Sunday, August 31, 2014


Agriculture in Zambia 8: Some notes on broiler chicken light management and stock feed.

Photo 1: Keeping broilers naturally.

I thought  I had my broiler management system well into place when two things happened.

The first thing was an unexpected increase in mortality of apparently healthy broilers in week 5 and 6. What happened was that we were managing our chickens so well that they grew too fast and became overweight in relation to the development of vital organs. Helped by a snippet of info by Sebastian Scott I suspected that the light management we had into place was wrong, and that broiler chickens should NOT be given the opportunity to eat 24 hours a day. Checking recent internet manuals (COBB, ROSS) confirmed this presumption. We now give chickens as of 21.00 hours a period of genuine night. Problem solved spectacularly: mortality rate dropped to almost 0 and all of the sudden we saw the emergence of a lively, energetic broiler.
The schedule that works for us is: Day 2-6 lights off from 21.00 to 22.00 hrs; week 2 and 3 lights off from 22.00 to 05.00 hrs BUT we switch the infrared bulb(s) on at night when it gets cold; and finally as of week 4 light bulbs off at 21.00 hours till 05.00 hrs and heating bulbs as well. By that time the birds normally do not need artificial heating anymore.

The second issue in a way was and is more problematic. Over time I had more and more questions about commercial/industrial stock feed. The key issue is the incorporation of medication in the feed, starter and grower in particular, and the presumed absence of such medication in finisher. Most stock feed manufacturers add antibiotics and coccidiostats to the feed. They do this as a preventive measure against disease for industrial growers who keep immensely large flocks under fully artificial conditions. They also do it to reduce mortality for small scale farmers who don’t know how to keep broilers well. The addition of hormones to the feed of chickens is forbidden in the USA and I think in the EU as well. Hormonal additives presumably serve to improve the feed-meat conversion rate; the desired effect is a saving in stock feed cost – or a shorter rearing period. Unfortunately, you, the consumer of fine broilers, may involuntarily also become the consumer of the antibiotics, coccidiostats and hormones administered to the chicken you eat. 

Producers using commercial stock feed must observe a ten day period of feeding finisher*, and of withdrawal periods in case they had to administer medication during the finisher feeding period. (This may turn out to be very costly and I bet many producers do not abide by such regulation!). Producers should also insists that stock feed manufacturers state in full on the sack the pharmaceuticals they have added on and must push for better regulation possibly through the Poultry Association of Zambia (did you know we have one such organization?). Personally I am inclined to think that the only safe solution is to make your own feed, but that is not easy for the very small scale farmer and has its own problems. In any case that is the direction we are taking.

Lastly, medication is not the only controversial additive in stock feed. Another issue is the recycling of slaughter waist (bone meal, blood meal. meat meal) and the concomitant chance of (cross-species) transmission of diseases. And, increasingly so, is the possibility of incorporating GMO crops into the feed; maize and soya in particular. This currently is forbidden in Zambia, but that does not preclude the possibility of it eventually happening.

* Read the sequel to this post about pharmaceutical free finisher. Most stock brands continue to add pharmaceuticals to the finisher feed, therefore to the the chicken and therefore to you, the consumer at the end of the food chain. Check your finisher out before you buy!