Keeping layers is a lucrative business. A minimum of 300 layers, experts say, is the least number one should keep to make good commercial sense. This could fetch you up to Ksh700,000 a year, while having 1,000 layers can rake in Ksh2.4million a year
However, this business can be capital intensive and fraught with challenges. It is a good idea to start small to help you get to where you want to be. Layers need to be carefully raised from when they are one-day old.
They start laying eggs from 18 to 19 weeks old (about four-and-a-half months), until 72-78 weeks or more, depending on the breed and management.
There will be days when the hen does not lay an egg at all. Its body begins forming another egg shortly after the previous one is laid, and it takes 26 hours, meaning that it will lay later and later each day and then skip a day at some point. Traditional chickens produce eggs on and off and for three to four years.
The longer the length of production, the fewer the eggs produced, though the size increases with time, while shell quality decreases.
How you handle your chickens when they are pullets, feed management and other factors also contribute to the number of eggs and for how long the chickens will lay.
To be successful you must understand the circle from acquiring chicks through to the time they start laying eggs. Knowing the importance of brooding, lighting and temperatures; diseases, vaccination and so on are also critical. Diseases can be very devastating, with whole flocks wiped out in one night.
Have a business plan, no matter how simple you begin, to be sure about what you require; your projections of what to expect and when you expect to break even and start making profits. Keep proper records of stocks, feeds, vaccination, mortality, weight, sale of birds and eggs, and other expenses.
Knowing your market is also critical. The market is always available, but most farmers don’t go out in search of it. One can market poultry products through family, friends, institutions, supermarkets, and open day markets.
To be a good poultry products supplier, you must be consistent. Give enough time to the business by watching the number of hours spent on feeding the birds, and vaccination and other tasks and avoid being an online or telephone farmer. When buying chicks, go for breeders who offer after sales services and who will guide and mentor you throughout the rearing process.
To get more information on rearing layers, we visited Mr Apollo Ngugi, the manager of Kukuchic Farm in Eldoret and Mr Stephen Kariuki from in Mugumo, Nyandarua. Kukuchic is a chicken breeder that sells day-old chicks. Mr Ngugi has seven years’ experience and expertise in poultry farming. Mr Karuiki has been keeping layers for the past two decades and maintains a maximum of 300 birds per cycle. He currently specialises on the improved kienyeji breed.
Hygiene and well-balanced feeds are the pillars of successful poultry farming, says Mr Kariuki. For the almost two decades that he has kept chicken, the farmer says the experience has taught him that housing with proper ventilation and cleanliness, “means a healthy chicken, which ultimately rewards the farmer with increased production of between 80 to 90 per cent chance of the hens laying eggs daily,” he says.
The farmer adds that a hen requires enough space to exercise; while feeding troughs must be clean at all times.
“It’s also important to ensure that your chicken have a clean sleeping area away from the feeding and laying areas.” Provide a clean, dry area for your chicks to protect them from predators, cold, rain, and hot sun. You need enough space to build the flock house that should be not less than 50 square feet.
In this article, we focus on housing for the deep litter system.
• The house should protect the birds from rain, wind and sunshine. Construct in an isolated area to risk of contamination
• Ensure enough space of two square foot per bird (2 foot²/bird).
• It should be rectangular with walls not higher than 3ft on the longer side.
• Use off-cuts, iron sheets, silver boards or bricks for the walls and wire mesh of a small gauge ½”, to prevent entry of wild birds, cats, dogs and rodents on the rest of the side.
READ FULL ON HOUSING, VACCINATION, RECORD KEEPING,DISEASE CONTROL AND EGG KEEPING STORY INSIDE ISSUE 37 OF SMART FARMER MAGAZINE