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Report on the Farmers’ Lab 9 April 2021: Chicken Farming

This lab was graced by three speakers who are very active as consultants to emerging entrepreneurs, as farmers themselves and as trainers of emerging farmers. What was surprising about this lab is how their opinions converged around key issues that emerging and current chicken farmers have to face. The points of convergence represent clear lessons for chicken farmers and please note these.

The three speakers warned against adopting “ready-made” solutions for chicken farming. These may work for some producers, but they take away the opportunity for a farmer to innovate and reduce costs both downstream and upstream from the enterprise. This is important, as farmers may gain some significant savings in producing their own chicks, feed, structures and technologies like watering troughs and feeding troughs. From my own experience and from interacting with farmers, it seems there is a lot to innovate upon. Ready-made watering troughs and feeding trays are often positioned so low that chickens can climb into these. Farmers often lose up to 40% of their feed due to chickens fouling their own trays. Farmers need to immediately change these and position these higher – at the level of the chicken shoulder, to stop them from climbing into these trays. A farmer who does not modify these ready-made technologies risks not only her or his feed, but also the health of her or his heir chickens. Chickens will foul their own water and food and this could lead to lingering diseases in a chicken farm. We have to remember that we farm chickens in a very unnatural way in chicken houses. The chances of diseases emerging are high, and if the chicken’s water and food is foul, these diseases are going to emerge.

This example shows how important it is to innovate. I have heard many stories from chicken farmers who use these ready-made systems and wonder why it does not work out. The answer concerns much more than the feeding trays, which really needs to be modified. The answer lies in how a farmer’s agency is undermined in using such systems. As our speakers mentioned, a farmer’s fertiliser is the footsteps they take on the farm. Innovate, change and experiment, and learn and share lessons!

The three speakers also mentioned the benefits of biological production systems. Toekie mentioned they grow Marigolds as bedding and as feed. Marigolds – or “Afrikaners” – give a yellow colour to egg yolk and by using Marigolds as bedding, red mites are also eliminated to some extent. Farmers can make and mix their own feed, and also integrate chickens with other processes on the farm, like letting them clean tunnels of pests and by integrating them with cattle as the chickens can feed on pests in cattle dung.

A lot was also said about developing markets around the farm. Chickens are a hot commodity. Farmers should develop markets for their chickens in local areas. Consumers purchase chickens at retail level and a farmer who develops a marketing strategy to serve immediate communities can beat the supermarkets. Supermarkets labour under hight transport, distribution and warehousing costs – to name a few – and a local chicken farmer can beat these systems and deliver chickens at a very good price to consumers in local areas. Should this price be below retail values, the farmer can capture a big share of the market.

There are innumerable opportunities available for emerging farmers to get ahead, but then they need to understand their position in a complex food market. Without this understanding, there will be no room to manoeuvre in the economy and emerging farmers will not benefit. It is in the transformation of the retail system, and in the transformation of the production system to a biological system, that the great opportunities lie for innovation and the creation of new livelihoods for emerging farmers. Farmers in townships, informal settlements and near towns and cities, have a distinct advantage. These can be exploited and the future looks bright!

Please do contact our speakers if you need to:

Toekie Skegobela, Gung Boerdry, Zuurbekom,; 0823386133

Godfrey Leshage, 0828889472

Caroline McCann, ; 0826751171

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