Broiler production questions and answers

When Farmer’s Weekly recently offered on its Facebook page to assist readers with their broiler production questions, the response was overwhelming. We went knocking on the door of the KwaZulu-Natal Poultry Institute for expert advice.

Broiler production questions and answers
The lower the input costs of your chicken business, the higher the profit margin.
Photo: FW Archive

Founded in 1992, the KwaZulu-Natal Poultry Institute is a non-profit company originally established to meet the needs of the local poultry industry with regard to diagnostics, disease management, communication, and training.

Training is now the institute’s core business and its Poultry Management Training Centre offers training and mentoring in all aspects of poultry production and management including broiler production.

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Here are some of the questions the Farmer’s Weekly Facebook community had on broiler production:

Q What is the stocking density/m2 in South Africa? In Zimbabwe it is 10 birds/ m2, but I believe it’s more in South Africa. This figure is based on a house with no climate control. – Math Mpofu, Zimbabwe
A Broiler production stocking density can go up to 15 birds/ m2 in open-sided houses, but this can be a problem in summer, especially in humid areas. Ten birds/m2 is safe regardless of the season.

Q With the small-scale producer in mind, what is the threshold production capacity for a commercially viable and profitable business? – Arnold Aldous
A This depends on a number of factors, including your expectations of “commercially viable and profitable”. Important factors are:

  • The selling price of your product. If you’re selling live birds, you are likely to get a better price if you sell to an abattoir.
  • Your input costs (feed, chicks, labour, gas, fuel, loan repayments and so forth). Obviously, the lower these costs, the better your profit margin.
  • I suggest that you do some thorough market and supplier research in your area and then put together a simple business plan and cash flow forecast. This will give you a good idea of how many broilers you will need to grow in order to realise your expectations. 

Q Where can I get vaccines to treat birds with swollen heads and legs? – Phumzile Zama Khubisa
A Swollen heads and legs can be caused by a number of things including diseases (viruses and bacteria) and management factors. Please call in a poultry vet to give you an accurate diagnosis and sound advice before you buy any vaccines.

Q At which age can Gumboro vaccinations be given? – Luyolo Mtsitywa
A This depends on the vaccinations given to the original breeder hens. It will also depend whether any Gumboro vaccinations were given to the day-old-chicks at the hatchery. These two factors, together with the level of Gumboro on the farm, will determine when to vaccinate broilers. They are normally vaccinated at seven days or older. Accurate information can be obtained from your local poultry veterinary department.

Q Do animal science students qualify to be employed as broiler producers? –Bulawayo Mgabadeli

A Yes, as an animal scientist, you will have a very good understanding of the biological and production aspects of broiler growing. This, coupled with a good work ethic and a willingness to keep learning, should turn you into a successful broiler producer.

Q To which laboratory in KZN should we take our chickens for post mortems?– Faricao Moses

A Allerton Regional Veterinary Laboratory in Town Bush Road, Pietermaritzburg. You can phone them on 033 347 6200.

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Q We’re a group of seven farmers who’ve registered a co-op. We have no experience of poultry, but have the passion to start a poultry project. Where can we apply for grants and what do we need to start up such a project? – Poppy Mahonza
A Congratulations for choosing poultry as your project. Passion is the first requirement for success. Speak to the economic department of your local municipality about accessing grants and what is required to qualify as a start-up project. It’s important to do a small business study before you start your project to ensure success.

You will need to research the availability of a market for your product (eggs or broilers), and other aspects such as the availability of feed, chicks (or point-of-lay pullets), equipment and transport. 

The KZN Poultry Institute offers a Poultry Business Skills course which has a small poultry business plan template as well as cash flow forecasts. Practical production training is also offered once you decide to go ahead with your project.

Q Which vaccines and feeds should I use for good quality production? – Segomotso Ditlhabolo
A Always make sure that you buy feed from a reputable company. These feeds will have all the correct nutrients in the correct balance to give the best possible growth.

Talk to other producers in your area to see which feed suppliers they recommend. Most poultry vaccines available in South Africa are of good quality. It is very important to know which vaccines the day-old- chicks received and what your area’s disease status is. Also see the response to Kenny Boss below.

Q How many feeders and water points will be required by 300 birds? – Mpendulo Kunene

A Four to five tube feeders and four to five bell drinkers, or four 10l drinkers/300 birds.

Q What are all the vaccinations a needed for broiler production? – Kenny Rozay Boss
A Broilers generally need to be vaccinated against Newcastle disease (NCD), infectious bronchitis (IB), and infectious bursal disease (IBD, also called Gumboro). Vaccines and timing of vaccinations during the grow-out process depend on:
Which vaccinations the broiler chicks received at the hatchery. The poultry disease risks in your area.

Speak to a local poultry vet for recommendations. He may suggest that you have blood samples tested for disease immunity. This will give him accurate information to design a vaccination programme. Your vaccine and chick suppliers will also be able to give you advice based on their experience.

Phone Janet Lee on 033 342 2814 or email [email protected].