Do Chickens Eat Snails and Slugs?

If you are doing backyard poultry farming or free range chicken farming, you have to constantly worry about what goes into your chickens’ diet. You have no control over what they eat and chickens aren’t particularly known for being picky eaters.

In a previous post, we discussed mushrooms and found that almost all chickens will simply avoid them in the range. Today, we look at another potentially odd diet that your chickens may be exposed to: snails and slugs. Are they safe? Should your chickens eat them? I haven’t observed my chickens feeding on them a lot and that is because they aren’t numerous in my backyard. Though, recently, I saw two of them and was worried about their potential impact on my chickens’ health should they feed on them.

I have read various backyard chicken forums where farmers contend that their chickens do eat snails with no adverse effect on their health. Some farmers however say that their chickens do not like the taste of snails and will simply avoid them like they avoid the mushrooms.

The main risk with the snails or slugs is that they carry gapeworms and earthworms. The gapeworms are red round worms that will attach themselves to the chicken’s trachea which subsequently causes a difficulty in breathing. In some cases, the gapeworms may travel to the chicken’s lungs causing even more breathing difficulties.  The chickens will begin coughing more often and will be breathing with their mouths open.

It is easy to notice the affected chickens. They will be having difficulty in breathing and often struggling to breathe with mouths open or “gaping”. They will cough more often and make gurgling noises. They may also have a large and squishy crop as a result.

The most susceptible chickens to gapeworm are generally pullets below the age of 8 weeks although they will affect chickens of all ages.

If the worms multiply rapidly or pile up, they can block off the trachea of the young chickens or occlude their breathing causing them to eventually die due to suffocation. If your chickens are grazing in your range, it may be advisable to occasionally deworm the entire flock to get rid of some of the worms they may have picked up in the pasture.

Preventive measures against gapeworm

Apart from deworming your chickens, there are various home based remedies that you can use to prevent the buildup of gapeworm in your free ranging chickens. These include the following:-

  • Add Apple cedar vinegar to their diet
  • Add fresh minced garlic to your chicken’s diet
  • There are natural wormers that can also treat various respiratory issues associated with the worms. Talk to your vet for further direction on these.

Gapeworm is however not very common. Your chickens will only contract it if they eat snails, slugs or worms that are already infected. Because the snails and slugs are not so numerous in the backyard farms, chances that your chickens are going to eat one, leave alone an infected one is relatively low. However, if they are common in your backyard or range, it may advisable to occasionally deworm your chickens.

Simple Guide to Planting Trees in a Poultry Farm Range

There are numerous health and welfare benefits to be derived by allowing your chickens to venture out of their sheds and into the surrounding the pasture.

In commercial free range farms, however, only a small portion of the flock will venture outside to utilize the range. Most of the chickens will remain inside their sheds or very close to their house. Legally, a farm like that might be classified as “free range” because they meet the regulatory or industry requirements but the consumers are often shortchanged as they will not get truly free range products.

Planting Trees in Free Range Poultry Farm
Planting Trees in Free Range Poultry Farm encourages the hens to range far away from their poultry sheds

You can combat this issue by properly planting trees in your range that will help provide shelter for the birds and encourage them to forage further away from the chicken house which is good for their health.

This foraging allows the chickens to exhibit more of their natural behaviors in a natural setting where they get access to plenty of sunshine, fresh air and pasture. The trees will also help boost the chickens’ welfare and bring many other economic benefits to the chicken farm.

A poor range management is often associated with issues such as harmful feather pecking among the birds. This is one of the biggest welfare issues in many of the bigger poultry farms.

Empirical evidence has shown that having lots of trees in your chicken range encourages a higher proportion of chickens to range out into the pasture. With less trees, the chickens are forced to stay close to their sheds for shelter. The ranging will also ensure that the chickens exhibit more of their natural behaviours which contributes to their overall welfare by reducing antisocial behaviours such as feather pecking.

Having good tree cover will also help in cutting down on the nutrient load, parasitic contamination as well as packing in the areas close to the poultry sheds as the trees draw the birds away from their sheds.

Planting trees on a free range chicken farm is not just about the welfare and health benefits of your flock; it also has a direct economic value for your farm. With good welfare, your birds will lay healthier and more delicious eggs that can fetch a premium price in the market. It also has a positive impact on the quantity of eggs that your chickens will lay. It will reduce the proportion of the white eggs and the increased value in your produce will give you more financial benefits as your products will be in greater demand.

Below, we address some of the common issues when it comes to planting trees in your free range chicken farm:-

Where should the trees be planted?

As a general rule, plant the trees in a former arable land or in improved grassland. If your piece of land is not one of these, check to ensure that the land is not ecologically valuable and does not have any archaeological features that the trees might damage or interfere with.

Which are the best trees to plant in your poultry farm range?

To pick the best trees for your poultry farm, look for what is already widely grown in your locality. That is the best way to identify the right species of trees that will be ideal for your type of climate, soil as well as the wildlife in the area. There are local ecological websites or societies where you can find a list of native trees and shrubs that will suit your poultry farm.

How should you plant the trees in your poultry farm?

The planting of trees is often determined by the location of the sheds in the poultry farm as well as the shape of the range where you are raising your free range chickens. However, you can design the planting of trees in your free range farm in multiple ways in order to suit the site as well as the birds.

Some of the options available for you include planting trees close to the poultry shed with a clear view of the tree cover from the pop holes in the poultry sheds. This will trigger ranging instincts and encourage the birds to go and forage as far as possible from the poultry sheds.

You can also plant the trees in groups of 15 to 30 trees with the bulk of the trees being planted close to the edges of the fields so as to create shelter for the chickens. They will also help create corridors between the belts of the woodlands that will trigger the chickens to explore even further out into the poultry range. There are lots of design ideas that you can play with in order to create an ideal range for your chickens.

When should the trees be planted?

Check your local ecological website for information on the best times to plant the trees.

Should I also plant shrubs in the poultry range?

Yes. You can create a graded woodland edge by planting shrubs on the edges of the trees. This will encourage the chickens to explore even further. Graded woodland vegetation can also act as windbreaker in a pasture range helping make the poultry farm range warmer. It is also allows for better shed screening.

However, when planting the shrubs, make sure their lower branches of the shrubs do not cover the ground vegetation as this might create sheltered areas or enclosed areas in the pasture range where the hens can start laying eggs outside their shed. This can lead to plenty of egg losses.

How should I encourage the chickens to range?

In order to encourage the chickens to range outside, plant trees close to their sheds. If shrubs and trees are planted at least 10m from the poultry sheds, the birds will be encouraged to go outside and forage on the shrubs. A distance of at least 10m also allows for sufficient space and access for machinery that you might be moving around the poultry farm.

The trees or shrubs that are situated closest to the poultry sheds will come under the biggest pressure from the flock and will thus take time to establish. To prevent excessive losses on individual trees, it is advisable to plant these with a higher density. You can subsequently move to a lower density planting behind these frontline shrubs so as to encourage the chicken to roam even further.

How do I maintain the planted areas?

To ensure they sprout smoothly, keep the bases of the planted trees as shrub-free as possible. This will ensure that the young trees access all the water that they need during their growing season.

As soon as the growing season starts for the initial two or three years, begin the weeding. Beyond this initial period, the roots of trees will have developed sufficiently enough that you will not require any more weeding.

Once the trees have grown, you should avoid weed-free circles around the base of the trees as these will encourage the hens to scratch the tree stem and damage their surface roots thus stunting the growth of the trees.

Have a ring of weed-free vegetation at least 10cm from the base of the trees. If the hens are pecking too much on the base or roots of the trees, place a plastic mesh around these area to prevent the hens from pecking this area.

Maintaining the Trees Once they Get Older

Inspect the trees every month in order to gage their progress. A common problem you are likely to grapple with is vegetation growing inside the tree guards that will eventually smother the trees.

Not all the trees that you plant will grow. Between 5% and 10% of the trees are going to die within the first three years. Remove these and replace them during the next planting season. If the same species of trees is dying off or performing poorly, then the local conditions may not be suited for their growth. Replace them with suitable tree species.

Start pruning the trees after duration of three to four years to minimize the damage that has been caused by the hens scratching and foraging on the vegetation.

Why Don’t Chickens Eat Mushrooms?

My free range yard has lots of beautiful mushrooms ranging from the crisp white to the succulent brown large mushrooms. My chickens eat virtually everything in the yard from small insects and grubs to grass and legumes but for some reason, they won’t touch the large white succulent mushrooms. They will even eat other insects, grubs, or grass around the mushrooms but they will never touch the mushrooms.

What is it about chickens and mushrooms? Chickens are not particularly picky eaters yet when it comes to the mushrooms, they get suddenly very picky.

I had the feeling that the chickens would find the mushrooms delicious but they all avoid it like the plague, including the small chicks. It is like the chickens are simply programmed not to eat mushrooms.

That got me researching lots of articles on the internet to hear the opinions from other farmers but I can’t find anything conclusive yet on the effect of mushrooms on chickens or why chickens simply won’t eat mushrooms.

One issue many farmers acknowledge is that a lot of mushrooms are poisonous and if you are not familiar with the various kinds of mushrooms, you are unlikely to know which kinds are safe for consumption and which ones are picky. So instead of force-feeding your chickens unknown mushrooms by mixing them into the chicken feed, it is better to let your chickens use their own natural instinct, which is to avoid all kinds of mushrooms. Even the safe mushrooms can cause a digestive upset as the chicken’s intestine is programmed for grit.

If you have to feed safe mushrooms, do it in very tiny portions in order to avoid causing any serious digestive issues.

Given that the chickens already don’t like mushrooms at all, it is better to clear off it and let the chickens choose their own foods while in the range. Don’t take your innovation in chicken feeding too far as it might adversely affect the health of your chickens.

Do You Have Adequate Insurance for Your Poultry Farm?

Poultry farmers rarely think of insuring their enterprises in spite of the many risks involved. There are many risks associated with the poultry farming enterprises including the risk of disease, theft, fluctuations in the costs of the farm inputs and many others. As a poultry farmer, you need to think about your insurance requirements.

In South Africa, a recent issue plaguing poultry farmers has been the drought and its subsequent impact on the cost of food supplies. Issues such as the prevalence of diseases have also impressed on the poultry farmers the need to have adequate insurance protection.

A mobile free range chicken coop

There are however various misconceptions on farm insurance that prevent many farmers from buying into these options. A lot of farmers don’t even understand the type of coverage that they have purchased and only meet a surprise when they need to make a potential claim. That is when they discover and regret that they had not bought into the right insurance coverage. Most will have made the option purchase based on factors such as the price and not necessarily the risks involved.

If you are planning to purchase an insurance coverage, you need to ask yourself the following questions:-

  • Factor in the size of cheque which you can write without feeling a severe financial impact.
  • Factor the size of loss that your business can absorb without failure or bankruptcy.
  • Determine how your business has changed since you instituted the current insurance protection.
  • Determine the factors that have changed in the external environment that are likely to have an impact on your poultry business.

Once you have considered these factors, you need to proceed and evaluate how you will transfer the risks, manage the risks or get rid of the risks completely.

Poultry Insurance Solutions

Transferring risks in your poultry farm generally involved passing it over to another party using the available and affordable insurance options that you can purchase from local insurance companies in South Africa.

A lot of poultry insurance solutions will cover the standard perils in your farm such as the burst pipes, fires, floods, theft or falling trees. In the poultry industry, you have to go for insurance solutions that offer wider coverage for the various risks inherent in the industry and give you adequate protection.

The risks in the poultry industry change based on the type of poultry production you are engaging in, whether layer production, free range chicken production, broiler production or turkey production among others. There are additional risks in the industry that you should also consider. These include the following:-

  • Electrical and mechanical breakdowns
  • Heat stress
  • Smother and panic related losses

However, the insurance market for the risks associated with poultry farming is still relatively small or there are various small and niche insurers that would be willing to offer you coverage.

Disease

You can find various insurance policies that offer you coverage for the risks of mortality. This can offer insurance coverage for various risks such as the death of the birds and various other financial losses associated with mortality on your farm.

The policies can be somewhat restricted. For example, they may exclude some of the diseases of high mortality such as the Newcastle Disease or Avian Influenza amongst others. However, if you feel this coverage is important, you may still opt in although it is likely to cost you a lot more in insurance premiums.

Other restrictions include factors such as the likelihood of the government paying up compensation on the healthy birds that have to be culled.

The poultry business may also need to cover the costs that are associated with cleaning the site up to the standards that are required by the local authority. The cleanup costs can be huge and they may not be covered by the insurance policy.

There are various other broader considerations. There could be packing stations that are situated at the poultry farm or close to the poultry farm and these can pose the risk of the poultry farm being crippled if it falls within a certain specified zone.

You will grapple with similar issues when it comes to broiler production in which case the poultry farmers may be clustered very close to the processing facilities. This can create a serious risk in case of a disease outbreak that is often overlooked by many producers.

It is difficult to find an insurer out there willing to underwrite a large scale Avian Influenza or even Newcastle Disease outbreak that will be enough to protect your business in case of a significant outbreak. Most experts recommend an industry-funded compensation solution that would be more realistic. A good option is a reinsurance solution from the insurance market. Such a solution that will offer some level of compensation to those poultry farms that are indirectly affected by the outbreak but cannot claim aid or compensation from the authorities.

How You Can Avoid Accidents in Poultry Farms

 

Health and safety are often overlooked in many poultry farming concerns but they are just as important. Organic or free range poultry farms are often characterized with less automation, lower stocking density and smaller-sized sheds and that means the health and safety standards may not always be taken seriously.

Ideally, visitors to a poultry farm must first wash their and disinfect their hands and feet before stepping into the poultry shed or the range area. Many poultry sheds have a trough with disinfectant or a wheel wash that is strategically placed at the entrance to the shed.

More sophisticated poultry farms have biosuits as well as clean boots that must be donned before entering the shed. Such a professional and rigorous approach to poultry biosecurity will go a long way in preventing the spread of diseases and pathogens in the poultry shed.

The same attention to detail must also be observed throughout the poultry farm in order to keep it safe. Emphasis should be placed in not just keeping the poultry out of harm’s way but also in protecting the staff and visitors to the poultry farm.

Dust Masks

Some poultry farms go the extra mile and require that visitors and farm workers to the farm wear dust masks. These masks should also be replaced on a regular basis to ensure the safety of everyone.

The workers in the poultry farm should also undergo regular health checks upon induction and their lung capacity monitored on a regular basis. The large amount dust in the poultry shed is likely to have an impact on the health of the farm workers if they are not adequately protected.

Long term exposure to the dust and the dander in the poultry house is also likely to cause long term respiratory conditions unless the management undertakes proactive steps to protect the workers. Employers should not only provide protection but also offer regular health surveillance to ensure that the exposure is not adversely affecting the workers in the poultry farm.

The Importance of Signage

Signage should be provided generously in the farm to direct workers and visitors to the farm on the proper health and safety precautions. The signage will also help in upholding the high health and safety standards that you have to put in place.

Machinery

Poultry farms use various kinds of machinery such as the trucks used for egg collection, lawn mowers, feed delivery trucks as well as various on farm vehicles. If you are not careful with how you operate this machinery, you may end up causing lots of accidents on the farm some of which may be fatal.

If you have large machinery on your poultry farm, make sure the staff operating machinery are well trained in the safe operation of machinery throughout the farm. Impose a speed limit such as 10mph on all motorized machinery used within the farm. This will minimize the severity of on-farm accidents. Having multiple motorized machinery on your farm could pose serious danger to everyone on the farm. Ensure the traffic flow in the poultry farm is also well regulated.

How to Plant Trees to Benefit Your Free Range Poultry Farm

There are numerous benefits that your free range chicken farm can derive from an abundance of tree cover. The trees not only improve the ranging but they also serve as protection from flying predators and reduce the injurious feather pecking that your free range chickens might engage in.

Free Range Chicken Foraging
Free Range Chicken Foraging

If you are planning out a range area where your free range poultry will forage, make sure that this goes hand in hand with aggressive tree planting on your free range poultry farm.

There are several design options that you can run with depending on the management practices that you have incorporated on your free range poultry farm, the layout of your free range poultry farm as well as the location of the poultry sheds and the shape of the land. All the designs that we have worked on feature trees as well as shrubs that are close to the sheds and which will encourage your free range chickens to forage about and lead a healthier lifestyle. In a previous article, we have discussed the importance of ranging an overall healthier free range lifestyle on the health and quality of the poultry products that is produced by the chickens.

Things to Keep in Mind Before Planting Trees on a Free Range Poultry Farm

Here are some important steps to keep in mind when planting trees in your free range poultry farm:-

  • Before you start planting trees on the free range chicken farm, check to ensure that the farm itself can be planted. The design of certain farms along with space considerations may not always make this process feasible. Check to ensure that the land where you are planning to plant the trees is ecologically feasible. In case it has various topographical features such as furrows and ridges, then you need to consult with local authorities in order to determine if tree planting will be permissible.
  • Choose your tree species carefully. It is advisable to pick species that are already growing well locally. There are certain native shrubs that can do well in your local climate zone that will encourage the chickens to explore and even feast on them thus adding to their varied diet. The vegetation can also serve as windbreaks and can be good screens for sheds. We generally recommend that you plant only the native shrubs.
  • If you will be planting the trees close to the sheds and various other infrastructure in the poultry farm, keep in mind the height of the species of the trees or shrubs that you are planning to plant. The ultimate height of the vegetation that you choose to plant should not reach the power lines as this is likely to pose a serious problem a few years down the line. Choose also trees that will not deposit a lot of litter on the roofing and the extraction fan outlets of the poultry house.
  • Protect the newly planted trees and shrubs from the browsing by animals that feed on vegetation such as rabbits, goats and even adult hens. You can protect them using stakes or tubes around the planted trees or shrubs.

How to Design Your Free Range Poultry Farms Woodlands

If you are planning to plant trees or shrubs close to the poultry sheds and other farm buildings, make sure you leave enough space for machinery access so that the trees are not damaged when you move machinery around the farm:-

  • You can plant the trees close to the free range poultry sheds while allowing for a clear view of tree cover from the poultry house popholes. This will encourage the birds to go outside into the range to forage.
First Design
First Design
  • The diagram below shows a design where 15 to 30 trees with a spacing of at least 2m. In this kind of configuration, you can have the bulk of the trees at the edge of the farm with a spacing of 3m to form shelter for the chickens.
Design 2
Design 2
  • In the design below, you can plant large oblongs of trees with spacing of 2m and then you can begin thinning them out after five to ten years.
Design 3
Design 3
  • You can also plant trees in blocks of straight lines with spacing of 2m to allow for easy mowing between the rows. You can start thinning these out after five years.

  • You can also encourage the chickens to venture out by leaving corridors between woodlands. This will encourage them to venture far out into the range. The trees should be planted with spacing of 2m and then you can begin thinning them out after a period of 5 to 10 years.

Tips for Successful Turkey Production in South Africa

If you are running a mixed farming operation, then turkey production could be a great way to diversify your farming operation. A lot of poultry farmers are now transitioning into rearing free range turkeys either as part of a mixed farming unit or as a standalone operation geared at large scale production.

When it comes to turkey production in South Africa, there are lots of opportunities for newcomers to insert themselves into the production chain in order to meet the regular and seasonal demand for turkey meat, especially in restaurants.

Turkey Farming in South Africa
Turkey Farming in South Africa

However, success in turkey production in South Africa is still highly dependent on carrying out effective marketing as well as mastering successful turkey rearing and management techniques. If you are planning to rear turkeys especially for the Thanksgiving or Christmas, make sure you have established a solid market for the birds. Turkey meat may not fly off the shelves like chicken meat so you need to have developed a good niche market where you will sell your turkey.

Success in turkey rearing also requires good stock management techniques as well as a commitment for tender loving care throughout the lifecycle of the birds. However, practicing the best rearing techniques and having healthy birds will be of no use if you have nowhere to sell your turkey. If you are a newcomer, you should aim at selling your turkey in December when the demand shoots up while also opening a few marketing funnels for the occasional buyer in between the year. You must also ensure that you can provide a very high stock management standard so that you can deliver top quality turkey meat to the market.

Brooding Considerations

The first stage in rearing your turkey is chick brooding which is always a delicate process with all types of poultry. With turkey, it is a particularly uphill task because turkeys are very difficult to brood.

First timers are likely to make too many avoidable mistakes. For examples, they might acquire too many chicks for the brooding size leading to overcrowding and a higher rate of mortality and morbidity.

The brooder you use in brooding your turkeys should be one of correct size and should handle the number of chicks that you are planning to brood. Otherwise you might find yourself suffering a lot of losses because you chose the wrong size of brooder. The chicks will likely suffocate as they huddle together close to the heat.

The brooder temperature should be a critical factor during these early stages. If the heater temperature is too hot, they will move away from the heat source and huddle together around corners leading to suffocation and other injuries. Similarly, if the heat is not sufficient, the chicks will huddle around the little heat source and the crowding results in losses.

Ideally, for brooding purposes, you should have a temperature of 37 degrees Celsius under the brooder and between 15 to 10 degrees Celsius outside the brooder. To produce good quality and health turkeys, you have to give them some tender loving care during the early stages and that will require some passion on your part.

There are various complex stages during the rearing of your turkeys that you will definitely grapple with and which could simply lead to huge losses. However, as long as you enforce very high standards in the turkey production process, you can always minimize losses and enjoy a high yield. You should also maintain regular monitoring to ensure the turkey chicks are thriving.

There are optimal stocking densities for free range turkey that you can go with. Ideally, for a commercial enterprise, you should aim at a stocking density of up to 1000 birds per acre. If you can achieve lower stocking densities, the better. The land where you grow your turkey should also be well drained. Having your turkeys paddling through wetlands can be quite unhealthy.

Fencing and Range Management

Install good and if possible, electric fencing around your turkey farm to protect them from the predators. Also, the range areas where the turkey are being reared should be treated once in a while with lime. Ideally, do that at least once in a year in order to kill of pests, parasites, pathogens and also reduce the bad odour coming from the turkey farm. Treating with lime will also prevent a build up of parasites in the range area where your turkey are grazing.

Shelter

For more protection from predators, make sure the turkey are back in the shelter at night. Depending on the local weather, you can take them back to their sheds either early or late in the evening.

You can entice the turkey to get back into their sheds by switching on lights in the shelter, especially during winters. The lights will attract them to move inside. To prevent the turkey from panicking, you can also leave a low-level light on throughout the night.

Make sure the flooring of the shed is strawed with fresh material on a regular basis to prevent a build-up pests, diseases and foul smell.

Join Our VIP Poultry Farmers Club: Your Opportunity Awaits

Our Free Range Poultry Farming VIP Club now gives you more.

Whether you are a farmer or an aspiring farmer, you can now join our Farmers Club and unlock more value in your poultry farming venture in South Africa.

Most of our members are currently based in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana but membership stretch all over the globe. Membership provides farmers plenty of benefits including discounted pricing on poultry and poultry equipment orders from select suppliers, information on poultry farming, referrals to the most relevant poultry contacts in your province or city and marketing benefits. Members of our Poultry Farmers Club can advertise their businesses for free on our online poultry portals and reach a bigger audience of potential buyers.

Applications for Membership in the Poultry Farmers Club are welcome from those who are either directly involved in free range or organic poultry farming, especially in Southern Africa where members can derive direct benefits from affiliation with the club.

We also welcome membership applications from those involved in various ancillary industries such as poultry equipment sellers in South Africa, veterinary service providers, poultry feed manufacturers and distributors, poultry wholesalers and various other players in the Southern Africa Poultry Value Chain.

Membership Benefits

  • Branch out your network by meeting other members involved in free range or organic poultry production.
  • Get free marketing for your poultry farms and products
  • Create an online profile and boost your visibility: WE offer you a page where you can profile your business, send press releases on the latest developments in your poultry business operation, post jobs, submit deals and member discounts and other marketing information that will help boost your sales.
  • Get our free Free Range Farming Information Pack.
  • Get useful contacts in the South African Poultry Industry
  • Advocacy Platform: Have an issue you wish to raise. We offer you the best platform for advocacy that will reach the largest network of opinion leaders and players in the industry.

Cost: The Farmers Club Membership costs $25 per year.

You can click below to order your membership today:-

How to Start Out on Free Range Egg Production in South Africa

Free range chicken farming is increasingly the solution for a market that needs healthy and ethically grown chicken at affordable pricing. However, it is not always all smooth sailing. If you get one detail wrong, you could find yourself pouring lots of money down the drain.

Fortunately for most first time farmers, there is lots of information available online on how to carry out profitable and largely successful free range chicken farming operation in South Africa. Our Free Range Chicken Farming Manual is a good starting point for equipping yourself with the right information and knowledge.

A mobile free range chicken coop
A mobile free range chicken coop

The number one consideration when it comes to growing free range chickens is whether you have a good site where you can carry out the poultry farming operation. The ideal site should be well drained, flat, have good space that will suit your stocking density and should have good quality and well established pasture where chickens will graze.

Planning Permission

If you will be putting up a permanent structure, you will likely need a planning permission. The details can vary depending on your local council. Before you proceed with building the poultry houses, talk to the local planners and let them advise you on the kinds of planning permissions that will be required for your poultry houses.

Mobile poultry houses will likely not require any permissions or restrictions compared to static permanent buildings. However, the poultry houses will be situated close to residential areas, you may still need certain permissions so as to go ahead with building the poultry house. Securing these permissions may take weeks so it is important to start early in order to avoid any future inconveniences.

If you will be running a smaller scale operation, you can simply convert existing buildings into poultry houses. Make sure the buildings meet the necessary welfare guidelines as well as strict biosecurity requirements. After constructing the poultry sheds, give them a little time before you introduce the chickens. This will give you time to inspect building and fix any issues with the building that might affect the health of your poultry.

Will You Go With a Mobile or Static Poultry House?

Many South African farmers prefer a mobile poultry house which are generally suited for the large ranges. Moving the chickens from one range to another will help keep the capture fresh and minimize the build-up of diseases and pests. You should always do a pasture rotation in a free range chicken farming operation.

However, mobile poultry coops are generally best suited for smaller flock numbers. If you are planning to keep over 10,000 chickens, you will be better off with a static chicken coop. In this case, a static coop can allow you to optimize on your labour efficiency and cut down on the costs of the labour as well as on the logistics of moving a large poultry flock from one pasture to another.

Raise the poultry in a clearspan building that has some residual value so that you can use it long after you have gone out of the poultry business. The poultry house should also have easy accessibility to the various means of transportation that you will use on your farm such as lorries that will deliver the feeds and collect eggs. Mobile sites however have the advantage of flexibility-they can easily be sited away from areas that have a lot of traffic so as to minimize the risk of pests and diseases.

A good free range chicken farming shed should also have give good access to electricity and water. It must have enough water storage along with backup power supply just in case there is a power blackout. You can install a generator or solar power to supplement the mains power supply. For remote poultry farming sites, a renewable energy source is generally a good power source for your poultry farming operation.

The Building Specifications

Consult widely in order to choose the most suitable poultry housing system for your farming operation. Get all the information you can as early as possible so as to ensure you get your poultry housing right the very first time. You can pay a visit to existing farm so that you can see first hand how other farmers are already doing it. This will give you a clearer idea on the requirements for your poultry housing.

A free range chicken house should have a two-third area that is slatted. One third of the poultry housing should be a designated scratching area. You can bed this with sawdust or chopped straw. You should also consider adding perches and nesting boxes in the poultry house. The perches will allow the chickens to express their natural behavior of perching.

The free range chicken housing should also be well ventilated as this will be critical for the health of your poultry as well as their productivity. The stocking density of the poultry farming operation generally depends on the type of production type that you are planning to practice.

The poultry housing should be cleaned properly and also well ventilated. You should especially do so between the flocks. Watch out on red mites. Poultry houses generally attract various kinds of pests including flies and rodents among others. Make sure you clear the poultry house of all clutter and rubbish to reduce the incidences of pests. The populations of these will explode during the warm weather seasons.

The Flock Management

Pay close attention to ensuring good husbandry in your flock. If you lack the poultry husbandry experience, you gain some knowledge by undergoing training or working for some time in a poultry unit.

The pullets will be delivered to your farm fully vaccinated but you must still follow a well defined vaccination routine to protect them from common infectious diseases. Ensure the chickens are weighed on arrival and follow the proper feeding routine before you bring the birds into lay.

To ensure a smooth transition of the hens into a new environment, continue the lighting regimen and procedures based on the breed guidelines. Make sure you continue weighing the birds throughout their production cycle. The poultry feed should also be formulated based on the advice provided by the manufacturer/supplier.

Monitor the chickens on a regular basis in order to detect any health or disease threats early on. To ensure the optimal health of your poultry flock, work closely with a professional veterinarian.

Contracts

Before you invest a large some of money into a free range poultry farming operation, it is prudent to talk to suppliers and ensure contracts are available for egg supply. Before you invest in an egg production operation, do a thorough a market research and know the main players in the industry that you are likely to work with.

How to Control Bad Smell in Your Poultry Farm

As a poultry farmer, one of your public health responsibilities is keeping a lid on the pungent smell that emanates from your poultry farm.

The local authorities generally have the responsibility of dealing with bad odour complaints by your neighbours and the general public. Poultry farms are some of the worst abusers when it comes to bad odour.

Any smell emanating from your premises is a public nuisance, especially if your poultry farm is situated in an area with a large human traffic, which is not always recommended anyway. Ideally, poultry farmers are situated as far away as possible from areas with a frequent people traffic. The smell coming from your poultry farm is also prejudicial to the health of all those who come into “contact” with it ranging from the workers to customers, visitors and random people passing close to your farm.

If you are a repeat offender, you will most likely face an enforcement action and possibly prosecution if you fail to properly manage the odour coming from your poultry farm. That is why it is important to have a proactive odour management plan that will help you minimise the impact the risks and the smell so as to have  a healthy and habitable poultry farm.

What is the cause of odours in the poultry farms?

The various odorous gases associated with poultry production include hydrogen, skalote, thiophenol, mercaptan, thioresol and finally, hydrogen sulphide. However, the biggest offending gas emanating from poultry farms and various other farming concerns is ammonia. The gas is colourless but has a very sharp and irritating smell.

Apart from its pungent smell, the gas is also corrosive and irritates the nose. Even if you are exposed to the ammonia gas in low concentrations, you may still experience eye and skin irritation. Its impact is particularly prevalent because it is a light gas that disperses very quickly and settles in low lying areas. That is why it has such an adverse impact on people close to your poultry farm.

Odours in a poultry farming enterprise are mainly caused by the feed, housing, the poultry themselves, manure and waste including the carcasses of the chickens.

The mitigation technique that you will use is site-specific. The method can vary depending on factors such as the scale of the poultry farming operation, the location and the type of poultry farming enterprise that you are engaging in. The most effective mitigation techniques against bad odours are effective monitoring and good housekeeping. Both of these will require some initiative on your part in order to make them work.

In order for you to check on the intensity of the odour emanating from the poultry house, you can also do some “sniff testing”. You can also buy a field olfactometer that you can use in monitoring the sources of bad odours.

There are various additives that you can use in masking the odours coming from your poultry house. While transferring and disposing off manure is an effective technique in getting rid of the bad odours, it is not a long term solution.

Here is a look at some of the techniques that you can use in masking the bad odours coming from your poultry farm:-

Managing Feed

Take time to clean out all the feed spillages. You can also avoid fine grinding the food and cut down on the protein content of the feed. Certain feed additives can also help mask the bad odours.

The Litter and Manure

Make sure you frequently clean out the manure. Control the temperature and humidity in the building and make sure the manure is dried. You can also provide enough litter or straw that will help in binding the nitrogen and prevent the ammonia from escaping.

Proper ventilation

Proper ventilation is key to managing the odours coming from the poultry house. Extracting the air from the poultry house will help in dispersing the odours inside the house. You can also boost the ventilation by using a fan.

Destocking

Catching or destocking can also help reduce the bad odours coming from your poultry house. Use catching curtains and ensure the doors are shut when catching.

Spent manure

The manure should be removed and transferred to a contained area. You can haul them to trucks and ensure the trucks are covered when you are still loading. Loading may sometimes take a few days.

Managing carcasses

The chicken carcasses should be collected as quickly as possible before they start rotting and pose a health risk.

Dust

Take steps to minimize dust in the poultry enterprise. Frequently clean out the dust in the poultry house and in the ventilation vents.

Land spread the manure

The poultry manure provides for a good fertilizer that you can use on your farm. Collect them on a regular basis and spread them on your farm. When spreading, you should also consider the wind direction. If necessary, treat the manure before spreading it out in the farm. Have a good manure management plan for your poultry farm.

Managing Dirty Water in the Poultry Farm

Have a dirty water collection system in the farm that is well contained. It is advisable to maintain drains as well as concrete areas where you can direct the dirty water. Dirty water should be cleared out as soon as possible.