When we talk about small livestock production, poultry is always included. It is one of the most practised small livestock ventures in Zimbabwe. Remember, poultry comprises several specializations one of which is chicken production (the most common in Zimbabwe). Chickens are mainly reared either for meat production or egg production. Those two niches speak of two options that people consider in chicken production. These are rearing broiler chickens or rearing layer chickens. Often time I hear people asking which is better to do between the two. Well, it is seldom a black and white answer; let us do a comparative analysis. My working assumption is 100 broilers or 100 layer chickens.

Broiler Chickens Production

Broiler chickens are ready for sale from 5 weeks. In some cases, it can be earlier like when the client wants baby chickens e.g. fast food joints such as Chicken Inn. However, in the majority of cases, maturity is reached starting from 5 weeks. In principle, they should be sold or slaughtered by end of 6 weeks. Beyond that, the chickens that start eating into the profits or the chickens start shedding weight due to limited feeds.

The selling price of 1 chicken ranges from US$5 to US$6 (depending on size or weightiness). For 100 broilers, gross revenue can range from US$500 to US$600 (it is possible to not encounter mortalities plus at times the day-old chicks could have come with extras). This is just a generous estimation but no two batches are the same.

The cost of buying 100-day old chicks, their feeds, their feeders and drinkers, and meds will come to around US$500.

From thereafter you will need around US$350 for the day-old chicks, feeds, and meds per batch. Let us suppose you add another US$50 for miscellaneous costs. That leaves you at roughly US$400 total expenses per batch.

The net profit, depending on the selling price of each bird will be anything between US$100 and US$200 per batch. All this is assuming you already have the housing for the broilers. If not, the initial capital needed will, of course, be more.

Layer Chickens Production

The ball game is quite different when it comes to layer chickens. To commence there are 3 options namely starting with fertilized eggs, starting day-old chicks, or starting with the point of lay chickens. The first two options entail that you will pump in money for some time before realizing any revenue. That is usually not a preferable route for many. However, those two options allow you the room to exercise oversight and control over how your layer chickens turn out.

Starting with the point of lay chickens is the favourite for many because you start well to go. However, the initial capital needed will be significant especially because of the cost of the point of lay chickens. The costs of buying one point of lay chicken range from US$8 to US$10, depending on the source. This means 100 points of lay chickens will cost anything from US$800 to US$1000.

Including the cost of the drinkers, feeders, feeds, and meds you will need between US$1150 and US$1350. The egg-laying rate is an average of 1 egg per hen per day. The egg-laying rate is seldom 100 percent though; the average is 80 to 90 percent. This makes the projected eggs laid to be 80 to 90 eggs per day (3360 to 3780 eggs over 6 weeks). That translates to roughly 125 crates over 6 weeks.

The selling price of a crate of eggs ranges from US$3.50 to US$4.50. Thus, working with an assumption of US$4 per crate, that is around US$500 in gross revenue. Total expenses over those 6 weeks will be around US$300. So, the net profit will be around US$200.

NB: the costing I used is based on Fivet Animal Health products (so they are not random figures).

Which Is Better Then?

You need more initial capital for 100 layers (US$1150 to US$1350) than 100 broilers (US$500). Revenue can be realized daily for layers whereas it is from 5 weeks in for broilers. It is not easy to say which is one is low maintenance; both require close and round the clock attention for the most part. Layers have less labour though in terms of packaging the product. Broilers usually require slaughtering and that takes a lot of work. With broilers, it takes a shorter time to start operating profitably. This is different from layers where it might take some time to recoup the initial investment.

There Another major difference is that day-old chicks for broilers have to be sourced every 6 weeks. Point lay chickens can just be sourced once and for all. What is interesting though are the expenses say, over 6 weeks (as I used in my breakdowns). Feed needs for broilers are roughly US$230 whereas for layers it is US$260. What further separates the two are the broiler day-old chicks. That is why after factoring in meds and miscellaneous costs, broiler expenses will be at roughly US$400 and layers at US$300. All things considered, that will place the net profits more or less within the same range.

The bottom line is, rearing broiler chickens or layer chickens are more or less the same in terms of returns. The difference in terms of the financial prospects is not incredibly huge. This means both ventures are good and your choice for either will be informed by the market you intend to serve. I would recommend doing both to get the best of both worlds.