The small farmer who is considering how to to start an egg business needs to take note of a number of factors.
Is the farm or smallholding close to your target market? Do you have space for a layer house? Is the water supply strong and consistent? Some layer houses need electricity – is your smallholding connected? Do you have access to finance? Can you draw up a business plan? Do you have access to affordable labour?
There are regulations to be followed when setting up this kind of project. Check the municipal by-laws if your smallholding falls within an urban area. The requirements for the premises will be stated.
According to the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations Listing Notice 1 of 2014, you need to undertake an EIA for the “development and related operation of facilities or infrastructure for the concentration of –
- more than 1 000 poultry per facility situated within an urban area, excluding chicks younger than 20 days;
- more than 5 000 poultry per facility situated outside an urban area, excluding chicks younger than 20 days.”
You can start by adapting an existing building or you can get plans in order to build a layer house. The ARC-Institute for Agricultural Engineering offer plans: contact Elmarie Stoltz at 012 842-4017, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are companies that sell a layer house kit for DIY construction and there are also a number of companies that offer a turnkey service. This means that they will offer you advice on what you need, and then design, construct, equip and install the house that will best suit your circumstances.
Building A Layer House
When you want to start an egg business, there is a wide variety of layer houses to choose from, ranging from accommodating 500 hens to 48 000. Most small scale farmers begin with one and it makes sense to start small and gain knowledge and experience before expanding the business.
Choose a design that suits the climate in your area. There must be good ventilation, as the movement of fresh air is important. A custom made house will also have good insulation, to maintain the correct temperature and ensure that the birds are not in a draft.
Depending on the climate, the size of the house and the number of birds, you might use heating and ventilation equipment. It also makes sense to place the house so that the long walls take advantages of sunlight.
The structure may have curtains down a side wall or it may be fully enclosed.
A 9 x 25m layer house is manageable, and could house about 2 000 layers without tiered cages. Your land needs to be flat and well drained.
When you start an egg business, you must place the layer house far from neighbours, and downwind of their properties, as poultry produce odours.
Municipal by-laws usually state that “there must be at least 3m of clear unobstructed space between any poultry house, poultry run, or building or structure housing a battery system and the nearest point of any dwelling, other building or structure used for human habitation or place where foodstuffs are stored or prepared for human consumption and the nearest boundary of any land… .”
According to Gerrie Coertzer of KDC Trading, “a small scale farmer could get away without needing electricity if s/he has up to 6 000 layers.” This is good news from a cost point of view and particularly in view of Eskom’s unreliable supply of electricity.
Feed & Water For Your Hens
Coertzer advises that a layer needs 114gm of feed a day and double that of water.
The composition of feed for layers is important because it must contain sufficient calcium to enable the hens to develop strong eggshells.
You will need feeders and drinkers, as well as perches and nest boxes. If you choose layer cages they have feeding and drinking equipment built in.
If you are keeping the layers in what is called a barn system, the SA Poultry Association (SAPA) Code of Practice states that the stocking density requirement must “be adequate to accommodate the birds’ normal behaviour. A maximum stocking density of ten adult hens per square metre of available floor space is permitted. Such floor space shall exclude the area occupied by the egg collection/service area and in addition, shall exclude the area occupied by the enclosed portion of nest boxes….”
The barn method or floor production system requires more labour, as the eggs need to be collected manually and cleaning is more challenging.
Cover the floor in straw, shavings, sawdust or dry leaves to provide a dry cushion for chickens and to control odour and pests. Some producers pick up the manure frequently or you can use the deep litter method. This means you layer more bedding over the droppings and you undertake a big clean out much less frequently.
There is also a design of layer house where there is room for the chickens to move about in the middle. The walls are lined with laying boxes, in which they lay their eggs.
There are similar requirements for housing for free range layers.
Many small scale producers who start an egg business choose to install layer cages.
A basic two tier layer cage is usually houses up to 20 commercial layers. There will be five layers per partition, with two nipples and drip cups per partition and feed trough space of 8.5cm per bird. There are cages with three and four tiers. Producerrs can expand the set of cages to take up to 240 layers.
According to SAPA, the stocking density requirement for commercial layers kept in cage systems allows the “minimum cage floor area to be 550cm2 per bird. The slope of the cage floor in cages … shall not exceed 8°. The height of the cage shall be 40cm over at least 65% of the floor area and shall not be lower than 35cm at any point. The cage doors shall allow for easy insertion and removal of birds and be free of protrusions permitting the removal of birds without causing injury.”
There are also so-called enriched cages which are similar to conventional cages. They are stacked on top of one another in row upon row. However they also provide limited facilities for nesting, perching and scratching. SAPA recommendations for them are at least 750cm2 of cage space, access to a nest, access to litter and appropriate perches of at least 15cm.
Which breeds are good layers?
Coertzer points out that Hy-line is the most popular breed of layers. “They are also easier to source.” Other common breeds are Amberlink and Lohmann. The client may buy the birds or the turnkey service provider can supply them.
Commercial layers start to lay at round about 18 weeks old. Producers tend to keep layers for layer chickens for up to a 70 week laying period. After that they begin to produce fewer eggs and producers sell or cull them.
Coertzer states that many of his clients source financial assistance from the Department of Agriculture or from the provincial Development Corporations.
KDC Trading has offices in Queenstown and Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape, and in Gauteng.
This is part three in a series on egg production. For more, click here.