Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Farming Reporter
THE country’s free-range poultry farmers are failing to meet the demand as the interest in indigenous foods continues to surge, an expert says.
Speaking at a free range chicken breeding workshop in Figtree last week, one of the biggest and most reputable indigenous chicken breeders in Matabeleland region, Mr Agrey Moyo said commercial free range chicken production in the country was still at its lowest ebb. The workshop was attended by prospective and poultry farmers from Mangwe, Umguza and Gwanda Districts.
“Currently we can’t fulfils the demand of free range chickens locally for both chicks and breeding stock especially those that are at a point of laying. People aren’t aware that poultry is more of a game of numbers because when there is high demand on the market one may have all their stocks being wiped out. It’s better to have huge numbers so that you can have continuity,” said Mr Moyo.
Over the last decade there has been a rise in popularity for traditional meals that include free range chicken popularly known as “road runners” or nkukhu makhaya, guinea fowl, turkey, rabbit and duck meat to go along with traditional starches such as sorghum and rapoko pasta as well as brown rice.
While almost every household in rural areas has always kept free range chickens for food and a few have sold a bird here and there to help raise money for use around the home, commercial free range chicken production is a fairly new concept in most areas.
“The problem we have in the country is that most people are obsessed by being formally employed and tend to be ignorant of the fact that there is a day they are likely to have their contracts terminated or retire and then find themselves poverty-stricken thereafter. People should be encouraged to venture into income generating projects such as poultry. It’s not easy to start but if one perseveres they eventually reap afterwards thus there is a need to change the mindset of people,” said Mr Moyo.
The enterprising farmer hatches about 20 000 eggs a month using his large capacity micro-biological incubator and sells to a number of enthusiastic poultry farmers drawn from Bulawayo, Matabeleland South and North provinces as well as some parts of Midlands.
Mr Moyo boasts of seven breeds of free range chickens, which include boschveld, blue australorp, black australorp, koekoe, white leghorn and splash while he also raises guinea fowls and a few turkeys.
An extension officer in the Department of Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (Agritex) in Bulilima District Mrs Nyararai Chinyoka said there has been a growing interest in rearing free range chickens over the past few years in a market that has been dominated by hybrids.
“There has been growing interest in free range chickens rearing but most of the farmers are still struggling to realise optimum profits from their enterprises largely due to lack of proper production and management skills with improper housing being the major factor,” said Mrs Chinyoka.
Free ranging is simple and economically viable when it comes to feeding. Free range chickens can feed on a normal diet of grass, worms and bugs as they are allowed to freely roam about and access sunshine for long stretches of time each day.
There are however, plenty of other foods that free range birds can feed on, which include small grains such as rapoko, millet, sorghum and ground maize as well as fish meal, cotton seed, sunflower cake, maize germ and bone meal.
The rise in free range chickens poultry production has led most stock feed manufacturers to produce alternative feed for these birds.
“We have been producing specific feed for ‘road runner’ chickens for the past six years and we have also been offering technical support to these poultry farmers at no charge to assist them get established because this is a fairly new project. They are very few farmers that have really embraced it.
“We impart them with the requisite information that it’s no longer about throwing grains or food leftovers at the chickens but they need to add value and get the business side of those ‘road runners’. The volumes of free range chickens have been steadily been increasing over months . . .,” said Feedmix technical sales representative Ms Nomagugu Matwasa.
Agribank sales and marketing officer Mr Noel Sibanda said the financial institution was offering a number of loans tailor made to suit small-scale farmers.
“We have a number of loan facilities to offer to various groups of people as with this nature of project we are looking at individuals accessing loans through our youth empowerment and women empowerment funds for working capital or capital expenditure purposes.
“We also have a micro-finance division, which offers loans from as low as $20 to $2 000. Considering that some of the poultry farmers are formally employed we offer loans through our consumer facility whereby we will issue then loans 12 times their net salary payable over 36 months,” said Mr Sibanda.