A few days ago, news broke that a conman had sold thousands of fake day old chicks to unsuspecting customers in Bulawayo. Despite excessive eating, the chicks do not grow, weighing only 80 grams at four weeks, instead of 1.5 KG. In addition, the chicks display very aggressive behaviour. They fight each other often. These are all characteristics of abnormal chicks. Infact, the incident in Bulawayo and elsewhere has led to growing calls being made for farmers to be wary of where they purchase their products. Let us explore this further.

Source of fake chicks

While the police are still investigating where the fake chicks came from, all indications are that these may be male counterparts of layer chicks. The egg business does not have any use for male chicks. This is because they do not produce eggs and their body structure is not suitable for meat production. From the onset, they are not vaccinated as do the female chicks. As a result they have poor health, are prone to diseases and are characterised by a huge appetite. In some cases, they are disposed of by crushing and mixing with grains to make stock feed or they are raised to feed crocodiles. Sometimes they are just killed and disposed of. Due to the above, conmen then buy these chicks for next to nothing and then sell them as if they are proper day old chicks.

Declining supply versus increasing demand

Zimbabwe has been experiencing a decline in the supply of day old chicks partly due to the economic environment which has limited local capacity to produce more. According to a June 2018 update from the Livestock and Meat Advisory Council (LMAC), production of hatching eggs declined from 7.4 million in December 2017 to 5.5 million in March 2018. On the other hand, hatching egg imports increased from 1.35 million in November 2017 to 5 million in March 2018. This has also been attributed to the outbreak of the avian influenza in May 2017. Furthermore, the national stock of broiler breeders declined from 660 000 birds in April to 490 000 birds in June and  further declined to 470 000 in December 2017. Irvine’s Zimbabwe, which is the biggest player in the chicken business is also relying heavily on egg imports.

On the demand side, many customers have been left disappointed as day old chicks are not enough. In major towns, queues can be noted as early as 3am at day old chick distribution centres. Unfortunately not all customers get the chicks because the supply is just not adequate. The prices have also gone up as well. A batch of 100 day old chicks was costing $110 around August this year and it has gone up to $230. A 50kg bag of feed which used to cost $30 now costs around $60. This obviously creates room for conmen to take advantage of the situation. They sell their chicks  and feed at a price a which is lower than what is prevailing on the market and farmers will be enticed to buy.

Where to purchase proper chicks

Farmers are strongly advised to always buy day old chicks, feed and vaccines from reputable suppliers like Irvine’s, Windmill, Profeeds and Novatek. Even those doing home mixing of feed must follow specific instructions from reputable manufacturers. These are suppliers whose products are reliable since they go through rigorous quality tests before being certified and released onto the market. In any case, if a farmer experiences problems with any of the products, they can always contact the supplier. Irvine’s produce Chicken Talk, a magazine to support farmers and the general public with tips on how to run a successful chicken business among other technical support services. This is something that those who buy their chicks from the street corner will not enjoy.

At its peak, the poultry industry can earn the country a lot of foreign currency through exports. It is also capable of creating steady incomes and employment for many families which practise back yard chicken businesses. All stakeholders therefore need to contribute positively in fighting against unscrupulous suppliers. It is not only the duty of law enforcement agencies.