Farming eggs for family and profit

How to build, manage and maintain your own affordable household egg production unit.

Farming eggs for family and profit
Hens need plenty of calcium in order to produce strong eggs.
Photo: FW Archive

Eggs are a valuable source of high quality protein and vitamins required for normal growth, especially for children.

Using information supplied by the department of agriculture, we’ll show you how to build, manage and maintain your own affordable small-scale egg production unit.

Later, you can increase the size of the unit in order to sell eggs in your community. The information given is based on poultry production in the warm to hot areas of South Africa.

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How it works
You can provide eggs for your family by keeping nine to 12 hens. Each hen will lay up to six eggs per week. So, if you have nine hens, say, they will lay a total of eight or nine eggs per day. You will need to sell four eggs per day to pay for the feed of the hens.

The remaining eggs can be used for household consumption. It’s best to keep the hens in a cage. This will give you a small, more manageable space that is easy to keep clean, as the manure falls through the mesh floor.

You can also see when the drinking water is finished.

The cage should be strong enough to carry nine to 12 hens. A good size is 120cm long by 70cm wide by 45cm high, with three compartments.

You can buy one or make your own – ask your extension officer or a poultry producer for advice here. Put the cage on poles or bricks, or fasten it to the wall of a house, hut or shed.

Alternatively, hang it from ropes tied to poles. Use an overhang or a roof to protect the cage from sunlight directly overhead, as well as rain.

In hot climates, you can keep nine hens in a cage – three in each compartment. In this way there will be enough space for limited movement, and the birds can all get to the feed trough at once.

In cold climates, four hens can be kept in one compartment (a total of 12), but then their movement will be very limited.

Egg cycle
It’s best to buy point-of-lay pullets (18 to 19 weeks old) that are ready to start laying eggs. They must be of very good quality and fully vaccinated against all known poultry diseases.

The best layer breeds are Amberlink or Hy-line. These will start laying within two weeks of being bought (20 to 21 weeks of age).

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Pullet eggs are small at first, but they gradually increase in size. The number of eggs laid peaks halfway through the year and then starts dropping.

The birds should be kept for one year and then sold as cull hens. Hens that are older than a year lay fewer and fewer eggs, until they stop altogether.

They will, however, continue to eat the same amount of food, so your profits will steadily drop until you can no longer afford to run your enterprise.

Before selling
Before selling the hens for slaughter, order new pullets. Do this at least four months ahead of time. Start selling your old hens only once the new hens are in production, especially if you have standing orders with clients and do not want to disappoint them. The money made from the old hens will pay for the new hens.

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Feed Needs
To lay well, the hens must get the best possible feed. They need plenty of calcium to lay eggs with hard, strong shells.

It is best to buy a good commercial feed such as laying mash or pellets. The mash is specially formulated to provide all the nutrients that hens require in the correct quantities.

Both feed and fresh, cool water must be available in the trough at all times.
Each hen will eat 120g to 150g of feed per day; some will be wasted, landing on the floor.

One 50kg bag of feed will last about one month. Buy two months’ supply of feed before the hens arrive. Next issue: keeping records and dealing with disease.

Light means laying
In order for the hens to lay as many eggs as possible, they must have 16 hours of light every day.This can easily be achieved if you have electricity, because you can put the lights on before sunrise and let them stay on for some time after sunset.

If you do not have electricity, the hens will not lay as many eggs as they would with the extra electric light.

To get maximum egg production without electricity, place the cage outside where the hens can make use of natural light.

Do not put the cage in direct sunlight; the hens will get too hot and die. With 16 hours of light every day, each hen will lay about 280 eggs in a year. Without extra light, they will lay about 200 eggs.

Make more money
Fresh manure can be covered with a layer of sawdust, dried leaves, grass or any other dry vegetation every day. It will become good compost if turned regularly. This also helps to remove bad smells.

The manure can be sold in feed bags as organic fertiliser or compost for vegetable gardens.

Source: Directorate Animal and Aqua Production Services, department of agriculture.