A guide to Poultry farming

Poultry farming is the domestication of birds for provision of food, manure, source of income or for aesthetic value. Mostly they are bred and kept for first three reasons.

The types of domesticated birds include and not limited to;

  • Chicken
  • Turkeys
  • Ducks among others

Chicken is the most kept poultry for its delicious and source of income.

The types of chicken kept are,

  • Commercial chicken – exotic chicken

either kept for laying (layers) or for production of meat (Broilers).

  • Improved indigenous chicken e.g. Kenbro, Kuroiler among others
  • Indigenous chicken (commonly referred to as Kienyeji chicken)

Economic importance of Poultry Keeping

  • Provide food security to the majority rural population
  • Act as a source employment for the keepers and indirect employment for feed manufacturers, drugs manufacturers and  dispensers(vaccines, antibiotics)
  • Act as a source social status i.e. Western and Coast areas of Kenya

Commercial Poultry Production

It entails intensive poultry production of either layers or broiler birds. It is labour and capital intensive.

Poultry breeders have produced arrange of hybrids suitable for performing to the highest standards.

The birds are produced as day old chicks from parental stocks kept and maintained by several breeding firms a cross the country.

The parental stocks are well vaccinated and kept in disease free conditions.

The chicks are vaccinated against mareks at day one by the hatcheries.

At day old proper conditions are provided to the chicks to maintain the temperature within the require ranges for the first 3 weeks to minimize mortality related to chilling conditions.

  • Broiler production

Broiler production entails the keeping of commercial birds for the sole purpose of meet production.  Their maturity is faster i.e. within 42 days (6weeks).

They provide reliable income to small scale farmers and large scale farmers

Start up capital relatively low

Has short period of return to capital invested.

Broiler Management

  • Before placing the chicks on the farm, the house should be disinfested and disinfected thoroughly.
  • Good quality litter should be spread evenly to depth of 3 – 4 inches (this is to act absorptive media for the droppings and to deter the contact of the cold floor with the chicks.
  • The orientation for the house should East – West direction, with the width facing the East and West respectively as this is where the sun rises and sets.
  • The major housing requirements is the stocking density, one broiler bird requires at least 1sq ft.
  • The house should have enough space for waterers and feeders placed strategically for easier access by the birds.
  • The height of the feeding and drinking apparatus should be placed at the level of the back of the bird to minimize spillage.
  • A brooder should be constructed to ensure constant supply of heat during the first 2 – 3 weeks depending on the prevailing weather conditions. 1st week at 35 then reduce by 5 for the next two weeks.
  • The brooder area should be set at least 25 birds per sq meter and at most 40 birds per sq.
  • The brooding are a should be pre – heated at least 6 – 24 hours prior to chick arrival
  • Different sources of heat could be used I.e.

(a    Gas heaters – one gas brooder can brood up to 1000 chicks

(b    Electric heaters – one heater bar can brood up to 200 chicks

(c    Brooding Jiko – One properly designed Jiko can brood up to 500 chicks

The temperature could be judged by the behavior of the young chicks

  • If the brooder is too warm the chicks will hurdle a way from the heat source with their wings spread.
  • If the brooder is too cold the chicks will hurdle under the heat source in the brooder.
  • If there are windy conditions (strong blowing wind from a particular direction) the birds will tend to hurdle at one side of the brooder.
  • Make sure that at 14 days of age, the chicks are using the whole floor area at stocking density 11 – 12 birds per sq ft.


Broiler Feeding

  • Their rations should be formulated to supply the correct balance of energy, protein, amino acids vitamins and minerals.
  • Chicks should be fed as soon as possible after hatch to get required boost from the York and feed nutrients
  • Residual absorption is rapid during the first 48 hours; this will correct uneven growth and reduced bacteria infection from the rich protein York.
  • Feeds contribute to around 70%  of the total cost of production  in broiler production and to  around 80% in the Western Economies
  • Broiler birds should be fed of broiler starter for the 1st 3 weeks  with feed intake of 0.8 – 1kg per bird
  • The birds are then fed on broiler finisher from the 18th day, when changing from starter to finisher mix the two rations for gradual change over for at least 3 days to avoid the birds being stressed.
  • The birds will require 2.8 – 3kgs of broiler finisher per bird

Diseases control

Profitability in poultry production business is largely dependent on management practices which include management for diseases.

  • The primary causes of disease is micro organisms, other causes include nutritional deficiencies or toxic substance.
  • Poorly fed birds have lowered immunity hence highly susceptible to infections.
  • Birds consume 2 times as much water as feed. Decreased water intake results into reduced feed intake. A reduction in the intake of the components is an indicative of ill health.
  • Litter materials must be changed and poultry and equipments thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after each group of birds (all –in , all – out)
  • It is recommended that younger birds be attended first before older birds
  • Unauthorized personnel, humans, should be barred from the poultry houses.
  • If the disease is persistent in the flock then the best way is to remove the entire flock from the farm.
  • A well monitory system should be put in place to detect diseases early enough to bring it under control.
  • Ensure that feeders and drinkers are regularly cleaned.
  • Burning or burning dead birds in a deep hole where  other animals can not  access  the carcass
  • Incases of an outbreak of disease always consult a qualified vetenary professional.
  • An effective program should be followed to enhance successful control of diseases. A proper vaccination program should be provided by the breeder or the vaccine manufacturer. Where such arrangements are non existent consult the resident Director of vetinary services for professional advice on the same.
  • A qualified vet should be consulted incase of any disease outbreak for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Common diseases in Broiler Production

Viral diseases like New castle disease and infectious busal disease (Gumboro) will result in high mortality.  The high mortality can be prevented or reduced by vaccination. Mass vaccination through drinking water is the common mode of administration. Addition of skimed milk (at 1g/l of water), prior to the introduction of the vaccine will protect against any adverse effects will prolong the life of vaccine. It neutralizes any unfavourable contaminants that may be present.

Please note that all equipment must be free from any disinfectants or detergents (soap). An additional 25% of drinking equipment must be used to ensure that all birds are vaccinated.



Recommended vaccination program

Age                             Disease                                                   Mode of administration

Day 7                          New Castle/Infectious Bursal disease          Drinking Water

Day 12                        Infectious Bursal Disease                                 Drinking water

Day 19                        Infectious Bursal Disease                                 Drinking Water

  • Never vaccinate birds that are ill.
  • No Medication should be given to the birds at least 2 days before and 2 days after vaccination.
  • The vaccine must be stored at temperature +2 and + (fridge temperature).
  • Withdraw water from the broiler house for 1 hour (1n hot weather) and 1.5 hours (in cold weather).

The required   amount of water for vaccination would be calculated as follows,


Water required (WR) in litres =

Amount of skimmed milk (g/ml) = WR X 2

Note that milk is added at 2g/l or 2ml/l of water.




The common diseases in broiler farming.

  • Infectious Bursal Disease (Gumboro)

Caused by infectious bursal disease


  • Whitish watery diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite , followed by death within 1- 2 day
  • High mortality of a bout 80%
  • Soiled vent

No treatment, but can be controlled through proper vaccination.

  • New castle disease
  • A viral disease can cause mortality of up to 100% within 24 – 72 hours


  • Characterized by respiratory problems
  • Nervous disorders e.g. neck twisting

Prevention is by vaccination.

  • Coccidiosis

Caused by protozoan


  • Bloody droppings
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Increased thirsty
  • Pale mucous membrane
  • Loss of feathers

Control and Treatment

  • Maintain dry litter
  • Use feeds with coccidiostats in chick and growers mash

2 Layers Production

Layers are purposely kept for egg production. The routine management of layer chick at brooder level is similar to that of broiler. The behavior of chicks will be evident. The layers are stocked 1 bird per 2.5 sq ft or at least 2sqft.

  • From chick placement (day old), to around 16 – 18 weeks, the pullets are fed according to body weight or age. The goal is to raise a strong and health bird that can support egg production.
  • Unless a laying bird attains proper weight i.e. 1.4 kgs , low egg production will eventually persist
  • In Africa the commonest system o f layer raring is usually deep litter or cage system
  • Poorly fed pullets usually fail to attain desired weight to start laying at the maturity age of 16 -18 weeks could not start laying.
  • Failure to attain the required weight the pullets will take longer duration to reach peak production and not able to maintain the peak for any reasonable period.


Layers Feeding

  • Chicks develop appetite and activity immediately they are introduced to feeds and should feed to fill their crops. To assess if they have had a good start a bout three batches of 30 chicks are collected from different house locations at 8 and 24 hours after arrival and their crops gently felt. In chicks that have feed and water their crops will be full, soft and rounded (porridge -like texture).
  • Poor quality or imbalanced protein creates metabolic stress due to energy associated with its excretion.
  • The laying birds are categorized into 3 steps for the purpose of growth and development


(a Chicks – the period between 1 day up to 8 weeks or  56 days

  • The birds are fed on chick mash with coccidiostat
  • On average a chick could have consumed two kilos of chick mash at the end of the period
  • The chick rations should be formulated to supply correct balance, to allow optimal growth and performance in terms of weight gain and egg production.
  • The chicks’ diet is gradually changed to growers mash at the 54th day – 56th
  • Give anti stress to the chicks during the change to minimize stress.

(Growers – commonly referred as pullets, this the period between 56th day to the period of lying, usually at 16 weeks – 18 weeks.

  • The pullets are fed on growers mash at the rate of 7kgs per bird for the entire period until on set of lying.
  • Routine practices like deworming and debeaking could be undertaken at this physiological growth stage.

-Layers – this are laying birds from the 19th week up to the end of production period (1 year of production period),

– The birds are fed with layers at a rate o 120gms – 140gams of layers mash per day for one laying chicken

–  For enhanced deep yellow formation the birds should be fed on layers mash with carophyll

– Feed consumption of less than 6.8kg/per tray of eggs is satisfactory.

– A good layer ration should enhance high egg production, good egg size and yellow York.



Disease control

Most of poultry diseases are controlled by vaccination. A proper vaccination should be provided by the breeder/hatchery but incase one is not provided then a tentative one below could be administered.

Day                                        Vaccine                                 Vaccination mode

Day old at hatchery                         Marek’s                                 Intramuscular

10 – 14 days                           Gumboro                               Drinking Water

21days                                    New castle /IB                     Drinking Water

28th day                                  Gumboro                               Drinking water

6th Week                                Fowl Pox                               Wing Stab

8th Week                                Fowl Typhoid                       Intramuscular (thigh)


3)   Kienyeji /Indigenous Chicken

– The genotype for the indigenous chicken are derived from the local available breeds

– Usually have low production in terms of egg and meat

– Their end products are preferred i.e. eggs and meat due to their good taste and health concerns

– They are hardy and resistant to most of diseases a part from New castle

– They are not Capital intensive and can be raised at the backyard on free range.

–  Recently there have been introduction of genetically modified indigenous chicken commonly referred to as improved Kienyeji

– The improved Kienyeji has advantage over the tradition indigenous chicken.

(a   They mature in less period of time e.g. they mature at 6 moths as opposed to the former at 1 year

(b   High production in terms of meat and eggs

(c Their plumage assumes the one for the indigenous chicken  preferred by  most farmers

The Kienyeji chicken production can be enhanced by artificially hatching the chicks by use of an incubator as opposed to the tradition way of hatching by the mother chicken sitting on eggs for 21 days

The recent upsurge in demand as far as the Kienyeji/improved indigenous chicken are concerned let to a number of small scale farmers to start brooding oblivious of the danger of not observing proper procedures.

Increased cases of preventable diseases like Newcastle wiping out the whole flock

Most farmers do not have well designated parent stock hence they source hatching eggs from other local farmers. Such parents give rise to chicks without any initial mother anti bodies. This makes the chicks vulnerable to diseases like NCD at very age.

Recent observations have recommended for early vaccination of the chicks as early as at 3rd day


The indigenous chicken could be housed for the first 4weeks (1month), thereafter let to scavenge and only supplemented with conventional feeds at a rate of 10%.

  • The house should be well ventilated and litter well placed at least 3 – 5 inches
  • Well disinfested and disinfected before the chicks /chicken are placed
  • The floor could be cemented/wooden /or earth



  • The day old chick to 28 days should be fed on chick mash of starter mash
  • And the end of the fourth week the birds can be supplemented with kitchen left overs, grains, greens and growers mash at 10%.
  • At laying, birds could supplement with commercial layers mash to enhance productivity.

Disease control

  • For indigenous chicken the biggest threat is New castle diseases
  • Vaccinate the chicks early enough as indicated earlier
  • Repeat if possible at the end of every three month
  • For improved indigenous chicken it is recommended you follow the vaccination procedure as it was for the exotic commercial layer birds.

NB incase of a disease outbreak always consult a qualified vetinary professional for diagnosis and proper treatment.

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