Garbage in garbage out

by Marcos Grassini, manager at Alfa Chicks

The term garbage in garbage out is a computer science concept that says if you feed garbage into the computer you can expect it to return garbage.

A chicken works very much the same. The quality of the inputs determines the quality of the output, namely a grown, ready to market broiler chicken.

As the farmer and business manager you are tasked with ensuring that the chicken you produce is marketable in terms of:

  • Size or weight, consumers are very specific in terms of size
  • Health, no one wants a sickly looking chicken
  • Price, the market determines the price – you need to work around this
  • Availability, the consumer expects you to supply when the consumer needs the product

From the above it is clear that a poultry producer should take the appropriate actions at the appropriate time if he or she is to operate at a profit. As in any business profitability is the key factor when it comes to producing chickens for either the live market or for slaughter. However, in this game trying to be profitable by taking shortcuts will come back to bite you in the thigh. If you decide to go and buy the cheapest available feed you should first ask yourself why the feed is so cheap. Consider things such as the prices and availability of the inputs that go into making chicken feed. For example, how can a feed suppliers price go down or be much lower than the average when the price of maize and soya is going up? The same is applicable to the price of day old chicks. Remember costs such as feed, electricity and labour related to the production of day old chicks are all going up so how can one expect to be receiving a quality day old chick when the price is much lower than the market average?

It is clear that things such as the cost of inputs (feed and chicks) is out of the control of the small farmer and that we are merely price takers when it comes to these inputs, however, as with many other production processes the raising of broiler chickens is also subject to efficiencies. In other words, if you are able to efficiently manage the use of your inputs and are able to maximize your outputs then you should be able to increase your profit margins.

Efficient feed use:

Energy in - energy out = Net growth

Or; Feed consumed – energy consumed for growth purposes – (energy consumed to survive /energy consumed to keep warm) = Net growth

Let’s break this down a bit further:

  • Feed consumption, this is the amount of feed that the bird consumes. Yes chickens must eat for a variety of reasons. The farmer hopes to convert as much of the energy from the feed consumed into growth. The farmer can control feed consumption by:
    • Making sure clean fresh feed is always available. During the brooding period, first 14 days, the chick should never have to look for water or feed, it should always find the chick.
    • Making sure that the environment is conducive to eating, if it’s too hot the chickens will consume less feed and only be interested in water, if it’s too cold the chicks will bundle and only leave the bundle to eat the minimum feed required to survive.
    • The farmer must specifically focus on maintaining the ideal temperature and fresh air levels and lighting to encourage activity of chicks and hence feed consumption.
  • Energy for growth; if energy from the feed Is not allocated to growth it is allocated to survival. The environment that is created by the farmer determines how much energy goes to keeping the chick alive and how much goes to muscle gain. The farmer can control the environment as follows:
    • Air quality; Fresh oxygen rich air is a must. If the air smells stale then you can be sure that chick activity is poor and the chicks will appear lethargic and inactive and feed consumption is low. If the air smells like ammonia you can expect the chicks to develop respiratory challenges and illnesses and growth to be poor, other physical symptoms include burnt feet and breasts.
    • Temperature, just like any other living creature a chick has a specific ideal operating temperature. A chick is not able to regulate it’s temperature in the first 2 weeks of life and the farmer is tasked with maintaining the correct temperature so that the chicks internal operating temperature is maintained at the ideal level. The farmer should use a combination of gas, electric heaters/brooders, mixing fans, extractor fans, misting coolers, evaporative coolers and most importantly proper cage curtains and cage construction.
  • Energy for survival; this encompasses the energy required for normal metabolic functions and energy used to maintain the ideal body temperature. If an animal is cold and shivers then it uses energy from food to shiver and warm up instead of using that energy to grow.
  • Net growth is the result of all the above basic factors. Any stress from the physical environment or from stress due to disease challenges will have an impact on the growth of the chicks and ultimately your profit margin.

As you are aware the price of chicken feed has gone up drastically over the last few months, this means that you as farmer have to find efficiencies in every aspect of your operations. Focus on the things you can change and control, pray for the rest and focus on the finer details because that is where margins (profits) are made or lost. Operations that are able to survive and or thrive in these tough economic times will thrive when the economy improves, and if history is anything to go by we can always expect things to get better.

Please visit for more information. Or call us on 012 561 1205, 087 985 0603 or mail [email protected]

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