Traditional poultry management practices are still being adopted, particularly in some Arab states and other developing countries. Yet, such operations can be profitable if proper measures are being taken. Adopting certain management strategies is needed for saving costs and/or reducing losses.
By Dr. Salah H. Esmail, Cairo, Egypt
The largest factor determining the profitability of a poultry operation is feed. In most poultry farms in the Arab countries, especially in the private sector, feed is frequently stacked under shelters and it often suffers from mould damage or invasion by rodents and wild birds. In such cases, silos should be used for feed storage and protection. It is estimated that the cost of a 20 tonne silo in Egypt, for example, can be recovered in just two years when considering the US$2,200 a year saving from the value of feed lost due to the current poor storage method. If feed is to be held inside the silo for long periods, it is recommended to have the silo cleaned at least 3-4 times a year as the feed may also be subject to mould damage.
A microbiological assay of feed in one farm revealed a mould value of 22,000 cfu/g compared to a normal level of only 5,000 cfu/g. With such a high level of contamination, poor feed efficiency, reduced growth rates, and increased susceptibility to diseases and high mortality are often encountered.In most private farms, like in Egypt, feeders are usually elongated troughs made of galvanised metal sheets. These are preferred because of their availability, low cost and resistance to damage, but feed wastage can be a severe problem. The use of pan or chain feeding systems could be a better alternative. It is estimated that with a broiler house of 10,000 birds, at least two tonnes of feed will be saved during each production cycle. With high feed cost and six production cycles a year, the cost of the new feeding system could be recouped in 18 months.
Protein nutrition has a great economic importance, since protein is an expensive item in almost all feed rations. This may particularly be so in areas of the world known to be protein deficient, such as many tropical and sub-tropical areas. The rationing of feeds for protein should therefore be manipulated in such a way that “optimal” rather than “maximum” performance is achieved without too much feed expenditure. The best way to explain this point is by a practical example of a feed having 16% or 17% protein.
In corn-soybean diets, this difference can be created by adding 3% more of soybean containing 44% crude protein. When this amount replaces corn, there will be an additional cost of about US $3.00/ tonne (world market price). In most cases, the real nutritional benefit of such an increase of protein is limited to an increase of about 0.025% of the amino acids lysine and methionine. The same nutritional advantage can be obtained by adding 250g of synthetic lysine and methionine/tonne of feed with a cost of only US $1.00/tonne. Fortunately, access to these synthetic amino acids has become available with the recent advancement of biotechnology, which makes the economical benefits of such an approach quite achievable.
Nipple drinkers beneficial
Field observations found that broilers provided with nipple drinkers had an improved feed conversion and similar to slightly lighter weights, with less mortality and condemnations compared to broilers given water in troughs (Table 1). Furthermore, nipple drinkers required less labour for cleaning and disinfection than other water supply systems. Nipple drinkers, being totally enclosed, provide a highly sanitary source of water and hence prevent many disease problems that are associated with the use of other drinker types.
In spite of the numerous advantages of the nipple watering systems, they have some disadvantages as well. Firstly, the initial cost of this system can be 30% more than conventional open systems, and their repair and maintenance of broken or worn parts are also more expensive. Second, the nipple mechanism will not last forever but will have to be replaced. Third, the management of these systems is more difficult than open systems and poor management will almost always result in serious and costly production losses. These drawbacks should, therefore be balanced against the advantages before the decision is made to use nipple drinkers, even on farms with the financial and technical capacity to use them.
Adequate rodent control
There are a number of problems which can arise from rodent invasion. Rodents have a negative impact on farm facilities, feed supply and the health status of birds. They also cause high mortality in poultry flocks and the loss of large amounts of eggs. They do so either directly by killing birds and eating eggs, or indirectly through disease transmission and parasites. The magnitude of any of these problems is in most cases proportional to the level of invasion.
Because of the burrowing and gnawing activities of rodents, they can undermine foundations and destroy doors, curtains, electric wires, telephone cables, plastic feeders, and drinkers. Rodents also damage plastic pipe work, interfering with water supplies. Similarly, they damage insulation materials, and hence, affect the optimum temperature and humidity in the house.Given the opportunity, a 250 gram rat can eat its own weight in feed each day.
This means, for example, that a farm with a total population of only 50 rats can easily lose tonnes of feed every year. Moreover, as rodents always prefer fresh feed, totally ignoring spoiled or mouldy batches, losses are confined to feed which could have been utilised by chickens. Rodents also destroy feed bags, causing large amounts of feed to be spilt on to the floor which cannot be used once it is mixed with dust or other foreign matter.
Eradicating rodents in a farm, or at least reduce their population is therefore essential. The use of rodent-proof houses, rodenticides, and trapping are all effective means of control and often lead to promising results.
Reuse of litter
The reuse of poultry litter has become a common practice, particularly with broilers. It saves labour and costs, since several broods of broilers can be raised on the same litter. Reuse of litter also has a nutritional advantage. In the bacterial action that takes place, there is a considerable synthesis of B-complex vitamins, including vitamin B12. Except when the ration has an ample supply of these vitamins, the growth of chicks or the egg production of hens may be appreciably increased by keeping them on reused litter. Such responses may only be obtained with a definite determination that the litter is clean and has no disease organisms.
Infected litter, on the other hand, may give troubles from coccidiosis or roundworms. Also, inflammation of the cornea of the eye may occur in young chicks started on old litter, especially when it is damp. This is caused by ammonia which may be present in the litter. Under these conditions, performance of chicks may be negatively affected. In a recent study, new litter gave an average body weight of 1,895 grams and old litter 1,757 grams with feed conversions of 2.01 and 2.18, respectively.
Well-managed litter can be safely used for many (4 or more) broods of broiler chicks. One useful management technique is to make sure that the litter is thoroughly disinfected. Alternatively, a new litter may be added to the area inside the brooder ring. The chicks would then have the opportunity to build up immunity to certain diseases before being exposed to the organisms in the reused litter. The use of paper over litter should also be of value in reducing exposure of broilers to pathogens and hence improve performance (Table 2).
The intensification of poultry farming has exerted a great influence on energy reserves in many parts of the world. This has forced attempts to look for alternative energy sources, such as solar power, to help solve the energy problem and meet the requirements of the farm. Figure 1 shows the basic components of a solar heating system that could be employed for poultry houses. Simply, the sun’s rays are collected in a rock, which has high thermal capacity to store heat for a period of time. Heat is then transferred to the house through the duct system in a controlled amount to meet the heat requirement of the birds.
Data on the most important biological performance parameters for solar and conventional heating are shown in Table 3. They represent the average performance of 32 flocks of broiler chickens. Livability of the flocks was the same for both methods of heating but live weight and feed conversion were better by 4.7 and 1.9%, respectively, in the solar powered house. In addition, considerable savings can be made in fuel consumption, up to 77% in winter and 71% in summer.
It is not appropriate however, to evaluate a solar energy system only on bird performance and fuel consumption. Rather, it is more meaningful to compare the benefits of the system against its cost, and then determine whether it would increase profitability. Currently, the benefits obtained from solar power do not justify the high costs of adopting such a system but the situation will vary from one country to another and over time, depending on the tariff for conventional energy, interest rates and the cost of the solar heating system.