Aberash Abera, a married woman with three children was feeding her 800 hens in a house at the back of her residence when Fortune knocked at her compound’s gate on the morning of Wednesday March 18, 2015. She came out of her hen house holding her younger boy by her side with the other one following her.
Aberash has been in the business of poultry for the past five years and she knows how to bring the inputs for her farm and where to sell her products.
“Five years ago I started with 20 chicks, buying each for 16 Br,” remembers Aberash. “The first thing I did was prepare a room for them and clean the place by spraying disinfectant.”
After she had the place for breeding, she had to invest on hay for covering the floor and medicine as well as on lighting in order to commence the business.
“The light needs to be constantly supplied to keep them warm until the 15th day when they will grow feathers,” she says.
She also adds that the business of poultry is profitable as long as the person is committed and able to bear the challenges.
“Previously, I had 1,300 hens until the flu killed 300 of them and 200 of them died because of different reasons; now I have 800 hens that lay eggs,” Aberash says.
The suffocating and somewhat smelly room of the hens is joined to two small rooms in the compound, creating its own compound with its own rusty steel gate, separating it from the main house.
“My hens began laying eggs five months after I started raising them and this was good to cover the cost of their meal,” she says.
She buys the meal from Debre Zeit, a town 48km away from Addis Abeba in the southwest.
“The cost of feed for the hens is increasing from time to time, going up from 600 Br a quintal five years ago to 900 Br now,” she says.
As the price of feed has been increasing since the inception of her business, the price of her products such as eggs and cocks has shown corresponding change.
“Back then, the price of a cock was 50 Br to 55 Br and an egg was sold for 1.80 Br; now this price has reached 120 Br to 130 Br and the price of a single egg has increased to 2.50 Br,” explains Aberash.
The main challenge to the business comes when the fasting season arrives and the demand for poultry decreases, leading to a surplus in the quantity of eggs, hens and cocks. That is revenue that helps her support her husband and children.
The case is somewhat the same with the others engaged in the poultry business. Abdu Dawud, in his late twenties, moved to Dukem from Debre Markos, where he graduated in computer science from a private college, to Dukem.
He ran a computer business for three years after graduation before shifting to Dukem and to chickens. It was a business he joined by the insistence of friends who were doing it and he began with the purchase of 1,000 chicken.
He kept the chicks, which he bought for 22 Br each in a 40sqm room, which he rented for 3,000 Br. In the room, divided by wire mesh, 1,000 chickens could be seen pecking at their meal hanging in small container and drinking the water supplied in the same manner.
“The major challenge is following up the chicken during the night as they sleep on one another when the air gets cold; you should stay awake to keep them dispersed,” says Abdu.
Among his concerns were that the number of farms that supply them with the chickens and their feed were also limited.
“We might not get our order of hens even after two months, which exposes us to loss as we pay rent,” he lamented.
The farmers buy feed for one generation of chicken until they reach the stage of slaughter at a price of 32,000 Br and antibiotics that can treat 1,000 chickens are sold for 500 Br.
One of the suppliers to poultry farms is Alema Poultry Farm- a blended name from the co-owners’ name Alemayehu Amdemariam and Lemma Asfaw. They supply small farms with chickens, feed, and other equipment necessary for poultry production.
“When we started the business 20 years ago, we had no money but the idea crept into our minds as we lost our salary when we were discharged from the military”, Alemayehu told Fortune. “We went to a humanitarian company that supports orphans and asked for a loan.”
The humanitarian company refused them the loan stating that they did not come to start businesses but to help orphans. Afterwards it gave them 1,500 Br when they said it should save their children from being orphans. From that humble start the farm has become one of the dominant players in the market.
Ethiopia’s poultry population is 51.3 million according to Central Statistics Agency’s (CSA) 2013/14 estimate, among which 96pc are indigenous, 0.8pc exotic, 2.4pc hybrid. From the total population, cocks constitute 10.2pc, cockerels 52pc, pullets 9.8pc, non laying chicken three percent, chicks 38.23pc, and laying chicken 33.3pc.
According to the same source, in that year, the number of sales amounted to 13.5 million Br and slaughter, 14.2pc of the total population, while death accounted for 56pc.
The number of birds that were afflicted and treated reached 29 million, which is 0.16pc of the total population.
“The business is still untouched and the people engaged need to be visionaries to achieve some kind of goal,” says Gezat Werk, manager of Friendship Agro Industry Plc, “Ethiopia is also among the least consumers of poultry products and among the top countries that is underserved.”
Although the business is very attractive and lucrative, it requires high precaution as a day’s carelessness can lead to total and immediate loss of investment, says Abiyu Tadele, an instructor at Mizan Agricultural, Technical, Vocational and Educational Training College (ATVETC).
“The business is called ‘easy to get into and easy to get out of’ as one might lose everything overnight if one is not careful,” says Abiyu.
The chickens need to be vaccinated after one week, three weeks, two months and five months in order to make them immune to diseases. According to the same expert, the major kinds of diseases that affect them are New Castle Disease and Foul Typhoid. Neatness is another major factor that the farmers need to consider well.
“The attendants need to be clean and use disinfectants for everyone that enters the farm; they should even be able to keep people away from the farms,” says Abiyu.
There are two ways of raising chickens – one is within cages and the other is on the ground using litter. But raising them on the ground is more risky than using cages. The average density of chicken population over a square meter is five, which needs to be maintained properly.
“Unless the spacing is proper, they will start their innate behaviour of cannibalism and once they taste blood, it is not easy to bring them to the normal situation,” Abiyu warns.
When there is calcium deficiency in the feed for the hens, they start drinking their eggs; be it their own or the others, according to Abiyu and this should be addressed by controlling the content composition of their meal.
“Using cages is very productive as one can get high quantities of produce within a small area of land, but is not recommended because of the effect it has on the chickens as they stay standing the whole time,” says Abiyu.
The products of poultry farms can be supplied to the market within 45 days, while other farm animal businesses like raising oxen can take as long as two years, says Alema’s Alemayehu, adding that the business is good,“but what needs to be done is to work hard.”
Doing that has helped Alema increase its capital from the 1,500 Br they got from the NGO to more than 300 million Br the company boasts now.
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