Cashing in on the massive demand for stay birds


Poultry manufacturing has important challenges, with excessive enter prices and slender margins being close to the highest of the record. Nevertheless, Dale Shepherd, proprietor of Plaston Hen Farms in Mpumalanga, has discovered that meticulous administration and preserving an in depth eye on funds can convey enterprise success.

Chickens should be consumed time to make sure they don‘t storm the feed and scratch one another, which may result in illness and an infection.
Photograph: Lindi Botha

While you produce massive numbers of chickens on a good margin, the potential for sudden big losses, when it comes to each birds and cash, is a day by day actuality.

Dale Shepherd, proprietor of Plaston Hen Farms close to White River, is keenly conscious of this, which is why he focuses intently on sustaining the birds’ well being in any respect occasions and preserving a good rein on enter prices in his 800 000-broiler operation.

If anybody is aware of learn how to make a poultry farming enterprise work, it’s Shepherd. Because the proprietor of the Banking and Monetary Companies Campus in Johannesburg, the place he facilitates credit score and danger administration coaching in monetary companies, he has collected years of data of learn how to make a enterprise succeed or fail.

He additionally learnt a beneficial lesson when venturing into rooster farming, as his first try had a lower than beneficial final result.

“I attempted to run the farm remotely from Johannesburg, with a farm supervisor on web site,” he recollects. “However I realised in a short time that profitable rooster farming requires a hands-on strategy.”

Direct management

When Shepherd relocated to Mbombela, Mpumalanga, in 2011, he was provided the chance to hire land from a neighborhood property affiliation (CPA), which had acquired the property by a land declare. The holding, which includes two farms, was run-down, so the neighborhood was searching for somebody who might farm there and from whom they might earn an revenue by hire.

In the last decade since, Shepherd has established 9 manufacturing homes on the 2 farms, which maintain roughly 135 000 chickens at a time.

Dale Shepherd retains correct data and communicates recurrently along with his broiler home managers to make sure that the birds stay in optimum situation.

Plaston Hen Farms sells stay birds and has capitalised on an underserved phase of the market. As most of its prospects have restricted or no entry to electrical energy, they’re restricted within the variety of birds they will take without delay. Offtake agreements are due to this fact mandatory to make sure a relentless and regular provide of chickens.

The farm’s 4 vans ship as much as 2 500 birds a day to shoppers in the encompassing areas, whereas smaller orders might be collected straight from the farm.

Shepherd’s breed of selection is the Cobb, however because it’s additionally the market favorite, provide might be restricted. The Arbor Acres Plus and Ross breeds are extra freely out there, but it surely took some convincing to get his clientele to simply accept the latter.

“We’re very efficient in producing a sizeable Ross chook. The breed’s legs should not notably properly feathered, although, and the notion is that this makes for an inferior chook. However we’ve confirmed to our shoppers that they’re nonetheless getting [birds of] the identical weight, so there was larger acceptance. They’re pleased so long as we can provide them a 1,8kg chook. So, with out the market resistance, we are able to settle for no matter day-old chicks can be found.”

The birds are bought at 1,8kg to 1,9kg, which they attain inside 38 to 42 days. Shepherd goals for a feed conversion charge (FCR) of 1,6kg to 1,9kg of feed for 1kg of weight acquire.

Since enter prices are one among the largest challenges dealing with the enterprise, these have to be managed with nice care, as does the output. Shepherd’s strategy is to have a supervisor in control of every rooster home, and she or he is accountable for elevating wholesome birds.

“I present them with all the things they want for fulfillment, so all they should do is handle issues,” he says.

“Good administration requires that rooster home staff continue to exist the farm, as they have to be out there any time, day or evening, ought to an issue come up with the chickens.”

Fixed communication

Shepherd has created a WhatsApp group for every manufacturing home, enabling quick communication between himself and his employees, and has organized for progress studies to be given to him each morning.

Every employee should full a guidelines, which incorporates info comparable to the variety of feed baggage out there, mortalities, the variety of day-old chicks, and the standard of the birds’ bedding. The temperature in the homes should be measured six occasions a day to pre-empt any issues. This information is captured on a spreadsheet, which in flip goes right into a single complete administration report, giving Shepherd ongoing perception into what is going on on the farm.

Mortality charges is one among the important thing points that Shepherd focuses on. Given the delicate nature of chickens, overlooking this issue can rapidly result in enterprise failure. The farm maintains a mean mortality charge of 5,5%, and employees obtain bonuses for attaining targets.

“There’s a very good understanding that home managers must carry out to earn such bonuses. Lowering mortality charges depends on [proper] administration. If the speed all of a sudden shoots up in one among the homes, I can stroll into it and instantly see why: the chickens don’t have sufficient area, the bedding hasn’t been turned and the ammonia scent is just too sturdy, or there isn’t sufficient water. It’s all about being attentive and managing processes appropriately,” explains Shepherd.

Feed, water and housing
He emphasises the significance of feeding the chickens on time daily, as permitting them to get too hungry inevitably results in a stampede for meals. The birds get trampled and scratched in the method, and so turn into extra vulnerable to illness.

“Water can be crucial. Birds can go with out meals for a day or two, however not water. Final yr we had heatwaves the place the temperature reached 45°C. The water within the tanks outdoors received so sizzling that we needed to cool it down with ice to scale back the stress on the birds.

“It takes eager focus and correct administration to anticipate issues and do one thing about them earlier than they happen. That’s why ticking the guidelines a number of occasions a day is so necessary.”

In an space the place temperatures can climb above 40°C in summer time and drop to six°C in winter, regulating the temperature in the homes requires airflow administration. That is achieved with comparatively easy infrastructure.

“There aren’t any followers in the homes, so the curtains have to be raised and lowered to regulate the temperature. In summer time, we drop the curtains utterly and open the doorways on both aspect in order that we get a draught by the homes. In winter, we maintain the doorways closed and carry the aspect curtains barely enough to let contemporary air in and ammonia [fumes] out.

“If the birds collect when it’s sizzling, we strive to separate them up to maintain them from suffocating. If we don’t control them and guarantee they aren’t overcrowded, their mortality charges can skyrocket.”

Fuel heaters are used through the chilly months to heat up the homes, which is particularly essential for the chicks.

Monitoring progress
Shepherd maintains meticulous data to chart the progress of the operation. “I even have data from day one among each rooster home on the farm. The foremost facets to maintain monitor of are feed dialog and mortalities. I take a look at the figures for the primary seven days [of the birds’ lives], paying particular consideration to any scraps, that are deformed chicks that may by no means attain the aim weight. They should be [removed] as quickly as attainable, or the feed conversion figures received’t add up.”

By means of his consideration to FCR, he has decreased the interval that the birds obtain starter feed from 14 to 10 days, which has lower prices considerably, as starter feed is the costliest ration.

“The chickens are weighed on days one, three, seven and 10. The view within the [industry] is that chicks must be given starter feed for the primary 14 days, grower feed for an additional 14 days, and finisher meals till slaughter.

“However I did some analysis and located that farmers in a variety of international locations give starter feed for less than 10 days, so I started doing this and obtained good outcomes. I weighed the birds on day 10 and located that they’d achieved acceptable weights between days 38 and 42 by shifting to grower feed earlier.”

Shepherd prefers to fill a home with birds of a single breed from one provider; this ensures that any issues with a selected batch might be pinpointed as rapidly as attainable.

“If there’s a combined batch from a number of farms and one sick chook infects the remainder, it’s troublesome to choose up the place the illness got here from. We are able to get combined batches at a cheaper price per [chick], but it surely’s not well worth the danger.”

He data which breed is positioned in every home and from which hatchery they had been obtained; this allows him to watch which breeds and suppliers produce the very best outcomes.

Breeds additionally differ of their progress spurts, so it’s necessary to know when the birds will peak in order that they might be fed adequately. “If the breeds are combined in a home, you’ll be able to’t handle the feed as properly.”

Managing danger
Biosecurity performs a big function on the farm, and this has paid off: Plaston Hen Farms has not had a single illness outbreak since its inception. There are footbaths at each entrance, and automobiles are sprayed down earlier than getting into the farm. As well as, entry management ensures that outsiders don’t unwittingly herald illnesses.

Shepherd’s technique for fulfillment additionally entails calculating his break-even level each week. “I’ve labored out my variable prices, mounted prices, and the associated fee of manufacturing one chook, which is R37. I then monitor my bills, all of that are growing now: day-old chicks, gasoline, transport, feed and gas. We’ve had to boost the worth we cost per chook by R1 to cowl these prices.

“It’s necessary to control these figures, since the margins are so small
that it’s simple to slide right into a scenario the place we received’t make our a reimbursement. Because of this mortality charges play such a vital function. I can’t recuperate all these prices with out producing a certain quantity of product. If we go previous 5,5% mortality, I begin dropping.”

If these figures begin sliding in the direction of the tip of the dimensions, he negotiates along with his suppliers. “If I can get a 50c/chook price discount from all my suppliers, I can keep in enterprise.”

He notes that relationships carry a serious danger in any enterprise, but they are sometimes neglected. This consists of relationships with suppliers, collectors and, in his case, his landlord.

“I’ve constructed up a superb relationship with the CPA. I cope with one particular person, not the entire board, and now we have a very good understanding.

“[Plaston Chicken Farms] has a database of over 800 prospects whom we message of their [own] languages when now we have chickens on the market. This helps to nurture relationships that the enterprise can’t do with out.”

Shepherd says it’s his ardour for farming that drives him. “So long as I’ve lined my prices, paid my collectors, and there’s one thing small in it for me, I’m pleased. I’ll farm for so long as I can.”

E-mail Dale Shepherd at [email protected].