Dear Dr Messo
I am a new farmer and I have been consistently warned that the biggest challenge to poultry production is the high cost of feeding chickens. Is there an alternative strategy to minimise the commercial feed costs? — Chris
Poultry farmers are experiencing many challenges. Like you said, high cost of feeds tops the list. This affects farmers who deal in both egg and meat producing flock. Feeds account for more than 70 per cent of the total cost of any poultry production. Here are strategies to improve on the feed conversion efficiencies:
1. Feed structure, Pellet vs Mash diet
Birds are generally known as grain feeders. They find it easier to pick feed particles that are more coarse and of a size of between 0.5-3.2 mm. They prefer pellets to mash feed. The coarse feed ensures faster development of the gizzard which is the organ responsible for the initial break down of particles and development of the digestive tract. Broilers perform better on crumbled or pelleted feed than mash, this therefore ensures better feed conversion efficiency than on mash diet. On the other side, layer chicks are better off with coarse diet made from roller mill instead of finer mash made from hammer mill. Too fine feed will lead to nutrient deficiency and feed loss.
2. Feed allocation
It is no longer wise to feed birds ad libitum (Ad-lib), which literally means animal is offered as much feed as they want. That means feed is always in the trough. We need to 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 type of bird and breed standard. Feeders should be allowed to completely dry out for at most 2-3 hours per day to allow birds to eat all the fine feed that is rich in minerals and amino acids.
3. Right feeding equipment
Regardless of the type of feeding system one adopts, feeding space is critical to achieving flock growth and development. The type of feeder should not spill feed on the floor and should continuously be lifted as the bird grows to avoid waste.
4. Phase feeding
More feed millers are designing a 3-phase feeding programme for layers and broilers with the aim of maximising the growth rate potential of these birds and in the process reducing the cost of feeding and still getting the best results. Starter diets (high in energy and amino acids) should not be fed more extensively than required, and likewise the grower diet should be fed until the flock is attaining the respective target weights.
5. Good flock management
Good flock efficiencies (weights of 160-185g at day 7 for broilers and 380-400g at 5 weeks for layers) can only be achieved with good brooding practices, minimum ventilation, appropriate uniformity, good lighting and provision of good quality water.
6. Beak treatment
For long-living birds like commercial layers, this operation removes 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 waste.
7. Healthy flock
The birds must be vaccinated according to the local disease challenge and must be de-wormed and treated against enteric infections like coccidiosis which will interfere with feed utilisation. Only healthy birds can increase their feed intake capacity and convert feed into meat or eggs.