Profitable Farming for Free Range Eggs in South Africa

Due to their nutritious value, free-range eggs are the new in-thing amongst many health-conscious consumers in South Africa. Many buyers are moving away from the eggs produced commercially in battery cages into free range and organic eggs. However, there are still various challenges associated with setting up free range egg production systems in South Africa. Those who do it face the challenge of running a profitable venture over the long term.

Free Range Chicken Farming In South Africa

Free range yolk versus caged bird yolk color

Can you spot the diffference? Free range yolk versus caged bird yolk color

Free range egg production in South Africa means that you are going to work with lower stocking densities, need more land and employ some intensive management of your flock in order to reduce mortality. Once you get it right at the production level, you shouldn’t face difficulty marketing your free eggs in South Africa as they are often always preferred over the other eggs in the market.

Rules and Regulations

When starting a free range chicken egg farming operation in South Africa, it is important to familiarize yourself with the various rules and regulations governing the industry. Talk to the local authorities and determine if you will need any permissions. A static housing may require certain permissions which might not be the case with mobile chicken houses for your free-range chickens.

In South Africa, a stocking density of 1500 birds per hectare is recommended although some commercial farms generally exceed that. With a large farmer, you can also run mobile units where the birds graze in various parts of the land where they can access fresh pasture land. Paddocking or pasture rotation is always recommended for your birds to graze on although there are farmers who also supplement these with commercial feeds in to boost their egg production. However, the South African free range poultry farming sector is not heavily regulated and many farmers or farmer groups pretty much set their own path as to what constitutes free-range production system. While a stocking density of 1500 per hectare is generally recommended, it is not uncommon to see farmers who exceed that and put up to 10,000 birds in one hectare. That means, too, that there is no strict regulation on the feeding regime of the birds or on whether to administer antibiotics or not.

Free Range Chicken Eggs

Free Range Chicken Eggs

Set-up Costs

There are various initial costs that you will grapple with when launching a free range egg farming business in South Africa but what you eventually get to foot will depend on the scale of your ambition as a farmer. There are the costs associated with setting up the static buildings and buying various poultry equipment such as the poultry feeders, drinkers and nest boxes. Some South African poultry farmers prefer to mechanize a bit. They do that by introducing mobile sheds or “egg mobiles “ which allow the free range hens to graze over a vast piece of land and glean all the nutrients found therein including the fresh grass shoots, Lucerne, bugs, grubs, termites and many other natural sources of diet that make the free range products so nutritious.

Free Range Eggs South Africa

Free Range Eggs South Africa

Building mobile houses for free range layers or the “egg mobiles” is generally suited for farmers targeting a niche market such as organic free range eggs since this generally comes with much-reduced economies of scale which makes the venture costlier compared to the standard free range chicken farming in South Africa which tends to have broader scale, limited use of antibiotics and even the use of commercial feeding methods for the free range hens.

Working Capital

If you are rearing the commercial egg-laying varieties such as the Hyline Brown and the Hyline Silver Brown layers in South Africa, then it is advisable to purchase those that are ready to start laying and which are generally aged at about 16 weeks. This will help you cut down on the high cost and high-risk process of rearing your layers from about day old to 16 weeks of age. By the time you begin seeing a positive cash-flow, the hens should be aged anywhere from 35 to 40 weeks. When buying your hens, you can start by placing a provisional order earlier on before the start date. Many breeders will require that you book your hens weeks in advance.

Labour Costs

If you are rearing thousands of birds on your farm, then you are going to need a full-time laborer catering to your chickens 7 days a week throughout the year. On the mobile units for free range chicken farming in South Africa, the labor requirement is generally more intensive. For the best results, you will also need high management input into the free-range chicken farming venture.

In any free-range chicken farming venture, there are plenty of things that could possibly go wrong and which you have to watch out on. If you have excellent stock keeping skills, then it will be easy for you to adapt quickly in order to respond to the various challenges that you may encounter. This is only in which you are going to ensure optimal yield from your free range chicken farm.

You will keep your chickens for about 56 weeks. Beyond that, it gets uneconomical to maintain the production. You can subsequently slaughter these or sell them to the market. The housing, as well as the equipment, should be cleaned thoroughly and disinfected before new stock is introduced into the farm. You can take 2 to 3 weeks intervals before introducing new stock.

Health Risks

There are certain risks such as pecking and transmission of diseases that you can avoid or minimize by maintaining the right stocking density for your free range birds. Beak trimming is certainly not an option in free-range chicken farming in South Africa where you are seeking to reduce stress on the birds as much as possible.

There are certain farmers who do not use antibiotics at all and rely 100% on biological control of diseases but this may not always be feasible especially if you are engaging in commercial free-range chicken farming. To reduce losses and the suffering of the birds, the most prudent route is a controlled administration of the antibiotics under the direction of a qualified veterinarian.

If there are birds that appear sick and broody, you can separate them from the main flock as quickly as possible. The chicks should be vaccinated at the scheduled time. You must also employ good management techniques such as proper feeding and cleanliness in order to keep your flock healthy at all times.

Find Your Niche

Free eggs still make up a minute portion of the South African chicken egg market but it is a market share that is growing really fast. You can sell your free-range eggs in multiple places including supermarkets, retail shops, buyer groups, organic markets and many other places.

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