It is common knowledge that livestock and crop farming are increasingly under threat from risks such as drought, and it has become essential for farmers to explore diversification options to sustain their farming ventures.
To this end, poultry production specialising in the rearing of layer hens to produce fresh table eggs offers farmers a great diversification option to increase their farming income.
The starting point when one intends to venture into the production of fresh table eggs is to register as a producer with the Poultry Producers Association of Namibia, which is affiliated with the Namibia Agriculture Union (NAU).
After registration as a producer, it is important for the farmer to conduct market research to determine input of suppliers from which he/she can source the chicks or hens, feed, veterinary medicines, as well as housing materials such as chicken wire mesh, fencing poles and other equipment.
It is also crucial for a farmer to determine the possible target market and costs associated with the production of eggs.
Once adequate market research is conducted, a farmer can commence with the construction of the chicken coop.
During construction it is essential to construct a rough concrete floor inside the chicken coop for easy cleaning and the maintenance of hygiene.
A follow-up consideration is for a farmer to procure the chicks or hens from reputable suppliers.
One can buy the popular Lohman Brown day-old chicks that cost N$22 each on average.
Day-old chicks offer the cheapest option to a start-up farmer, and if raised correctly, the farmer has an influence on the quality of hens and their production time span.
The main disadvantage associated with raising day-old chicks, however, is that they take about four months before egg production can begin, which implies that a farmer has to incur feed and vaccination costs without any income during this time.
Alternatively, a farmer can procure point-of-lay hens at an average cost price of N$130 each.
The hens offer the advantage of immediate production after purchase or a week or two for egg production to begin.
Furthermore, the farmer does not incur the cost of feed to raise the chicks, and mortalities are less when compared to buying day-old chicks.
There are, however, some disadvantages such as the price per hen, which is higher than the cost of day-old chicks, limited control in terms of the quality of hens and the possibility of hens bringing diseases if sourced from questionable suppliers.
Once the hens or chicks are procured, it becomes essential to ensure that the chickens are fed the right type of feed for their respective age groups.
Day-old chicks must be fed pullet starter mash, whereas chickens of one to four months must be fed pullet grower mash, and at four to five months (point-of-lay hens), the hens must be fed layer mash, which is necessary to stimulate egg production.
At four to five months, it is recommended that farmers provide each hen with about 110g to 120g of layer mash per day, and each hen must have access to light for approximately 16 to 17 hours per day for optimum egg production in the 12-month production cycle.
The recommended light intensity should be 30 lumens per square metre, therefore light bulbs of 30 lux are necessary as hens are very sensitive to a change in lighting.
Moreover, water must be provided in adequate amounts to all hens to ensure uniform growth and egg production.
Lastly, when venturing into egg production, another crucial consideration is the documentation and maintenance of records on egg production, feed utilisation, and vaccination against infectious diseases such as Newcastle disease, infectious bursal disease (Gumboro) and infectious coryza.
This will help farmers make informed decisions when entering the second production cycle and ensure their egg production enterprise has good returns on investment.
- Hanks Saisai is Agribank’s technical adviser on crops and poultry.