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Cushion for farmers from high feed costs

Good flock efficiencies, 4 times the day-old weight at day 7 for broilers and 10 times the day-old weight at 5 weeks for layers, can only be achieved with good brooding practices.

As the cost of animal feeds remains high, poultry producers have to think outside the box. Many are now paying more attention to all factors including feed efficiency strategies that can reduce the impact of the recent high feed prices.

The industry has been hit hard by the scarcity of high-quality feed and the high prices that has driven some millers and farmers out of business. The commercial farmers preoccupied with hybrid broiler and layer operations that provide a regular income and a good source of nutrition and fertilisers to our crop farming communities have been the worst affected.

But how did we get ourselves into this situation? Most of the world's soya bean and maize producers faced bad weather that affected the harvest, sending the premium on non-GMO soya rocketing. This had an immediate impact on animal feed cost and a knock-on-effect on prices of by-products.

The re-stocking of hog population in China also redirected a huge chunk of soya into that territory, volumes from India and southern African countries that would naturally supply our country dried off. We are now looking at a nasty bumpy road ahead as industry captains are urging the government to come and rescue this industry and save livelihoods. But what can we do in the meantime as industry experts? Here are some strategic moves that can cushion farmers in the short and long term.

1.     Integration of the whole value chain

Kenyan poultry structure is generally small-scale, fragmented, and locally oriented, this makes it highly vulnerable to any slight market disruptions. The ideal case would be for farmers to move to a large-scale industrially semi-integrated system, where they can produce their own feed, grow, and manage their stock and process the final products to supermarkets. Such a vertically integrated system will require a high level of biosecurity, capital expenditure in establishing a milling factory, and a well-thought-out route to market.

The benefits are huge, reduced production cost by 30 per cent, a price rise of 5-10 per cent for the finished product, the collapse of the middlemen and cartels, and an industry that will be recognised by all stakeholders.

2.     Establish an early good feed intake as possible during flock rearing

Flocks with good feed intake capacity are easier to manage and control feed waste. The most important factors to check include good temperature management, right feed particle size, feed availability, right stocking density, adequate lighting programme, right feed energy levels, and healthy flock. High housing temperatures will cause flock lethargy and high-water consumption with little feed intake.

Birds are generally known as grain feeders, they find it easier to pick feed particles that are more course and of a size of between 0.5-3.2 mm, they would prefer pellets to mash feed.

The coarse feed ensures faster development of the gizzard which is the organ responsible for the initial breakdown of particles and development of the digestive tract. Feed birds on pelleted or crumbled feed particles. Too fine feed will lead to nutrient deficiency and feed loss.

3.     Monitor body weights every week

Provide birds extra feed on the first one week of life, this should be monitored after every 24 hours by checking crop fill.

Ensure that the feed offered is of high quality and must only be fed based on the energy requirement of the flock at that age of growth or production. Feed must be weighed daily and fed at the recommended rate of grams/bird/day based on the type of bird and breed standard.

Feeders should be allowed to completely dry out for at most two to three hours per day to allow birds to eat all the fine feed that is rich in minerals and amino acids. Birds should hit the body target weights as per the breed standards for successful production performance. 

4.     Beak treatment

For long-living birds like commercial layers, this operation removes a bit of the tip of the upper and lower mandibles done at day-old using infrared beak treatment technique or at 10 days manually using electric de-beaker. It helps reduce feed spill and wastage and improve feed efficiencies.

Infrared beak treatment can be done in hatcheries with minimal stress to the birds using NovaTech technology. It is only by adopting some of these measures will farmers be able to cope with high feed prices.

[The writer is the head vet at Kenchic]

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