulls, and hay or straw chopped into small pieces.

Never place hatchlings on a slick surface such as cardboard, plastic, or newspaper. Smooth surfaces can lead to leg problems. The bedding should be six inches deep.

Use carton boxes, triply, pieces of wood for brooder guards.

For heat, use pots, jikos or infrared bulbs.

Other requirements are;

Disinfectant:

There should be a disinfectant at the footbath that should be changed after three days

Feeders:

One for 20 to 50 birds;

Drinkers:

One for 20 to 50 birds;

Feeds:

  • Should be available two days before the chicks arrive;
  • Chick mash – Feed for the first one month;
  • Glucose and liquid paraffin for the first two days;
  • Vitamins for the first five days;
  • The drinkers should be cleaned every morning and only one person to work at the poultry farm to avoid stress and diseases.

Ventilation

Ventilation, the movement of air through the poultry house is critical for providing oxygen and removing harmful gases, reducing dust, thus improving the air quality, and removing excess heat and moisture. This is achieved when air passes from one side of the house and out through the other. The house should, therefore, be open-sided for ventilation and have an east-west orientation on its long axis to reduce the sun’s heat. Narrow houses with high-pitched roofs provide more natural air movement.

Curtains made from clean feed sacks stitched together or canvas can be used to manage ventilation.


Management tips

Brooding

Clean and disinfect the house three weeks before the arrival of the chicks and prepare the brooder two days before.

Six hours before they arrive, put on the heat source, and ensure that the chick feed and water are in place. The water should have glucose, paraffin and disinfectant.

When the chicks arrive

Count the chicks and then put them in the brooder and check their condition.

They should be uniform, alert, active. Give them water and fill the feeders for the first two days or put feed in a shallow pan or a carton to make it easy for them to find the food.

As they get older, provide them bigger feeders and reduce the level of feed as they get older. Make sure there is enough feeder space.

Distribute drinkers evenly throughout the house, alternating them with the feeders so that they are easily accessible.

To give the birds time to find feeders and waterers, provide them with light round the clock for the first week. After the first

week, provide the number of hours of light per day that is appropriate for that type of bird. A 15-watt light bulb should be sufficient for every 200square feet of floor area.

Brooder guard:

  • For the first seven to 10 days, use a circular barrier called a brooder guard to confine the chicks. It prevents them from wandering too far from the heat source and reduces drafts of cold air.
  • It should be about 15 to 16 inches high and large enough for chicks to move towards or away from the heat source. Most brooder guards are made of cardboard.

Heat Source:

  • Chicks need warmth until they are well-feathered, because they are not able to regulate their own body temperature for the first few weeks of life. If the heat is removed too early, they can develop respiratory problems. If the chicks crowd under the brooder, it means that they are cold, and you should increase the heat. If they try to get far away from the brooder, the heat should be reduced. If you have a small flock, use a heat lamp and suspend it with a chain or wire at least 18 inches above the bedding material.

Feeding

Feed

Chickens require carbohydrates from foods such as maize, wheat, rice, millet, sorghum and their byproducts for energy. They also need vitamins and minerals, which they can get from fruits and vegetables and protein from both animal and plants. Animal proteins are found in fish meal, insects and worms. Plant proteins are found in soya beans, peas, and groundnuts. Plant protein should be pre-cooked for easy absorption.

Feeds are made with combinations of ingredients to provide all the nutrients in one package. Do not mix feeds from different millers. Follow the feed instructions provided.

It is important to understand the nutritional requirements needed by the chickens at different stages in life. “Chicks require feeds with higher levels of protein, energy, vitamins and mineral supplements for rapid growth and feather development,” says Mr Ngugi.

On the other hand, growers will require feeds that are rich in nutrients which maintain growth rates and are well-balanced to avoid obesity, said the expert. At this stage, they require less energy and protein than that given to chicks. Layers will need higher levels of calcium-concentrated feeds.

However, different breeds of chicken require different diet formulas. Farmers should seek expert advice at all stages of chicken husbandry.

Feeding from day one to lay

For the first two months, feed the chicks with chick mash (eight weeks). “A chick eats an average of 40 to 50 grams of food every day, which gradually increases as it grows towards maturity when feed intake is increased to an average of 100 grams in a day,” Mr Karuiki says.

Follow the chick mash with growers mash up to two (2) weeks before the expected point of lay.

From this point, provide them with layers mash.

Do not introduce new feed abruptly as it can stress the birds and affect performance. Mix the two rations so that the change is gradual. Provide vitamins to reduce stress. “Sudden change of type of feeds or time can be a disaster.

Chicken are very sensitive, avoid stressing them by abruptly changing their lifestyles,” Mr Kariuki says.


The maths of feeding

Chick rearing (wk1-wk 7) & chick stage:

  • Each chick consumes 2.0 – 2.4 kg per period to the end of the seventh week.
  • Consumption for 200 birds = (200 x 2.4)/ 70 = 7 bags of 70kg each of chick mash
  • Growers rearing (8th –19th week) –
  • Each pullet consumes 6.8kg of feed.
  • Consumption for birds = 200 x 6.8kg/70 =19.42 =19 bags of 70kg of growers mash
  • Layers: Each bird consumes 110gm per day = 121bags of 70kg of layers mash

Water

The amount and quality of water you give to your chicks is important for their growth and future productivity. They should be given twice as much water as food.

Beak trimming

  • This is done to prevent feather pecking, cannibalism and to reduce feed wastage.
  • It should be performed by trained personnel. Poor beak trimming often leads to unevenness of the beaks and can cause difficulties in feeding and drinking, leading low body weight.
  • The first beak trimming should be done at about 10 days and the second at 8 to 10 weeks.

Diseases and control

Disease outbreaks can lead to the loss of a whole flock as it did for Mr Kariuki, “last year, I had to clear the batch of chicken I had after waking up one morning to a devastating sight. 120 of my flock lay dead. What a loss! I decided to give it a break for few months break,” says the farmer who is now destocking. Treatment of sick flock can also cost huge chunks of money. It is, therefore, important to observe good bio-security to avoid contact between the flock and disease-causing organisms. Prevention is better than cure, goes the old adage. Avoid over-crowding or over-stocking, ensure good ventilation and sanitation, good quality feed, avoid stress and watch out for possible disease outbreaks in the neighbourhood.

Attendants should check the chickens’ behaviour, droppings, feed intake, and mortality rates to detect disease. Report to a veterinarian any signs of disease, and do not treat on your own.

Poultry diseases include coccidiosis caused by protozoa, fowl typhoid or symonela, CRD Micoplasma caused by bacteria, and viral diseases such as foul pox, Newcastle disease, and infectious bronchitis.

They can also be infested by pests and worms. Be on the lookout for Mareks disease, Infectious Bronchitis (IB), Newcastle Disease (NCD), Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD/ Gumboro disease), Fowl pox, Fowl Typhoid and Fowl Cholera.

Vaccination

  • This is a must to boost disease resistance and keep birds free from diseases. Vaccination reduces death rates and disease prevalence.
  • Vaccines are given through eye drops, intranasal, wing wave and thigh muscle injections, drinking water and spray.
  • Store vaccines between two and eight degrees centigrade. Transport in a cool box.
  • Wash vaccination equipment with boiled water or germicide medicine/antiseptic.
  • Vaccinate during cooler part of the day or in the evening. Ensure water supply is free of vaccines, chemical and medicines for 48 hours before vaccination with drinking water and 24 hours.

De-worming

  • Parasites can cause weight loss of the birds due to a reduction in feed conversion efficiency. This leads to a drop in egg production.
  • De-worm at eight weeks and again at 18-20 weeks, just before production commences. Do not de-worm again until after peak production, unless there an infestation, as it could affect peak production.
  • Subsequently, de-worm every two to three months.

Record keeping

  • Keeping records is critical. Have records of daily feed intake, mortality, culls and egg production, vaccination and medication (age of flock when vaccinated, vaccine or drug type used, method of administration, batch numbers, expiry dates and who has given the medication).
  • These will help you to determine the level of profit or loss. Farm records measure progress and help a farmer to make the right decisions.
  • Weigh your flock weekly on the same day to give you an idea of the growth rate. This will also give you an indication of when the first egg is expected.

Egg collection

Eggs should be collected regularly and transferred from the hen house to an egg room where they are checked for weight and damaged shells. Pack into cartons of 12 eggs or trays of 30 eggs for sale.

Choosing your breed

There are various breeds available for laying eggs in Kenya.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you want to do free range or intensive?
  • What do you want to achieve?
  • Not all breeds produce the same number or size of eggs. Others  produce white and others brown eggs. What does your market prefer?
  • What type of chickens work well in your area?
  • How much are you willing to spend?

Some breeds available in Kenya

leghorn

One of the best egg-laying chickens. They are prolific layers of large white eggs and produce about 300 or more eggs a year. They are friendly, bear confinement well, calm, flighty, noisy, shy, and very active.

KARI mproved indigenous chicken

  • One of the most popular breeds in the country
  • Produces 220 to 280 eggs a year
  • Can survive in harsh climatic conditions
  • Starts laying eggs five months after being hatched
  • It is highly-resistant to diseases
  • Can be reared in free range conditions
  • Can attain 1.5kg in 5 months
  • Has a quiet temperament, excellent feathering and quickly adopts to conditions under which it is kept.

Disadvantages:

  • Do not perform well in cages
  • Need time to free range and a free run
  • Hens cannot sit on their eggs to hatch and you will need a hatchery.

Kuroiler

  • Originates from India
  • Can lay 150 to 200 eggs a year, which are larger than those of indigenous chicken
  • Is a dual breed (can be raised both for meat and eggs)
  • Has indigenous traits and can survive on free range.
  • Mature between two and four months and weighs up to 3kg
  • Start laying eggs at three months for the next two years.
  • Are resistant to most diseases.

Disadvantages:

  • Cannot sit on their eggs to hatch and need incubators.

Modern hatchery for indigenous chicken

It takes a 15-minute drive from Naivasha Town to reach this highly guarded farm with a conspicuous ‘Mbwa Kali’ sign at the main gate.

In an area best known for flower farming, this state-of-the-art chicken hatchery comes as a pleasant surprise. Located on a seven-acre farm in the Karati area is a multimillion-shilling poultry investment by veterinarian Tony Kiragu. Nature Kuku

Farm specialises in hatching Kalro Kienyenji chicks.

The articulate and amiable farmer returned from the United States to set up the hatchery. He had worked on a poultry farm in America for seven years, having won a Green Card but decided to return to his motherland.

“I could no longer contain the urge to come back and follow my dream,” he says.

On his return in 2015, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) had released improved kienyeji chickens, which had become quite popular.

“I had sniffed a business opportunity and went for it,” he recalls.

Despite a few hiccups, Nature Kuku was born and sealed with the shipment of the multimillion shilling equipment to the farm.

“Once you vaccinate indigenous chickens and maintain proper hygiene, they do quite well,” he says.

Improved kienyeji chickens produce up to 280 eggs annually compared to pure breeds that lay on average 150 eggs. The

improved cockerel weighs about two-2.5kg at four months while the exotic ones weigh about 1.5kg.

The farmer purchases 33,000 eggs from Kalro weekly. He decided to partner with Kalro because of its high quality and well-researched breeding system. Today, Mr Kiragu guarantees a farmer of an F1 chick, meaning that no inbreeding has occurred, thus maintaining a high quality of chicks.

“Inbreeding causes chicks to grow slowly. It also makes the hens start laying late,” says the farmer.

On entering the farm, you instantly get the feeling of its enormity. There are huge setters (incubators) loaded with thousands of eggs, hatchers (cabinet-like incubators for hatching eggs), trolleys loaded with eggs, and a large number of rooms.

Everything is done with precision from the time eggs are received to the time the chicks are finally loaded for transportation to farmers. Employees in yellow and white

gumboots move fleetingly through the different rooms in the hatchery and in the chicken pens.

Sorting of eggs

The process begins with the reception of eggs, which are then sorted. Large and very small, as well as cracked, dirty, and abnormally shaped are removed. The chosen eggs are then put in setter trays, which are placed on trolleys.

Fumigation

The eggs are fumigated for 15 minutes and the fumes sucked out of the room through an exhauster.

incubation

After this, the eggs are moved through two stages of incubation. They are first put into a setter (incubator) for 18 days. Temperature, humidity, ventilation and turning are the most important factors that are regulated and monitored.

Acceptable temperature standards range from 37.5 to 37.8 degrees Celsius, with the humidity normally set at 60 per cent, while the eggs are turned at 45 degrees three times a day.

When the 18 days are over, the eggs are moved into hatching trays. Here they spend another three days and hatching begins on day 21. The temperature is then set to dry and fluff the chicks.

The hatched chicks are removed with the dead or deformed chicks removed. “The hatching rate is 85 per cent to 90 per cent,” says Dr Kiragu.

They are then placed in boxes that hold 100 chicks. An extra two chicks are added per box. The chicks are then loaded into vehicles to deliver them to farmers.

The farmer currently produces only 15,000 chicks a week, against a projection of 30,000 chicks.

The shortage of quality eggs has forced the farmer to start his own production.

Mr Kiragu is optimistic that the farm will be self-sustaining in the near future.

Power blackouts are also big challenge, forcing them to use a generator, which is expensive. “However, we are now looking into solar energy as a solution,” he adds.

Another challenge is transportation.

“Our dream is to one day own a fleet of vehicles to distribute to different areas,” he says.

He plans to digitalise his business to attract more customers and offer lessons to those interested in starting chicken rearing businesses.

At a fee of Ksh2,500 to Ksh3000, he offers lessons on poultry keeping, with potential farmers trooping to his hatchery.

His determination is palpable as the farmer dreams about rivalling big successful companies.

Vaccination

The chicks are then vaccinated against

Marek’s and Newcastle diseases and infectious bronchitis.

They are then placed in boxes that hold 100 chicks. An extra two chicks are added per box. The chicks are then loaded into vehicles to deliver them to farmers.

The farmer currently produces only 15,000 chicks a week, against a projection of 30,000 chicks.

The shortage of quality eggs has forced the farmer to start his own production.

Mr Kiragu is optimistic that the farm will be self-sustaining in the near future.

Power blackouts are also big challenge, forcing them to use a generator, which is expensive. “However, we are now looking into solar energy as a solution,” he adds.

Another challenge is transportation. “Our dream is to one day own a fleet of vehicles to distribute to different areas,” he says.

He plans to digitalise his business to attract more customers and offer lessons to those interested in starting chicken rearing businesses.

At a fee of Ksh2,500 to Ksh3000, he offers lessons on poultry keeping, with potential farmers trooping to his hatchery.

His determination is palpable as the farmer dreams about rivalling big successful companies.


The health benefits of eggs

Eating eggs lowers risk of heart disease, breast cancer and eye diseases such as cataracts

Eggs are an excellent source of high quality protein, rich in amino acids, calcium, sodium, iodine, selenium, choline and vitamins A, B, D & E; described by nutritionists, as a large vitamin pill – a mineral cocktail, they contain all the essential vitamins and minerals required for a healthy diet.

Eggs are packed full of goodness; from vitamin A, which is needed for the healthy development of the body’s cells, helping to maintain healthy skin and eye tissue and assisting in night vision, vitamin B12, which is necessary for the formation of red blood cells, important for the immune system to function properly, and helps protect against heart disease, right through to choline, vital for nerves and muscles to function correctly, andproven to lower the risk of heart disease, prevent age related memory loss and reduce the risk of breast cancer by as much as 40%. Eggs really are a large vitamin pill, in 100% natural casing.

We are regularly told how important it is to eat a balanced diet; we need protein and plenty of vitamins and nutrients. Fruit, vegetables and meat naturally spring to mind, and combined can provide all these, but one food contains them all – eggs.

Health organisations around the world are actively encouraging people to eat more eggs to ensure that they benefit from nature’s natural vitamin pill. The Australian Heart Foundation recommends that people eat six eggs a week. In Canada eggs carry the country’s health check mark, and the Irish Heart Foundation has coined the phrase, an egg a day is ok.

Below is a list of vitamins, minerals and nutrients found in eggs, and the health benefits they bring.

Iron

  • Iron is necessary for carrying oxygen throughout the body, and helping to produce energy.
  • Iron helps prevent anemia.

Vitamin A

  • Vitamin A is needed for the healthy development of cells; it helps maintain healthy skin and eye tissue and assists in night vision. Vitamin A also increases the immune system.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

  • Riboflavin keeps skin and eyes healthy.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)

  • B5 is important for the body’s metabolism, for releasing energy from food and for mental performance.

Vitamin B12

  • Vitamin B12 is necessary for the formation of red blood cells. It is important for the immune system to function properly, and helps protect against heart disease.

Vitamin D

  • Vitamin D is necessary for healthy bones and teeth; it is essential for the absorption of calcium in the body. Vitamin D also helps to protect against some cancers and auto-immune diseases.

Vitamin E

  • Vitamin E helps to maintain our reproductive system, nerves and muscles. It helps to maintain good health and prevent disease

Folate

  • Folate is necessary for the development and maintenance of new cells. It helps protect against serious birth defects and is therefore especially important for pregnant women.

Protein

  • Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle, organs, skin, hair and other body tissues. It is needed to produce hormones, enzymes and antibodies.

Selenium

  • Selenium helps prevent the breakdown of body tissues; it protects the DNA, proteins and fats in cells against damage. Selenium is important for a healthy immune system and functioning thyroid gland.

Lutein & Zeaxanthin

  • As well as helping to maintain good vision, Lutein & Zeaxanthin can help reduce the risk of age-related eye diseases, such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

Choline

  • Choline is vital for nerves and muscles to function correctly and also helps brain development and memory functioning.

Iodine

  • Iodine is needed for producing the thyroid hormones and is vital for the normal functioning of the thyroid gland.

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