Free-range farming refers to farming where animals are allowed to roam outdoors for at least part of the day, instead of being confined in an enclosure for 24 hours per day. Free-range chicken farming is growing popular with poultry farmers. Its growth in popularity is due to the fact that it is extensive agriculture and the market demand for free-range meat is increasing. An extensive agricultural production system uses minimal inputs of labour and capital, relative to the extensive land area. The low capital requirement is linked to some of the following points;
Housing: Free-range chickens forage outdoors during the day and are sheltered at night for safety. The pasture confinement or the larger outdoor space attached to the roosting coop is fenced off so as to confine the chickens to a specific area as they forage during the day.
Feed: The chickens will get most of their food from scavenging the surroundings, as a result, feed input
costs are minimized. For commercial purposes, however, supplementing their diet with commercial stock feeds, or a homemade feed such as worms from a worm farm, maize, sorghum, wheat, and rice grains is encouraged.
Hardiness: Free-range breeds have good resistance to many diseases, so this reduces the veterinary costs. Their hardiness is linked to the fact that they are kept outside in open space and are not confined in chicken runs where most diseases sprout. Although a vaccination the regimen has to be followed.
Prolific Breeders: Taking into account the fact that free-range hens are good layers and excellent brooders, building up numbers of your flock will be a quick endeavor.
Meat Flavour: The chickens can exercise more and have access to fresh and diverse plant and animal food sources (organic), this results in lean, nutrient-rich, low-fat meat for the table.
Labour Extensive: Free-range chickens spend most of their day outdoors foraging hence less time spent refilling feeders with feed and less frequency in cleaning the chicken coop.
There are a number of free-range breeds to choose from when planning to start a free-range chicken
project. The major advantage presented by pure breeds is that they have known genetic characteristics;
(expected weight after a number of weeks, how many eggs they can lay, their growth potential, etc). There
exists a number of breeds that are profitable as free-range chickens such as the Road Island Red,
White Leghorn, Light Sussex, Boschveld breed, Black Australorp and Potchefstroom Koekoek. This article will focus on the latter three breeds i.e. Boschveld breed, Black Australorp and Potchefstroom Koekoek.
THE BOSCHVELD BREED
This is the most popular breed in free-range poultry farming. The birds are a very distinctive red and brown colour. The breed is from crosses carried out between three types of free-range breeds, the Venda, Ovambo, and Matabele indigenous chicken by a farmer named Mike Bosch. Their main advantage is that they can be raised either as layers or free-range chickens for meat. The hens will start producing eggs at 18 to 20 weeks up to the age of three years with an average of two eggs every three days. The Boschveld cocks are known to grow faster as compared to other free-range breeds and are ready for slaughter at 12 weeks old, depending on nutritional levels.
The breed is of Australian origin, developed as a utility breed with a focus on egg-laying. The most popular
colour of the breed is black, but blue and white are also recognized, and the Poultry Club of South Africa
recognises buff, splash, wheaten laced, and golden in addition. A farmer in Bulawayo when asked
why he chose this breed, answered “the Australorpthe breed is the best because this type of chicken lays
300 or more eggs a year while its cock’s carcass can exceed five kilograms”. As these birds are highly
prolific, starting a commercial Black Australorp chicken farming business for eggs and chick production can be more profitable. In order to produce fertile eggs for producing chicks, you have to keep a good ratio
of hens and roosters. Generally, one mature rooster is enough for breeding 8-10 hens.
This breed is a composite of the White Leghorn, Black Australorpand Bared Plymouth Rock. It was bred at the Potchefstroom Agricultural College in South Africa during the 1950s by a researcher, Mr. C. L. Marais. The name Koekoek refers to the barred colour pattern of the birds. The birds are grey to whitish-grey, each feather is striped across with parallel dark grey or black stripes. They produce large brown-shelled eggs and yellow meat. They are great foragers, scratching around and catching worms and also eat a variety of green. As a result the cock can weigh 3.5 to 4.5kg, a cockerel: 3.0 to 4.0kg, hens 2.5 to 3.5kg and pullets 2.0 to 3.0kg. A study carried out at the Food and Agriculture Organisation indicated that the Koekoek breed performs better than all of the other indigenous chickens in South Africa.
Images provided by Karin Jaehne, CPS Poultry
& Melissa Katunga