Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
It is no secret that the African climate can be very unforgiving, especially when it comes to farming. Luckily for many farmers the Boschveld chicken, a hardy breed from Limpopo, has found its way to no less than 19 African countries and it is flourishing.
Mike Bosch, a native of Zimbabwe, is the descendant of inventive ancestors who have left their footprints throughout Africa. He is continuing this tradition in his own unique way, having established a Boschveld chicken farming enterprise which aims to help African subsistence farmers combat famine, establish fertile land for vegetable cultivation, and creating conditions in which children can thrive.
Using chickens for tick control
Back when Mike still focused on farming cattle – he is a well-known Beefmaster and Boran breeder – he started breeding chickens as a form of tick control. He crossed some agile Namibian Ovambo chickens, good egg-laying Venda chickens from the north of Limpopo, and fleshy Matabele chickens. He named this breed the Boschveld chicken. With his innovative approach to tick control, Mike was ultimately able to reduce dipping from 26 times a year to a mere 14 times a year.
He soon realised, however, that Boschveld chickens had potential beyond tick control and his experiment soon developed into a full-fledged chicken enterprise, which today has expanded throughout much of Africa.
In fact, the popularity of the hardy Boschveld chicken has increased to such an extent, that his enterprise has grown from nest hatches and an incubator made from a converted refrigerator, to a modern hatchery. Nowadays, approximately 60 000 eggs are placed in modern incubators every three weeks, with a hatching rate of approximately 85%.
Africa’s need for nutrition
While expanding his business to other African countries, Mike realised that people in rural areas often had enough water for subsistence farming, but that they experienced a shortage of good quality seed, livestock and fertiliser.
As most farmers and the people in their communities do not have refrigerators, chickens are popular because a household can slaughter one chicken at a time and use the meat before it spoils.Over the years, however, the typical African chicken has grown smaller because of inbreeding.
Mike also noticed that due to a lack of nutritional variety, problem such as malnutrition and famine among children in some rural areas in Africa have become the rule rather than the exception.
He realised that his chickens could provide the answer to these problems, provided that all the opportunities were exploited to address the multi-faceted issues of hunger, poverty and malnutrition.
He realised that people who wanted to buy chickens would need chicken coops or runs to keep predators at bay, and that the chickens would have to be fed in order to produce meat and eggs.With all these factors in mind, he decided to develop a comprehensive chicken farming system that would provide everything a subsistence farmer would need to feed their families a well-balanced diet while generating an income.
Meat, eggs and vegetables
Mike’s system consists of a moveable chicken run, 150 chicks (75 hens and 75 cockerels), a solar panel, twelve weeks’ worth of chicken feed, vegetable seed and ten fruit and nut trees.
The floorless chicken run is six metres long by three metres wide, and is made from tubular metal, screening wire and corrugated iron. It weighs 64kg, meaning two people can easily move it. When the chickens are twelve weeks old, the owner selects the five best cockerels and sells the rest to buy more chicken feed. The hens lay an average of 200 eggs each year and produce an average carcass of 1,4kg.
Farmers can choose which type of vegetable seed they would like to receive as part of their package. Each month the chicken run is moved, and a patch of fertilised soil becomes available where the seed can be planted. Moving it often also reduces the risk of harmful organisms accumulating. After another month, another piece of fertilised soil becomes available on which the family can continue planting seeds. Good-quality seed allows these farmers to achieve good yields.
The fruit and nut trees, which are also the farmer’s choice, are planted around the house and are fertilised using chicken manure. The trees can be watered with greywater and provide fresh fruit and nuts to supplement the family’s diet.
In a field trial, the equivalent of more than 10 tons/ha of maize was harvested from a patch of soil fertilised by chicken manure. The average yield of the seed retained and planted used to be less than 0,5 tons/ha. Better yields are allowing households to generate more income from selling extra vegetables. In addition, children are becoming accustomed to a simple, efficient production system that encourages them to become self-sufficient from a young age.
Harvesting solar energy
Another great advantage of Mike’s system is the solar panel that comes with the chicken run. Consisting of a 50W system with a battery pack that powers four low-energy lights, two USB ports and a 12V connector, it offers numerous benefits.
The lights provide improved security and allow children to do their homework at night, while the electricity generated from the solar panels bring cell phones, tablets and laptops within rural communities’ reach. The system can also serve as a source of income, because owners can charge up to 13 cell phones a day for an asking price of approximately R7.
The entire package costs R35 000 and it is a great help to international aid programmes aimed at alleviating hunger and poverty as the nutritious meat, eggs and vegetables help combat malnutrition in communities.
In countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia, where the system is in use, owners have made a profit of approximately R3 500 within eight months by charging cell phones and selling extra vegetables and eggs.
A win-win solution
Complete training on the system’s use, chicken husbandry and crop cultivation is provided in South Africa. To date, none of these systems have failed as they are well planned, simple to operate and also allow women in rural areas to be self-sufficient and earn an income.
Mike says finding a viable and sustainable solution to Africa’s problems was imperative, and he is happy to see that it is successful. It has the added benefit of making his own business more sustainable. All thanks to the Boschveld chicken. – Andries Gouws, AgriOrbit