Lack of import limitations heavily impacted the broiler business in Ghana. As a result, the current poultry industry is mainly driven by table egg producers who manage to supply the domestic market. But to further professionalise the poultry business in Ghana, the broiler segment would be helpful.
By Ad Bal
With a population of about 24 million people, Ghana is one of the growing economies in West Africa. Yet, it is a developing country and buying power is still limited. Logically, its poultry industry is developing on a limited scale. Since there are hardly any import limitations, major shipments of poultry meat are imported from Europe and Brazil.
As a result, there’s hardly any broiler business in Ghana as broiler growers are unable to produce competitively because of the low prices of imported meat. In the period prior to Christmas there’s a growing demand for live chicken, particularly to be used as a gift. To meet this temporary demand, most producers in Ghana are growing a small volume of broilers for the occasion. But after Christmas they fully focus on producing eggs again. This is fairly easy since a large volume of chickens are kept in “deep litter” or free range houses. Logically, this creates pressure on the egg market. Yet, the specialised egg producers in Ghana seem to be able to keep their business running. They all have their own approach which keeps them in the market place.
Kenneth Quartey runs the Sydals layer farm near Ghana’s capital Accra. On this family owned business, about 120,000 caged layers are kept. Although the egg market in Ghana is predominantly brown, Quartey is also keeping white birds. “This is just a matter of efficiency”, he says. “We can keep four white layers in one cage, compared to three brown birds. And we have got to be as efficient as possible, because margins are small in this country.
We produce under difficult circumstances with high expenses, primarily for feed ingredients. So we need to have economy of scale to produce efficiently. The demand for white eggs is equal as for brown, so that’s not a problem. We import our day old chicks from the Netherlands. Although these are about 70% more expensive than locally sourced chicks, we are convinced that this will pay off. We are sure that imported chicks will have come from excellent parent stock. Moreover they have been properly vaccinated in the hatchery. Hatcheries in Ghana simply cannot provide this quality as there is no economy of scale in general in this country, to produce high quality chicks. This has to do with the fact that a decent broiler industry is failing in Ghana.
Since most broiler meat is currently imported, domestic producers are unable to compete with this imported meat. Domestic production is much more expensive and incomes are very low, so there’s no chance for a good broiler business in Ghana. There is hardly any fresh market and as a result, domestic production has gone down to a minimum. Hence only layer chicks are hatched in Ghana and for that reason the hatcheries only produce a relatively small volume. Progress in technology is therefore unaffordable. The broiler-layer ratio should at least be about 15:1 in order to create critical mass and economy of scale. Unfortunately that is not the case and this keeps the poultry industry on a standstill.”
“We have no other choice but to import our day-olds and that runs well”, Quartey continues. “These are of an excellent quality with fewer diseases, less mortality and persistent production. We have good suppliers, from whom we buy some ISA and primarily Lohmann chicks. Particularly the latter are doing well all the time because they don’t respond to changing conditions so easily.”
Quartey built two of his houses with tunnel ventilation and 3-tier Choretime cages around 20 years ago. “We expected our birds to perform better under controlled conditions. And indeed in those days this was true. But nowadays energy costs have gone up to such an extent that this doesn’t pay any more. We therefore doubt whether, when renovating, we will install tunnel ventilation again, or switch to natural ventilation. There’s a fair chance of the latter.” Apart from these tunnel ventilation houses, Quartey also has experience with five more houses on natural ventilation and this is satisfactory.
Own parent stock
By far the biggest egg producer in Ghana is Akate farms near the city of Kumasi. This is an integrated operation.
Akate keep their own parent stock flocks, which are imported from Europe. They have some Bovans black, but primarily Lohmann Brown. “By far the biggest demand is for brown layers”, says general manager Dominic Nzoley. Akate is producing chicks for their own commercial farms, but about 80% is sold to smaller producers. Also they are exporting to customers in neighbouring countries such as Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Togo. For that purpose Akate has two redesigned small buses, in which they can take the chicks to their customers.
The parent stock flocks are kept at a safe distance from the commercial stock. Altogether Akate have about 55,000 parent stock birds which are kept in open sided, but well protected houses. The hatching eggs are collected by hand three times a day. At the same premises, they are currently building a brand new feed plant, which will be in full operation next year.
Just across the road is the hatchery with five multi-stage setters of 115,200 eggs each and five hatchers for 19,200 eggs each. All are relatively new Petersime machines. “Multi-stage is still quite common in Ghana”, says Nzoley. Of course this is due to the relatively small egg quantities which are to be hatched.
After the chicks are sexed and vaccinated against Marek’s disease, they are either taken to, or collected by the customers. Males will not be killed, since in Ghana there’s always a market for them.
Major egg producer
Akate is keeping roughly just over 400,000 commercial layers on two different farms. Their oldest farm accommodates about 100,000 layers in 16 houses. The newest farm has 22 houses with about 315,000 birds in total. All birds are kept in deep litter houses, but currently they are also investigating the options for keeping some flocks in cages. “We expect that this will be more efficient and increase egg production and quality”, says Nzoley. Rearing and laying takes place in the same house.
From the onset of laying, Akate is following the lighting and feeding regimes which are recommended by the breeding companies. As a result, they currently manage to obtain about 280 eggs per hen on average. On a daily basis the Akate staff collects about 195,000 table eggs. These are taken to the collection room where they are graded and packed by hand. This is still a matter of “eye grading” without any precision. “We are considering buying a grading machine”, says Nzoley. “This will enable us to more precisely grade them into two weight classes. So currently we are in the process of investigating the options.” Akate is selling their table eggs on trays of 30 each and since recently also in boxes of 15. “For the latter there seems to be a growing demand”, says Nzoley.
To a small extent Akate is also moving into the broiler business. But they understand that they must provide added value, as currently the broiler business is not particularly attractive in Ghana. For that reason, they are starting their own outlets where they sell grilled chicken parts on the spot. Nzoley: “This will be a niche market, but we see it picking up”.
An uncommon practice in Africa is artificial insemination. Yet layer chick and egg producer Anthony Gyamfi switched to this method. On the premises of his “Topman Farms” near the city of Kumasi, he used to keep his parent stock on deep litter, but the results were not satisfying. Primarily this had to do with diseases and egg and chick quality. Since the houses had to be refurbished and Gyamfi also wanted to expand, he decided to build two new breeding houses in which he installed Indian made cages. These have been in full operation now since 2010 and the results seem promising.
Gyamfi keeps 30,000 females and 3,000 males, which is the same ratio as for the deep litter system. The majority are Lohmann Brown, but Gyamfi is also keeping some Bovans Black and Tetra Negra. “This is based on the demand in this region of Africa”, he says.Gyamfi hired a specialist from India to teach his staff inseminating. Now they are skilled workers. Twice a week they inseminate the entire flock. The males are kept individually in the upper row of the 3 tier cages. A crew of four workers move along the cages to inseminate the birds. One of them is the specialist to milk the males and inseminate the females. The other three are opening the cages, holding the birds and closing the cages in a fluent order.
Thus far, Gyamfi is very satisfied with the results. The chickens are easier to manage. And clearly the results are better. The health condition of the flock is much better than in the deep litter system. “Mortality decreased significantly by up to 30%”, says Gyamfi. Also the hatching eggs are much cleaner, which means less contaminants to pass through the pores and less cracked eggs. As a result, fertility and hatchability increased by up to 10%. And finally the progeny is healthier, meaning that less medication is needed. “Diseases and mortality seem to have gone down by 20%”, says Gyamfi.
Topman has its own hatchery with Petersime multi-stage incubators. Most of the chicks are sold to customers in Ghana and neighbouring countries, however. And to a small extent, Topman is using the chicks to populate their own laying stock farms. Here they keep about 150,000 birds in cages in naturally ventilated houses. These are built on pillars, allowing ample natural ventilation and the manure to fall underneath, from where it can easily be taken out. Once finished laying, the spent hens are sold at the local market. According to Gyamfi, there’s a good demand for such birds. He sells them for up to $US 6 per bird, again usually the best price is prior to Christmas. This value of the spent hens may even determine whether a flock has made profit or loss.
Brown are heavier
Kofi Brobbey Kyei is running his “Aglow Farms” egg business with about 110,000 layers near the city of Accra. Also for him, the value of the spent hens is important. For that reason, he is mainly keeping brown birds, which are heavier than white. “There’s no difference in demand for brown or white in this country”, says Kyei. “It’s a matter of the end weight of the spent hens and for that reason we prefer to have brown birds, mainly Bovans and ISA Brown and Lohmann. Yet, currently we are also rearing some 2,000 white birds. If it turns out that these will produce significantly more eggs, we may change our mind”, Kyei says.
Usually the birds are kept up to 80 weeks of age. The chicks are reared in separate houses up to 16-18 weeks of age and then transferred to the layer houses. Also Kofi is buying day-old chicks from the Netherlands or Belgium, rather than from a domestic supplier. “Firstly, most hatcheries in Ghana don’t have the capacity to supply a full batch of chicks. Instead, they supply bits and pieces”, says Kyei. “Secondly, we have doubts about the quality of domestic hatcheries, which has to do with parent stock, biosecurity and vaccination programmes. For that reason, we buy them in Europe.”
Preference for cages
“We prefer to keep our birds in cages”, Kyei continues. “We have both free range as well as caged birds, so we can easily compare. This has taught us that the free range flocks are much more susceptible to diseases. In the caged flocks we experience considerably less problems. About 60,000 birds are kept in A-model cages from Israel. Currently we are building another house and here, also such cages will be installed”.
As holds true for all producers in Ghana, the eggs are traded through intermediates, usually women (around 70 in the case of Aglow). They come to the farms to buy small batches, which in turn they sell to local retailers. This represents the structure of the table egg business in Ghana. And this fits into the structure of the retail market in this country. An economy on its own.