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Botswana’s growing demand for chicken

As demand for poultry meat increases in Botswana there are a number of broiler units in the country scaling up to ensure there is enough supply to keep supermarkets and butchers shelves well stocked. Poultry World reports.

One of the larger poultry producers in Botswana is Bobbsie’s Chickens based in the east at Tshesebe close to Francistown and has been in operation since 1999. This particular farm, owned by Gerald Sanders, runs a full scale production system right through from taking in day old chicks to fattening them and then slaughtering them in the on-site abattoir. From there the meat is butchered into the various cuts, or left whole, then packaged and delivered to local stores, supermarkets and butchers every single day of the week.

General manager of Bobbsie's Chickens, Gerhard van der Merwe. Photo: Chris McCullough
General manager of Bobbsie's Chickens, Gerhard van der Merwe. Photo: Chris McCullough

The farm has four different housing sites, each with 12 houses and a capacity of 11,200 birds, and produces around 40,000 birds ready for market each week. The general manager of the poultry farm, Gerhard van der Merwe, is responsible for the day to day running of the entire unit and explained how the production system works. “It’s a fairly straight forward system we operate here at Bobbsie’s Chickens and a very effective one,” he said. “We mainly use the Ross and Cobb breeds here and are killing chickens when they are around 33 days old or sometimes a bit older at 36 to 37 days old.

“The houses themselves are all using open ventilation with curtains on the sides allowing us to control the temperature inside the houses. Chicks are placed into the houses which are freshly bedded with shavings and have a fresh supply of water and feed waiting on them.” Temperatures in this area of Botswana can reach 40°C in the summer time so the staff at Bobbsie’s must monitor the heat inside the houses at all times. Mr van der Merwe added: “We maintain a temperature of 32°C in the houses for the new chicks and then start to decrease that as the birds get older. Our staff also turn the shavings at least once per day to keep it dry and free from ammonia.

Farm worker Beke Mabayane with 21 day old chickens. The birds are caught for slaughter around 33 days old or sometimes a bit older at 36 to 37 days old. Photo: Chris McCullough
Farm worker Beke Mabayane with 21 day old chickens. The birds are caught for slaughter around 33 days old or sometimes a bit older at 36 to 37 days old. Photo: Chris McCullough

Heat stress

“Here in the east of Botswana the temperatures stretch from a low of 10°C in the winter time to around 40°C in the summer time so we have to monitor the birds for heat stress continuously. “Our birds are white in colour which also acts as a natural cooling tool against the excessive outside temperatures here. “There is normally a cooling breeze coming in from the south so we build the houses in this direction to make the most of this natural tool,” he said.

When the temperatures dip in the winter time the staff light coal fire burners placed in the centre of each house to ensure a comfortable environment for the birds. Mr van der Merwe added: “In the winter time we use coal burners placed in each house to increase the temperature within each house. These are simply metal burners filled with coal that act as a good central heating system for all the houses.

“The birds are kept away from the fires by ring fencing around them to prevent them getting too close,” he said.

Coal burners are used to increase the house temperatures in the winter time. Photo: Chris McCullough
Coal burners are used to increase the house temperatures in the winter time. Photo: Chris McCullough

Biosecurity

The farm also runs a strict biosecurity system using closed fences, vehicle sprays, foot dips and by allocating the same workers to each house.

While bird flu has never been identified in Botswana, both poultry farmers and the agricultural authorities are keeping a close look out for symptoms. The Botswana government has in the past banned imports of poultry meat from neighbouring South Africa and Zimbabwe in a bid to keep the disease out.

“We try to keep all our houses bird proof to prevent any contact with wild birds and thus reducing the threat of bird flu,” said Mr van der Merwe. “There are no trees near the chicken houses where wild birds could rest and the staff are always on the lookout for water leaks. “Our farm is disease free and we vaccinate against Newcastle Disease. The nearest neighbouring poultry unit is around 40 kilometres away so we are well isolated here.

“Botswana is bird flu free but there are many cases in neighbouring Zimbabwe and South Africa so we have to be on our guard at all times,” he added.

Feed is shipped in from South Africa 500 kilometers away as Botswana cannot grow grain itself. Photo: Picasa
Feed is shipped in from South Africa 500 kilometers away as Botswana cannot grow grain itself. Photo: Picasa

Rising costs

The company also runs a sister operation of a similar size in Gaborone called Goodwill Chickens, which supplies poultry meat to the south while Bobbsie’s Chickens supply the north east region including Palapye and as far as Mahalapye. According to Mr van der Merwe the biggest challenge to the business is rising input costs mostly referring to feed costs as this has to be imported from South Africa. “We employ 250 staff at each of our two premises,” he said. “This is a significant cost but as we cannot really grow any grain around here we have to ship all the feedstuffs in a distance of 500 kilometres from South Africa.” With regular price drops in beef due to disease issues, the demand for chicken can increase quite abruptly and often there is not much difference in the price of the two meats. Poultry meat retails in the stores around 26.50 Botswana Pulas (£1.89, € 2.20) per kilogram.

When the chickens are ready the staff catch them manually for slaughter and each house then goes through a resting period to give them time to recover before the next crop. “The houses have eight weeks downtime between the cycles after being thoroughly cleaned out and disinfected,” said Mr van der Merwe “This gives us optimum conditions in which to rear the next batch of chicks and so the entire process starts again.

“We are also embarking on a programme to renew the chicken houses as they become old. The older ones will be replaced at some point with more modern buildings but will still adhere to the same system as we use now as it works well,” he said.