The humble chicken could become a game-changer for SaveAct farmers, if principles shared in a recent training course become the norm.
The specialist training in poultry management, done over four days by WAYSE partner Siyazisiza Trust (ST), focused on the business of poultry farming. It also touched on other topics, including husbandry, biosecurity and regulations around food safety.
The course, attended by 90 participants in three groups, included six SaveAct staff. It was part of the Woman and Youth in Sustainable Enterprise (WAYSE) project, which aims to boost enterprises of 10 000 mainly women and youth.
Poultry is a signifiant commodity for SaveAct entrepreneurs. In a recent sample of 1 700 SG members involved in income-generating activities, it was found that 18% were farming broilers or layers. With demand for chicken products outstripping supply in South Africa (according to the South African Poultry Association), farming this bird is a big opportunity for smallholder farmers.
However, many of these farmers’ ambitions are severely hampered by a lack of basic knowledge of poultry husbandry. Brendon Nithianandham, head of farmer extension and support services at ST, and a poultry farmer in his personal capacity, said the intention of the training was to make participants, who are already earning money from chickens, aware of the deeper concepts of poultry management.
“We looked at all the challenges that farmers are faced with,” he said. The training started with an overview of the poultry industry in South Africa, so that farmers “understand the dynamics”. This was followed by a look at requirements for poultry inputs and infrastructure, as well as brooder management (the rearing of chicks).
An important topic was biosecurity. “This is about how to prevent diseases from entering the poultry house,” said Mr Nithianandham. “People were using trays from the kitchen to feed their poultry, and we made them understand the importance of using the correct materials.”
He said many challenges experienced by farmers are because “people take a rondavel and turn it inti a poultry house”. This results in ventilation and light being compromised.
For Zinhle Ncwane, a participant who is also a SaveAct field officer and a small-scale farmer, this section of the training was a revelation. She said many of the SG members she works with battle with diseases that kill their chickens.
“We learnt that we are supposed to clean the chicken house at the end of (each) cycle and leave it for two weeks,” she said. Mrs Ncwane has over 100 birds, comprising broilers, layers and indigenous chickens, and she makes a profit of about R3 000 per cycle of 46-56 weeks.
She said participants “had a lack of knowledge and now we know how to prevent diseases”. However, they were also taught that there are some diseases that they can’t treat, and they should rather contact a vet or extension officer.
The trainees also learnt about the importance of keeping other animals, inducing people, from entering the chicken house. “We learnt how to make a cage that can be uses to show customers (a chicken) while protecting it and the rest of the flock,” said Mrs Ncwane.
One piece of information that was surprising for participants was the importance of temperature. “We didn’t know that this is important. We learnt about making sure our chickens are not too hot or too cold, and about what temperature is needed at different ages,” she said.
Food safety was covered in a section that looked at regulations affecting the poultry industry. Mr Nithianandham said one of the most important of these is the Meat Safety Act, which stipulates that all meat intended to be sold to consumers must go through certain processes in an abattoir. In South Africa many farmers “just take a bucket of water, pluck the chicken and put it in the fridge for the customer,” he said.
“My intention in preaching the Meat Safety Act wat to make them aware that it is illegal to not follow this, and they understood.”
The business section saw participants being taken through drawing up at business plan. “We looked at inputs for different numbers of chickens and flocks, and we did this in groups where participants were required to show that they understood the mathematics,” said Mr Nithianandham.
The production model covered was for 50-600 chickens. Farmers were required to figure out how much feed and water was needed, and the scale of the house for 600 chickens. “Most farmers only had 100 to 300 chickens (at home), and some had serious problems, due to a lack of knowledge,” said Mr Nithianandham.
The farmers were given advice on how to economise their enterprise, by paying less for costs like registering their business, or buying inputs like feeders from a wholesaler. “I made them aware of how they were being overcharged,” said Mr Nithianandham.
While it is not feasible for the participants to improve all their infrastructure overnight, they were advised to tackle their most important issues first. “The problem could be that the house is too dark, or the ventilation is not good enough. They need to figure out what they will do about it,” he said.
Mrs Ncwane will be making some changes. The information she found most important was about constructing the ideal chicken house, and she is aiming to make a start on improving her houses. “I’m going to change the structure of all my houses so they can get sun in the morning and afternoon,” she said. “It will be expensive – the layers are in a goat house made of zinc, and I need to change to blocks. The broilers need open spaces.”
For some participants the change could even mean moving away from chickens altogether. Apart from looking at broilers and layers, the course also touched on other poultry operations, including, duck, turkey, ostrich and indigenous chickens. The latter can fetch a much higher price if sold for traditional rituals.
“We wanted to give them the whole overview, because for some people it’s not worth it to do broilers in their area. There are other poultry enterprise from which you can create an income,” he said. “Poultry is a great enterprise for smallholder farmers if they are aware of a few things and choose the right venture.”
For those wising to start the journey with chickens, under WAYSE there will also be Business-in-a-Box training for people at any level. This training will be available to 500 savings group members.
WAYSE is supported by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).