Currently, there is inexplicable hype for village chicken rearing in Lusaka and other urban areas. What are the drivers behind this hype? Is it because everyone is doing it or the profits involved? Are village chicken farmers conversant with the market survey? What is the cost of production? Is village chicken rearing a missed investment opportunity? Do farmers keep records for: the number of eggs acquired, date incubated, number of fertile eggs, date hatched, amount of feed per day, cost of energy for heating (infrared lights) the brooder house, cost of drinkers, feeders, cost of constructing a chicken house and cost of fuel for those weekend drives to deliver feed and drugs? These are the issues I want to address in this weeks article.

I will classify the Zambian village poultry subsector into rural and urban production systems. Low production costs characterise the rural village chicken production system with small flocks, low hatch rate, high mortality rate, high predatory rate, high disease burden, and low biosecurity. The chickens are left to scavenge around with almost zero cost of production. Supplementation is rarely done, and when practised it’s through the provision of rotten maize grain or indeed maize bran a by-product of maize meal production, or indeed kitchen remains. The chickens are generally preyed upon by predators (birds, snakes, animals and humans) during the time they are scavenging for food. Hens naturally do hatching and brooding, but the hatch rate is generally low on average compared to those that use artificial incubation. After hatching, very few chicks survive due to high disease burden and adverse weather conditions. The chicks that make it into mature chickens are wiped off by Newcastle disease outbreaks if they are not vaccinated. Newcastle disease is the biggest threat to village chicken production in rural areas due to lack of access to the vaccine (which require cold chain) and inadequate biosecurity measures. The heat-stable vaccine seems unaffordable and inaccessible by rural producers and yet the vaccines locally produced go to waste (expire) at Central Veterinary Research Institute in Lusaka. Chickens are sold cheaply at K20-30 per adult chicken (above six months old) to local communities or indeed by traders who buy from rural areas and sell to motorists along the main roads. Despite low proceeds from chickens, a chicken is the first type of livestock that a crop farmer sells in times of crop failure and financial need; hence a chicken is the farmer’s best friend during difficult times. I have experienced a situation where cattle farmers use chickens to pay veterinarians for the cost of vaccinating their cattle and dogs. This, however, is not the main thrust of this article, as I want to address the urban or peri-urban village chicken producers. By village chicken, I am referring to free range or semi-intensive chicken rearing systems of either local or exotic breeds, e.g. Australian black austrolops, kuroilers, etc.

There is hype in village poultry production, especially in Lusaka and the Copperbelt provinces. I have seen many middle-income earners bring village chicken eggs and guinea fowls at the School of Veterinary Medicine for hatching. I have had a chat with a few farmers who have indeed indicated that they are weekend farmers who think they are doing it as a business, but after some further interrogation, it turns out to be a hobby and not for profit making because of the many aspects that they tend to ignore. Many are doing it because everybody is keeping village chickens and indeed priding in exotic breeds and big numbers. They pride in rearing improved breeds such as bush veld, rowan ranger, black austrolop, kuroiler etc. Most of the village chicken farmers buy feed or indeed feed concentrates/additives and mix with number three maize meal due to lack of access to grain residues on farms in urban areas. However, the village chicken farmers do not keep records of the cost of feeding up to market age or indeed the point of lay when the chickens start laying fertile eggs, which are sold at K100-150 per tray. The increased number of chickens require extra feed, and more eggs come with high costs of artificial incubation. What is the cost involved in selling eggs or indeed selling village chickens? Just like any other agricultural product, the production and consumption side is not balanced. People would want to eat village chicken, but where do they find it well dressed, packaged, consistently produced, the same place where they previously bought it from and same quality. The weekend farmers will continue producing the village chickens thereby saturating the market (excess supply) to a point where they might stop this hobby or rather business because the price of producing chickens will become too high while the consumption (demand) will remain too low. Remember that a tray of eggs for these exotic breeds used to be K150-200, but it has now reduced to K60-100, while the cost of a 50kg bag of concentrate and free range feed keeps increasing and now selling at above K200 per bag.

I recommend that we keep track of records for the cost estimates of producing a village chicken up to the point of lay and the cost of producing one egg so that we can assess the economic viability of our village chicken enterprise. I present some of the costs in Table 1. Note that this is a hypothetic case, so do not take numbers as they are. There are other better ways of presenting the costs out there, but what is essential is characterising these costs.

From this table, you will be able to capture records on the cost of acquiring eggs and incubating them. The expected date of hatching will give you time to prepare for brooding, i.e. infrared lights, feeders, drinkers, vitamins etc. Hatch rate (number hatched divided by the number of fertile eggs will give you information on the loses incurred on the eggs bought or laid at the farm. The number of infertile eggs must be communicated with the source of eggs so that measures such as increasing the number of cocks or reducing if they keep fighting at the expense of mounting hens. This is another cost which is ignored, and yet it takes resources to produce an egg. Table 2 captures the costs post incubation.

From this table, you will capture records on the number of chicks, the day they came into the brooder house, amount and cost of feed up to 6 months (point of lay or market), date and cost of vaccinations and deworming. It is common to give gifts such as vegetables, chickens and eggs when a friend or relative visits your farm. Note that gifts given and home consumption are costs and must be recorded as such in your village chicken enterprise. Mortalities are also a cost and must be recorded, but if you have sold mortalities at salvage value, e.g. K10, remember to enter the amount under revenue but keep the difference under costs. Remember that there are veterinary costs involved when you engaged a veterinarian who could have conducted a farm visit or post-mortem on your chickens. The fuel costs must also be factored in for any transportation costs involving your village chicken enterprise. After six months, what follows is marketing, which also has costs as highlighted in Table 3.

From this table, you capture records on the number of adult chickens which are producing fertile eggs for those exotic birds (austrolops, kuroilers etc), quantity and cost of feed per chicken per day, eggs produced per day, cost of egg trays, price for the fertilized eggs, price of chickens, transportation costs and mortalities. Tax is a cost for your enterprise. Fixed costs such as the construction of poultry house, permanent labour for the farm workers, family labour, and electricity. Note that it is difficult to cost some items, as they do not have a market value, instead use shadow prices. Lets finally look at the revenue side for your village chicken enterprise, as shown in Table 4.

From this table, you record information on the outputs from the farm. You could be selling eggs, chickens, manure, day old chicks, point of lay etc. Note that gifts received and subsidies are supposed to be reported as revenue to the farm. Add up all the revenue and costs, and then subtract costs from the revenue to get your gross margin (Gross margin = output – variable costs). If it is positive, it means that your benefits outweigh the costs and you are making a profit. If you subtract fixed costs from your gross margin, then you get net profit, which is the money available for capital repayment, taxation, and re-investment. Remember also to draw your salary from the net profit so that you avoid dipping your fingers into the money meant for re-investment.

Let me leave you with this assignment. As a weekend farmer, add up the costs and revenues for your village chicken enterprise. How does it look? Is it a hobby or a business? If it remains a hobby, the consolation is that you are still contributing to national food and nutritional security though in an unsustainable way.

I hope this information will make you change your mindset and help you run your weekend village farming activities as a business. I believe that weekend farmers have the potential to play a critical role in transforming the agricultural industry in Zambia because most of them are educated middle-income earners, with a high capacity of adopting farming technologies. If the weekend farmers can run farming as a business, they can save as policy lever for integrating with rural farmers in their neighbourhood. The rural small-scale farmers can easily learn from these weekend farmers and also adopt farm technologies. Marketwise, the weekend farmers can easily pool resources and access high-value markets and then engage rural small-scale farmers to supply them with these village chickens for consistency in supply to the supermarkets. There is much hope for the agriculture sector in Zambia; unfortunately, we don’t run it as a business, and we are consistently inconsistent with agricultural policies. Let us change for the better.

(Dr Chisoni Mumba (PhD) is a Senior Lecturer of Livestock /Animal Health Economics at the University of Zambia, School of Veterinary Medicine. Email: [email protected] , Mobile: +260977717258)