Is free-range poultry farming profitable?
Free-range poultry farming is profitable, but it takes time. Time in this case means the period it takes for a chicken to fully survive on its own through scavenging the wild open area from its chick stage to maturity. See my point? On average, an indigenous chicken takes about 9 months to mature and start laying eggs. According to my experience, chickens in my rural area go up to even a full 12 months before they are fully matured for slaughter. There are a lot of factors that must be considered before indulging in free-range poultry farming.
But first, let us look at what free-range poultry farming actually is;
What is a Free-range Poultry?
This is simply a domesticated bird that has been reared in an open-air system. Free-range poultry farming is simply the act of keeping poultry using this specific system. Keeping poultry in free-range will fully depend on a farmer and the climatic conditions in his or her location. Some could say that this system is wild… But it has its merits and demerits.
Merits of free-range poultry farming.
- Gives the chicken a chance to exercise by running around, promoting a better health status.
- Allows chicken to scavenge for their own food. Saves money spent on feed and gives the chicken a chance to find healthier insects and bugs in the soil.
Demerits of free-range poultry farming.
- Insecurity of the flock.
- Vulnerability to pests and diseases while not being monitored.
Free-range poultry farming is a system of keeping chicken that is more economic for the farmer and healthier for the chicken themselves. However, there are a lot of things and practices that a farmer must put in place in order to be successful with this system of keeping chickens.
Managing free-range day-old chicks.
Day-old chicks are vulnerable and weak. They need to be taken care of and protected from external threats like predators and harsh weather conditions. The most important part of chick management is brooding temperature and general management. The advantage of rearing indigenous chickens is that the hens are naturally broody. New developed breeds like the improved kienyeji chicken do not brood their eggs, which will require extra care from the farmer once they are day-old chicks.
Managing free-range day-old chicks is easy because mother hens are naturally broody and take care of their chicks for up to a period of two months until they are able to take care of themselves. The best way to provide a helping hand to these mother hens is to provide some sort of shelter for them to protect them from external predators. A fence or secluded room with good ventilation will do just fine.
Mother hens naturally teach the chicks how to feed on the sounds that they make. They also provide a warm coat for the chicks to shield themselves against cold temperatures and night. Day-old chicks that are raised by a broody hen in a free-range system are generally healthier than other chicks.
Breeds of chicken that are best suited for Free-range poultry farming.
There are different types of chicken breeds that are suitable for free-range poultry farming. Commercial breeds are also good for free-range farming but not entirely. To maximize or maintain their productivity, broilers and layers are usually put on a semi-free range system. This will provide an opportunity for the birds to get the best of both worlds.
The best breed of chicken for the free-range system is the indigenous chicken. In my country, it is known as the pure kienyeji chicken. Another breed of chicken kept under the free-range system is the improved kienyeji chicken.
Free-Range Chicken Feed
It is simple to feed chicken kept under this system. Farmers can either use home-mixed feed or commercial feed for their free-range poultry. The choice of the two will entirely dependent the farmer. What is his or her end goal? Is the free-range chicken being kept as a hobby or a business?
Home mixed feeds.
Mixing your own chicken feed will give you more control over what your chicken eats and consume. You may be having a certain specification on the ingredient that you want your chicken to feed on or you may grow your own ingredients on your farm… the fact is, mixing your own chicken feed at home is an adventure! There are various ways of mixing the feed but the most common one in my country is the drum mixer.
Commercial feeds are chicken or poultry feed that is store-bought. These have all the selected ingredients for the appropriate growth of the chicken to maturity. Commercial feeds are great because its easier than going through the trouble of sourcing for each and every ingredient and mixing them manually. As I said, it all depends on the farmer and his or her preferences.