Poultry production: How to get started – meat or eggs?

Poultry farming can be profitable, but the prospective poultry farmer has to plan carefully beforehand.

Anyone who wants to produce poultry has first to find a market – even before acquiring land. A poultry farmer can produce for the meat market or the egg market. And don’t forget about by-products; farmers can recycle manure for composting, for instance.

Whichever market you choose, you have to know it is the right one. And to find it, you must know what you can produce and if there is a demand for it. Market research can supply this information.


A farmer can sell live, freshly slaughtered, or frozen birds, or value-added meat products.

Live birds are a risky market. If you don’t sell them at the recommended time, it can cause a serious dent in profits because you have to continue feeding the birds.

There’s also the problem of Cornish hens. These are culled egg layer hens and broiler breeders. Many traders, such as hawkers, buy them at a reduced price, which affects the demand for, and prices of, good-quality live birds.

Freshly slaughtered birds are a good market, particularly if a farmer gets a contract to supply a specific customer.

You can sell freshly slaughtered birds to anyone. The only requirement is to use an approved abattoir that complies with health regulations.

Freshly slaughtered birds provide a good market opportunity.

Although a farmer can build his own abattoir, it has to comply with all the health regulations of the Departments of Agriculture and of Health. This might differ, depending on the country you live in, but do proper research beforehand about the requirements are in your specific country.

And, to make the facility economically viable, you’ll have to slaughter birds for other breeders as well.

In southern Africa frozen birds can be delivered to retailers or informal shops, or sold directly to the public.

Value-added meat products include chicken pieces and “flatties”. This can be very profitable, if approached correctly.

Add value to your chicken by providing an option of chicken pieces.


For eggs, the market options are fresh eggs and \value-added egg products.

In order to supply eggs in South Africa, the farmer must know the grading regulations as described in the Agricultural Products Act (Act No 119 of 1990). The eggs have to be graded correctly for the following grades: super jumbo, jumbo, large, medium or small eggs.

Again, do the proper research in your native country to familiarise yourself with the correct grading regulations.

Eggs have to be graded correctly as super jumbo, jumbo, large, medium or small eggs.

The value-added egg market is a bit restricted for a farmer just starting out, but there is opportunity to make money. For example, one could sell hard-boiled eggs at spaza shops, taxi ranks or schools.

For egg producers, the market options are fresh eggs and value added egg products.


Once product and market have been determined, you can decide which farming system to use: extensive, semi-intensive (modern free range) or intensive.

Extensive poultry production is a free-range system whereby chickens find their own housing, food and water. Grobbelaar warns that, even though costs appear lower, egg or meat output will be very low. “Remember that whatever farming system you decide to use, your input will determine the output,” he says.

In a semi-intensive system, chickens are given housing, feed and water and receive medical attention if necessary. A roaming area is constructed next to the house so that birds can wander around outside at certain times.

In an intensive production system, chickens are kept indoors for the full production cycle and all inputs are provided. This system is mainly used in fully commercial operations.


 The farm’s position and the correct construction of chicken housing can go a long way towards making it possible to have a profitable undertaking. The farm should be in close proximity to the market to avoid unnecessary transport costs. If the farm is far away from suppliers of inputs such as feed, they will charge extra for transporting over long distances.

The road leading to the farm should be in good condition and easily accessible. This will make it easier for suppliers to get to the farm and for farmers to deliver to the market.

It’s also helpful if the farm already has an electricity connection, the cell phone reception is good or there is a permanent telephone landline.

Chicken houses have to be built on a level surface, so the terrain shouldn’t have too steep a slope. This will cut down on – or eliminate – excavation costs. Don’t set up infrastructure for poultry production on rented land – doing so would be a waste of resources if you have to vacate the land.

One of the simplest ways to manage airflow is by means of curtaining — either open or close the curtains, depending on how much air is needed.

Make sure that the farm has sufficient clean water. If there is a borehole on the property, have the water tested for mineral quantity or harmful substances. If, for example, the water is too brackish, it can cause erosion of equipment such as nipple drinkers. If the water quality is bad, a water purifier can be installed; but this can be costly.

The farm should not be too close to neighbouring poultry production facilities, in order to prevent the spread of disease. If it is too close, make sure that a good on-farm bio-security programme is in place.


Diseases in poultry can severely affect the profitability and future existence of production, so it’s essential to have good bio-security in place to prevent (as far as possible) the spreading of disease.

Drainage should be good, particularly near the chicken houses. The area around chicken houses must not be muddy – you can trample in soil and diseases.

Poor drainage can cause flooding and diseases spread more easily if there is stagnant water. It’s a good idea to keep the chicken houses clean and free of stagnant water by throwing a cement or pebble slab in the area directly around them. Water that doesn’t drain away fast enough can attract insects such as flies and mosquitoes, both carriers of disease.

The area where housing is to be constructed must be big enough to allow 20m between houses. This is to minimise the spread of disease between them. This also applies if you already have a mixed farming operation, and want to start poultry.

If you’re farming maize, don’t plant them between the poultry houses, as this will affect ventilation.

It’s not a good idea to house chickens of different ages in the same facility. Disease is transmitted much more easily to small chicks than to older chickens which have more immunity. Cages housing birds of different ages be at least 500m apart.

Broilers have an additional requirement: They don’t react well to sudden noises and could die of shock if cows unexpectedly make a loud noise near them.

  • This article was first published in the book: Guide to poultry production, published by Landbouweekblad.

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