Backyard chicken farming serious economic viability

The idea of backyard chicken farming recently came about when my mother asked for my advice on how to construct a chicken house.
At first, I was sceptical about her starting chicken rearing after retirement. Even though she used to be a professional nurse, she was always interested in rural community development projects.
Although traditional ways of keeping chicken have been shown to be ineffective for the production of eggs and poultry meat of high quality and quantity, some rural farmers, especially women, still make a decent living out of it. Thus, this time, I encourage her (my mother) to establish a better and more modern production system of chicken rearing than the usual traditional backyard farming.
These new production systems are characterised by modern housing, feeding techniques and health management.
I still have fond memories from my childhood of catching the free-roaming chicken, my brothers killing them and we (girls) unplugging the feathers, cleaning and cooking them. It frustratingly took long to cook that hard chicken meat but when the final product was on the plate, it was always yummy and worth the effort.
Truth be told, it still tastes better than the packets of chicken we buy from the shops that are often water-soaked. But let’s face it, at least I no longer have to do the unplugging of feathers myself.
Back to the topic of chicken rearing. There are quite a lot of challenges pertaining to backyard chicken rearing. Things like basic animal welfare; allowing animals plenty of movement and keeping them under conditions that correspond to their natural habitats. Normally, free-roaming chicken scavenge around the farmyards or in small permanent huts. These chicken’s eat whatever they catch, from dishwashing offal water, worms, termites and even animal faeces. They are always on the lookout for anything to eat, even in dry sand. We have, many a times, seen them digging in cow dung for anything to eat.
What we don’t comprehend is that these types of chicken often consume large volumes of feed but then produce far fewer eggs than expected. Most of the time, the eggs get lost; now and then, they are laid in unsafe places and are eaten by predators.
In fact, incidences of eggs and chicks predation by wild cats, dogs and [at times] snakes and jackals are quite high, especially when the chicken are not housed at night. Sometimes the eggs get stale or burnt by the sun (they say the Namibian sun can fry an egg) by the time they are collected. Thus, at the end of the day, the production cost and maintenance of backyard chicken rearing is consequently not as low as we might think.
It is very rare that veterinary care is provided to backyard chicken farmers. Thus, serious diseases and accumulation of both internal and external parasites tend to be common in these chicken rearing set-ups despite them being well adapted to the environment.
By the way, some farmers at an animal health training were recently surprised to find out that there are antibiotics and de-worming treatments specially formulated for chicken. Imagine that!
In addition, these traditional chicken rarely get supplementary feedings, leading to deficiency of essential nutrients, which is quite common.
Despite the addition of a recent Namibian-owned poultry company (which I’m very proud of and has got me consuming only local poultry products), the poultry sector in the country is still small. As a result, we still import most of our poultry needs at a great cost. Thus, there is still room for traditional backyard chicken rearing. However, if we turned it into small-holder chicken farming with a bit of modernised setups, it would definitely benefit [particularly] the village communities more, hence contributing towards Namibia becoming self-sufficient in the poultry sector.
Next week, The Village Vet will give some useful hints that local chicken farmers (and/or inspiring farmers) could follow in order to raise a profitable poultry activity, both for own consumption and commercial use. So, watch this space…