The Sunday News
Judith Phiri, Sunday News Reporter
WHILE for some, the high temperatures being experienced in Bulawayo have merely brought discomfort, for Ms Nobuhle Tshuma of Kensington on the outskirts of Bulawayo, the heat has had dire consequences for her business, after she lost 160 chickens to the adverse climatic conditions.
The chickens are meant to be Ms Tshuma’s grand retirement plan, after she recently moved back to the country from South Africa where she was based for over 20 years. Now, after losing 160 of her birds, she finds herself asking fellow farmers that own dogs to buy the birds so she can recoup some of her losses. Ms Tshuma, who ventured into poultry farming in October last year, lost around 50 broilers from the first batch of 2 700. Despite the loss, she said her profit margins were not greatly affected.
“All along, I was based in South Africa, but as more people were coming back home I also decided to come back at the end of 2022 to settle down and venture into agricultural projects. I decided to do poultry sometime in October and started with a batch of 2 700 chicks though my fowl run does have a capacity for more. However, due to the heatwave that we experienced sometime in November I lost more or less than 50 broilers. This did not eat much into my profit because in value that was about US$250 that I had lost.”
She said she decided to do her second batch in which she recently suffered a huge loss of 164 chickens that were about four weeks old due to heat stress. Usually, according to poultry experts, most commercial broilers reach slaughter weight between five and six weeks of age.
“Losing 164 broilers was a huge blow to my poultry business. In values that is over US$820 lost. Mind you for the numbers I have of 2 700, a lot of things are needed, unlike in those backyard-run projects. Most of the expenses go towards feed, vaccines, disinfections and equipment, among other things.”
She said due to the high temperatures and with a labour force of three people, her included, they have sleepless nights for six weeks to ensure they do not continue losing more broilers. When a Sunday News crew visited her plot on Friday afternoon, Ms Tshuma was in her fowl run which has a metal roofing, spraying the broilers to ensure they remain cool.
“If I do not do this we continue to lose more. We have to continuously spray them during the day and at night that is when they eat when the temperatures have dropped. It means we also have to take turns monitoring them. So it would be an intense six weeks for us from brooding until the time for slaughter.”
Experts say chronic heat stress has detrimental effects on the performance of broiler birds reared in the open-sided poultry houses, principally through reducing feed intake, growth rate, negatively affecting feed efficiency and carcass quality and health.
“My wish is if I could get assistance or an investor willing to invest in solarised fans and heaters, lighting and other necessary equipment, among other things. This will go a long way to improve the business. Once such issues have been addressed, I will also be able to create employment, especially for the youths that continue to destroy their lives by doing drugs.”
Ms Tshuma said coming back and venturing into agriculture was a way of taking heed to the Second Republic’s call to come back and invest in the country. She said agriculture was one sector that was doing well in the country and with sufficient support women farmers such as her would thrive and positively contribute to the attainment of Vision 2030 of an upper middle-income status.
Matabeleland South Provincial Veterinary Services Director Dr Enat Mdlongwa said the environment of broiler chickens needed to be controlled all the time.
“It is a huge task to keep the required temperatures inside a fowl run. Chickens need proper ventilation systems. These types (broiler) of chickens are delicate and need to be treated with care. Poultry farmers need to thoroughly put in place foul runs that are spacious and positioned in an environment friendly for the birds,” he said.
In their findings, researchers in poultry physiology and management Lara and Rostagno indicate that chickens’ feed consumption drops by five percent for every one-degree Celsius increase in temperature between 32 degrees Celsius and 38 degrees Celsius.
When the ambient temperature increases to 34 degrees Celsius, the mortality due to heat stress would be very high in broilers by 8,4 percent and the feed intake of the chicken decreases from 108,3g/bird/day at 31,6 degrees Celsius to 68,9g/bird/day at 37,9 degrees Celsius, and the egg production would reduce by 6,4 percent. Feed intake in broilers is reduced by 16,4 percent when they are subjected to chronic heat stress, and body weight is lowered by 32,64 percent.