SO MANY QUESTIONS AND SO MUCH INFORMATION OUT THERE SO WHERE DO YOU START?
Well, firstly ask yourself what you want to do.
1. Have you enough space or housing to do this on a large scale or are you looking to do a backyard operation? How many is a large operation? 100, 200, 400 or more?
2. Do you want to breed or do you want to buy in day old stock and raise them yourself?
3. Do you want to raise layers or broilers or pure bred birds?
4. Are there other poultry operations in your area? If so, are they well run, is there a vaccination programme in place and are the birds looked after properly?
THE FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS IS TO DO THE HOMEWORK FIRST. IF YOU HAVE ACCESS TO INTERNET, SEE WHAT YOU CAN FIND.
there are web sites that cater to the small operation and backyard farmer. University sites such as MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY has an outreach programme and even if you email them they will always be of help. Look under the EXTENSION OFFICER.
Texas University also has a lot of documents that you can download for free and print.
Start there to learn as much as you can. Then decide on the above questions, what type of operation you want. If you are wanting to do layers find out all you can about caged layers and free range layers. Bear in mind that CAGED LAYERS ARE BEING PHASED OUT BECAUSE OF CRUELTY ALLEGATIONS, AND FREE RANGE EGGS CAN BE VERY EXPENSIVE.
To run a free range operation you need to have housing that you can lock at night. It needs to be safe from theft and predators and have sufficient room for the amount of birds you are intending to have. Free range birds require one square metre for two or three birds inside space, and that is providing you can open the door and let them out to scratch in the day time.
Some people have the poultry tractor system, where the birds are housed in a mobile unit that you can move from pasture to pasture and let them scratch.
These are some examples of what are termed chicken tractors. You can see that the whole house can be moved either by tractor or by bakkie, or even by hand. You then can preserve the grazing of the land and allow each paddock to recover before using it again. To cycle every three to four months is ideal. You can also have a house that is central to the paddock, and have four areas fenced off. You then open a door on each side of the house so that the birds only have access to one side of the grazing paddock. This way, you can successfully rotate the birds so that they do not deplete the soil. You can after the birds have moved on, plant wheat or barley, among the grasses. You can also fertilise and allow the land to rest, because chickens believe me can denude a landscape within days!
FREE RANGE BIRDS ARE MORE LABOUR INTENSIVE AND YOU NEED TO HAVE NESTING BOXES INSIDE THE HOUSING IF YOU ARE INTENDING TO SELL THE EGGS.
You can raise chicks this way too, and sell the cocks , retain the hens and sell layers. However this is not simple as it seems:
If you want to raise layers you need to decide if you are going to buy in stock from HYLINE or NATIONAL CHICKS in SA, or if you are going to attempt to produce your own layer. This is labour intensive and requires a lot of research and trial and error.
The easiest is to buy day old or 5week old stock and raise it to point of lay, then sell.
This is the time to do the maths and decide how much feed you will need. If the birds free range they will require less feed. if they are confined they will require more feed. One adult bird eats approximately 250g of feed a day, and this depends on the breed and the size. Free range birds will eat approximately 100g feed a day depending how good the grazing is and whether you are feeding extra grain, fruit vegetables or greens. Free range birds also require deworming more often than confined stock.
Remember the dangers of overcrowding, there is an article on this on this site. (The dangers Of Overcrowding).
Please also remember you need heat for the first three weeks, you need specialised feed for broilers or layers, you need to have staff on hand to remove the soiled and wet bedding and keep it DRY.
You need a programme in place for rats/rodents, flies and disposal of manure.
You also need to ask yourself how you are going to collect the eggs. Will this be done once a day out of specialised nesting boxes or will you have staff to collect from inside the sheds?
Eggs for sale need to be graded according to size and they need to be CLEAN. Dirty eggs , mis shaped eggs, cracked or soft shelled eggs, are not suitable for sale
All this is labour intensive but well worth the trouble as to cut corners in the short term only leads to problems later on.
You also need a vaccination programme, also included in the section on vaccinations on this site. Even if you intend to slaughter at eight or ten weeks, the birds need immunisation up to that point. See on this site( vaccines for dummies)
You also need to decide if you are going to take the birds to an abattoir or apply for a licence to do it yourself. You cannot haphazardly slaughter birds on your property. You need infrastructure, a shed, equipment, sanitation and well informed staff. It is costly and very hard work. Before you get yourself into trouble with the local municipality find out if you can slaughter in your area, because I believe you need to be in a special area zoned agricultural . Every municipality has different rules, so go and see the relevant authorities and be wise.
These are some ideas on egg laying boxes for the girls. You can see these are attached to the outside of the house to minimise dirty eggs, floor eggs or hens eating their own eggs. There is a flap on the outside so you can collect eggs without disturbing the girls inside. There are trap nests as well that you can make so that whichever hen lays the egg you know which hen has done the work. Unfortunately you then need to have some one on hand three times a day to release the girls from the nesting box that will trap her there until she is released. You can then mark the egg and you know which hen and which cock has been responsible for that egg.
This is time consuming and useful only for the hobbyist.
If you intend to do what they call barn eggs, you can confine the girls to a shed area, making sure there is enough room for them to move around and have nesting boxes for them inside, off the ground. If you sell your eggs the law demands you have salmonella free stock so you need to vaccinate for this and keep the area sanitary, with good ventilation. There is no point vaccinating against salmonella and then having filth in your pens or outside, that breeds more salmonella. No vaccine is efficient if the field challenge is too great, so be aware you need to keep a clean operation. You cannot sell dirty or mishappen eggs.
This means some one has to grade your eggs. You can buy a grading template that allows the eggs to fit through a specific ring.
If you sell free range farm eggs, you might get away with not grading them. Your eggs need to be clean, without blood rings and the birds HAVE to be dewormed regularly to comply with legislation. None of this comes cheap. If you deworm, you cannot sell those eggs for 48 hours, so all the eggs laid after deworming have to be discarded. You will find unethical people who sell the eggs anyway, but if some one has a reaction to that egg, you will lose your operation and be shut down. All this costs as well, because it is a loss you have to accept.
These are some examples of cock cages and the fans I have in my breeding houses.