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Poultry 101: Free range or cage?

By Tony Ngare | Updated Sat, March 18th 2017 at 13:11 GMT +3

In my work as a vet, I have noticed one thing — farmers are not keen on the poultry rearing system they select. They do it randomly without factoring in key considerations.

Before you pick a system, you need to consider the breed of chicken, production purpose, growth rate and number of chicken reared. The commonest methods of poultry rearing fall under three groups — semi-intensive, intensive and free range systems.

Free Range system

This is the most common and is practised in many rural households. Most homesteads will normally have between five to 30 birds. The kienyeji breed is reared in this type of system. The birds are left to scavenge outside and cater for their own nutritional requirements. Birds feed on insects, worms and occasionally get supplemental feed including leftovers and cereals.

The birds spend the night in a poorly constructed poultry house or the main house. The birds are used as a source of extra income to the owner or for consumption in the household. Production and growth rate for these indigenous birds is low since feed obtained from scavenging is not enough to meet their daily nutritional needs. There are high chances of losing the birds through predation and poultry thieves.

Semi-intensive system

In this case the birds are left to scavenge during the day and at night they move into a well structured poultry house. The birds kept under this management system are more productive than those in free range since supplemental feed is offered. During the day the birds roam in a restricted fenced-in area and therefore monitoring is done and predation is therefore checked.

What you need

Laying boxes, feeders and drinking troughs are provided inside the poultry house. Most farmers have the birds inside the coop and feed them during the hot morning hours and later let the birds scavenge outside in the cooler part of the day.

Supplementation is done with commercially purchased feeds which provide most of the nutrition requirement to the bird. The birds also receive the necessary treatment when they fall sick. Most farmers vaccinate their birds against the important diseases for instance, Gumboro and Newcastle depending on the region. The birds’ production purpose is geared towards profit-making. This system is ideal for the indigenous chicken and most farmers are now opting for the improved indigenous chicken like the KARI improved Kienyeji due to faster growth rate and high productivity of eggs.

The birds are better protected in cases of harsh climatic conditions, for instance during rainy season - they remain housed. Record keeping is recommended to help the farmer calculate the profit/loss. The size of land utilised determines the number of birds to be reared.

Intensive production system

This is totally market-oriented and the number of birds reared ranges from hundreds to thousands. Capital investment is higher compared to the other systems. Farm inputs ranging from housing, brooder, feeds, feeders and drinkers, heat source, vaccines to bio-security related inputs must be factored in. Chicken kept under this management system include improved kienyeji, as well as broilers and layers. Intensive management system can be divided into two main categories — deep litter and battery cage. In deep litter system, the floor has about 4 to 6 inches of litter. They litter include wood shavings, rice and coffee husks.

In battery cage system, birds especially exotic layers are housed in cages that hold about 4 to 6 birds per cage. The birds have no access to movement around the house. High initial capital investment of purchase and installation of cages is required.

The writer is a veterinary surgeon and runs Nature Kuku, a farm in Naivasha that produces kuku kienyeji breed and trains small holder farmers.

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