Should families consider free-range farming? should they change their opinion about only rearing chickens for subsistence purposes?
Many communal farmers do not realize their farm chickens’ commercial value and as such, families generally keep these birds for subsistence purposes only.
The same applies to smallholder farmers who believe that the only way to run a viable chicken farming business is to farm the traditional white broiler chickens which rely solely on bagged feed purchased.
Chicken growers, and finisher meals are not only becoming very expensive, but free-range chickens are healthier, and the meat and eggs produced for human consumption are comparatively healthier.
If you can grow your own cheap feed, the fact that free-range chickens that take longer than five to six weeks to be ready for market is of no consequence.
Interestingly, the demand for live indigenous or Nguni-type birds is rising, rather than for white broilers. It is easier to market live chickens than to transport livestock such as ovine and cattle.
An additional bonus to farming chickens is that they grow faster in number than other livestock. Free-range hens can be prolific breeders, and flocks of 10 or even more are not infrequent.
Simple, affordable Nursery can be used
One problem with raising free-range chickens is that predators such as hawks or vermin such as rats can take young chicks.
However, a nursery can be made for very young chicks from cheap materials such as chicken wire mesh, 2.4 m long wooden droppers which are used in-game farm fences and are available in most farmer supply stores
Alongside inexpensive timber slats which are available in most sawmills or hardware shops, and reinforcing mesh used in building foundations also available at construction material supply companies.
Here’s how to build a nursery
Cut the 6 m metal mesh sheets in half length; this gives a fence height of 1,2 m, since the sheets are 2,4 m wide; and a mesh length of 12 m to construct an enclosure.
If you need to increase the size of the enclosure add more mesh sheets. The reinforcing mesh offers ground-level support for the structure and prevents predators from biting through.
Sink the 600 mm droppers into the ground. This will ensure you have 1,8m-high, stable supports.
To build a frame, attach the timber slats to the droppers, and secure the chicken mesh tightly against the mesh and timber frame reinforcing steel.
The droppers and slats can be treated with an oil-based product like Waksol timber, linseed oil, or creosote, all available in hardware stores. Alternatively, at the start of summer, paint all timber, and droppers annually with three coats of old motor oil.
Do this, even if the timber slats and droppers are treated because they protect the wood from the elements. Paint a rust protection paint on the reinforcing mesh at most hardware stores.
Creating a shelter for the chickens
Easy individual shelters made from corrugated zinc can be mounted on the enclosures. Put an old car tire, loaded with grass cuttings or straw oats, under each.
The hens, which with the breeding roosters forage throughout the day, may lay eggs in those enclosures.
Create fence openings to allow them to leave the enclosure to forage in the surrounding garden area or farmyard, and return to the eggs afterward.
These exit spaces should be approximately square in shape, about the size of two shoebox lids, and from the ground 10 cm to 15 cm away. This prevents very young chicks from getting out of their nursery enclosure.
The chicks can be fed a little grower mash and even finely chopped greens such as Lucerne when mother hens are out foraging. This will last at most for about a week; after that, the chicks will join the adults in foraging.