Starting a Free Range Egg Farm in South Africa
The South African free range egg industry is currently growing very fast thanks to the high demand and changing lifestyles. As a result, it is attracting both commercial as well as small scale producers. For new farmers, the free range chicken farming model can be a little more complex than initially expected. On the other hand, while the large commercial producers have no problem breaking into the industry, they are generally caught in the standards debate as to what really constitutes the term “free range”. Because of the lack of regulation on free range chicken farming in South Africa, producers generally have a wide latitude and flexibility to impose their own standards of free range chicken farming in South Africa.
Free range chicken farming in South Africa can be regarded as a relatively new industry thanks to the recent explosion of growth although there are South African farmers who have been practicing the trade for generations. Thanks to its newness, it looks like a very attractive and profitable prospect for many farmers who view it as an inexpensive and profitable way to venture into agriculture as long as you have a little capital. For producers with lots of land, free range chicken farming in South Africa looks like something that is fairly easy to do and which promises very high returns.
The South African Egg Industry
There are three main modes of poultry production in South Africa. These include the following:-
- Free Range Chicken Farming: This is where the chickens are housed in sheds and are given access to the outdoor range.
- Barn-laid: In this mode of poultry farming, the chickens are free to roam within a shed. The shed may have more than one level.
- Cage hens: In this mode of farming, the chickens are continuously housed in the cages which are placed inside a shed. It is often called factory farming and regarded as an unethical way to raise chicken.
The term caged and barn-laid are fairly well defined and understood by both consumers and producers. However, thanks to the changing consumer attitudes regarding factory farming and the increased popularity of free range chicken products, these terms are becoming less popular with many South African retailers and consumers. Many producers simply label barn-raised chickens are “free range” while the origin of the produce from the caged birds is simply not labeled.
Currently, there is a tremendous growth of the free range systems while the other systems are going out of the market. This is driven by increasing consumer awareness along with campaigns by various animal welfare advocates in South Africa which puts an emphasis on the humane treatment of animals and poultry. There are supermarkets like Woolworths which are wholly committed to promoting free range chicken products on their shelves as long as they produced as ethically as possible.
Egg Production Under Free Range Chicken Production Systems
There are several factors which will influence egg production. These include the chicken strain, breed, mortality, nutrition, age at the point of lay of the birds as well as the age at peak lay. A lot of small scale farmers generally purchase the new or replacement pullets as point of lay pullets when they are about 18 weeks of age. Some farmers prefer purchasing the day old chicks but this can increase the factors and risks which will impact productivity and profitability. There are various other location factors that you need to put into consideration such as the transport costs, access to the markets, transport, available labor, water supply as well as the feed availability.
It is easy for the large commercial operations to make a profit because of the economies of scale, as well as automation of the chicken production process. Additionally, the large commercial enterprises deploy vertical integration of production which makes it easy for them to run smooth poultry farming operations. For example, they have their own breeder farms, hatcheries, transportation, layer farms, processing areas as well as grading facilities.
If you are a small scale, you must work hard in order to maximize the productivity of your chickens. This will also involve you maximizing on various factors such as the number of eggs which are laid by every hen, working hard in order to maintain the egg quality, cutting down on the cost of feeding, carrying out overall efficient management and also ensuring access to niche markets which will keep your production and cash-flow running.
The number of eggs which are laid per hen always varies based on a number of factors such as the day length, nutrition, the age of hen as well as seasonality. A lay rate is calculated as a % of eggs which have been laid relative to your overall flock size. For example, if you have a flock size of 400 and 300 are laying, then the lay rate is 75%. For you to accurately assess the performance of your layers, it is important that you record the daily egg numbers. The best performance is generally a lay rate that is over 85%. If the lay rate has decreased to between 60 and 70%, the birds should be culled.
If you are running a small free range chicken egg farm in South Africa, you can simply clean and package your eggs on site but you need to be aware of the various regulations as well as standards for food safety which have been put in place when it comes to the washing, grading as well as storage of your chicken eggs. Cold storage is required and when making egg deliveries, ensure that you provide refrigerated transport.
Ensure that the poultry housing for your free range layers is as mobile as possible. Check out our egg mobiles for more clues. This will ensure the efficient management of both the environment as well as the pasture for your poultry. For layer hens, the flock sizes are generally less than 2500 hens per hectare although there are farmers that exceed those levels. The shed for your poultry should be designed in order to ensure ease of relocation as well as an appropriate interior environment for the hens. There should be sufficient nesting as well as roosting areas.