Shezy Nzovu’s poultry business is an example of how many Zambians can profit from the burgeoning demand for chicken.
It is appropriate that Shezy Nzovu’s small poultry business was born out of the need to help finance a younger sibling’s wedding. And it shows how many Zambians can profit from the burgeoning demand for chicken.
“Being the older sister, it was really important for me to ensure that my younger sister had a beautiful wedding, and rearing chickens for sale was one of the most practical ways to raise money,” says Nzovu.
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are stunted by a lack of finance, but as Nzovu has shown, the problem is not insurmountable.
To get started, she used the back of her house on a smallholding plot in Lusaka West, to construct a makeshift chicken run. Eight months later, she treated her sister to a lavish wedding, thanks to the return on an investment of K3 000 to buy the initial stock of 200 day-old broiler chicks and feed.
The project’s success encouraged her to venture into poultry farming. Since 2013, Nzovu has gained valuable experience to help her expand her broiler business to include Black Austrolorp chickens.
She is now involved in the business on a full-time basis since retiring from a state-owned company. These days, Nzovu also has two full-time employees to help run the operation.
A BURGEONING DEMAND
Zambia’s demand for chicken is at an all-time high. Chicken is the most widely consumed meat product in the country and makes up an estimated 50% of total meat consumption. The figure continues to grow.
Significantly, Zambia has not recorded a single case of the highly contagious pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza, which has been ravaging other countries in the region.
This makes the local poultry industry attractive and small-scale producers like Nzovu can profit from the rising demand for chicken. They can start with relatively small capital and still earn a good, sustainable income.
With a relatively readily available market, Nzovu decided on the Cornish Cross chicken breed, a fast growing breed that is ready for sale between six and eight weeks.
Her choice proved popular among restaurant operators and individual households and she sells an average of 500 chickens per month. In the last 12 months, Nzovu has added Black Australorp dual-purpose chickens as layers. It is also suitable for meat production.
“Black Austrolorps are a perfect combination. They are also inexpensive to maintain and have added more to my income,” Nzovu says. Black Australorp hens lay medium-sized, light brown coloured eggs and can produce for a couple of years. Generally, a healthy hen can lay about 200 eggs per season.
Nzovu now sells an average of 35 to 40 trays of eggs per week to her established customer base. She has found direct marketing in person, on Facebook and on Whatsapp to be the most effective, profitable and rewarding ways of selling her chickens.
“As a start-up, maintaining low cost is important. Social media has helped me establish direct contact with my customers at no cost.”
In addition, she has also increased her profits by offering marinated and smoked chicken alongside her whole chickens.
ATTENTION TO FUNDAMENTALS
Nzovu says it is easy to become overwhelmed during the initial stages of launching a business, but retaining focus helped her to rise to the challenge. “Paying close attention to fundamentals such as good housing, feed and water, paid off in results,” she says.
The 500 square foot chicken run she started with, consisted of nothing but walls and an iron roof. It was cleaned thoroughly and fitted with water and feeders in strategic positions, before her day-old broiler chicks arrived. Non electric heaters were used to provide heating during a period of continuous power interruptions.
The price of commercial chicken feed has risen, but the choice of this breed for its ability to quickly convert feed to body weight helped to mitigate the potential loss. “I had to particularly watch this aspect as I had been warned that the cost of feed made the difference between profit and loss,” she says.
As Nzovu gained experience, she could decrease the cost of feed further by sourcing substitutes on the local market, but she tells a cautionary tale about using feed substitutes. “You must ensure that you source the feed from credible suppliers who are able to match it with the choice of your breed,” she says.
For disease control, she regularly disinfects the chicken run and vaccinates the chicks. “I’m able to pick up symptoms of poultry diseases such as Newcastle disease, infectious bronchitis and Gumboro disease, fowl pox, fowl typhoid and salmonella because of the experience I have gained.”
Nzovu has also honed her poultry farming skills by attending workshops and networking with industry bodies. It is thanks to these networks that she adopted the idea of raising Black Austrolorps on the opposite end of her farm to augment her income.
Raising Black Austrolorps for eggs was enticing because of their low overheads and start-up costs. For infrastructure, it was easier to erect a simple brick wall and tin-roof shelter to house 200 of her parent stock. Their diet is primarily maize and soya beans, which they forage in the adjacent field on her farm.
Like most small-scale farmers, Nzovu decries the high price of feed and urges for incentives to lower its price. Feed prices remain relatively high, despite the bumper harvest of maize and soya, the main ingredients in the production of chicken stock-feed. Prices range between K230 and K250/50kg bag.
On expanding markets, she says linking smallholder producers to strong international retail-chain stores will provide more momentum for growth.
“I know supplying retail-chain stores is a competitive arena, but small producers are equal to the task of meeting robust supply chain quality control procedures,’ Nzovu says.
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