Poultry farming, especially chicken farming, can be broken into specific categories such as layers, broilers and free-range chickens. Each of these chicken farming categories will have birds that are selected for specific traits, and will require specific nutrition based on what the end goals are.
In chicken farming, there are three main types of chickens which are:
– Layers: These chickens are bred and raised to produce eggs.
– Broilers: These are chickens raised specifically for meat and, therefore, grow as fast as possible
– Free-range chickens: These chickens are sometimes called dual-purpose chickens. They are bred and raised for both eggs and meat. They are like broilers and layers combined. In fact, broiler chickens came from free-range chickens. Surprised, right?
So, which one is more profitable between Broilers VS Layers VS Free-range chickens and what's better between these three species of chicken?
At times poultry farmers make wrong decisions due to lack of beginners' guide in poultry farming, which may lead to frustration, losses and regret. So, to avoid such blunders, you have to do some proper research for rearing broiler chickens, layer chickens or free-range chickens before you start the project, and by going through this tutorial, you have already made a great step towards acquiring that knowledge.
Before looking at what's better or what's more profitable between broilers and layers and free-range chickens, you first need to understand their differences in factors such as growth rate, egg production, resistance to diseases, market demands, etc, so that you can make an informed decision.
You should know that both broiler chicken farming and layer chicken farming are both a risky type of farming. Broilers require so much care and are more involving than layers as every bird's death means less profit for the farmer. On the other hand, layers take longer to give you any profit, and, therefore, they are the riskiest in the poultry farming industry. Surprisingly, free range chickens are the least riskiest chicken farming project one can venture into. This is mainly because free-range chickens rarely fall sick, have a capacity to increase in numbers, require less human intervention for their upkeep and they possess the ability to look for their own feed since they feed on almost anything.
Layers and broilers are usually hybrid chickens that are bred for commercial purposes and some of the most common hybrid layer chickens are Hubbard, Shavers, Babcock, Isabrown and Hyline while popular broiler breeds include common Cornish Cross strains such as Cobb 500, Ross 308 and Ross 708. For free-range chickens there are also hundreds of breeds out there, but some of the most popular free-range breeds are Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red, Black Australorp, Plymouth Rock, Orpington and Leghorn chickens.
Many communal farmers and prospective poultry farmers do not realise the commercial value of their free-range chickens or backyard chickens. Families generally keep these birds merely for subsistence purposes, but you can make a lot of income with these type of chickens. In fact they can actually be more profitable than both broilers and layers. We will talk about it in great detail later in this tutorial.
The same applies to small scale farmers who believe that the only way to run a viable chicken farming enterprise is to raise traditional white broiler chickens that depend solely on store-bought chicken feed.
Not only has chicken grower and finisher feed become very expensive, but free-range chickens are healthier and the meat and eggs produced by these indigenous chickens are comparatively healthier for human consumption. Meat and eggs that come from free-range chickens have a higher market demand and usually cost more than meat and eggs from broiler chickens and layer chickens respectively.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Regulations, a free-range chicken must have access to the outdoors. In other words, they are raised mainly outside of pens and are allowed to roam free and forage their food. Pasture-raised hens consume grass and bugs in addition to their grain diet.
Broiler chickens, Layer chickens and free-range chickens significantly differ from each other. Here are some of their major differences:
– The primary striking difference is that layers are females whereas broilers are unsexed comprising both males and females while free-range chickens are backyard chickens that have the capacity to look for their own food throughout the day as they generally feed on almost anything that is not poisonous.
– Broilers are reared for meat purpose whereas layers are reared for egg production and free-range chickens are raised for both meat and eggs.
– Broilers attain a body weight of around 2.2 to 2.4 kg within 6 weeks because of their fast growth, while on the other side layers attain a body weight of 1.5 to 1.8 kg at their breeding maturity which is 20 to 22 weeks. On the other hand, free-range chickens usually grow to a maximum adult weight of between 2.3kg and 5kg, depending on the breed and gender of the bird. Although free-range chickens grow slower than broilers, they, however, generally grow bigger, at a fraction of broilers' feed cost.
– Broilers are reared for a period of 35 to 42 days and then they are marketed and slaughtered for meat. Layers attain breeding maturity around 20 to 22 weeks and laying eggs up to 72 weeks of age before they are either slaughtered or sold as off-layers. Free range chickens can be kept for years, although the hens usually stop laying after 2 and half to 3 years. Before they stop laying, free range chickens will be providing you with fertilized eggs which you or the hens themselves can hatch and increase your flock in the process.
– Broiler chicken feed is more costly than layers feed as more energy and proteins are required for broilers to grow faster and quickly reach market weight. The more amount of protein content in poultry feed, the costly the feed will be. On the other hand, free-range chickens eat a wide range of feed including kitchen left-overs, garden waste, grass and insects and anything that crosses their path. Therefore feeding free-range chickens is friendly to your pockets.
– Commercially, deep litter system of housing is best suited for rearing broilers whereas it is preferred to raise layers in caged housing systems. As for free-range chickens, a semi-deep litter system is the best option. During the day they forage in pastures and at night they are locked in a coop like broilers.
Broiler chickens come from crossbreeding Cornish Rock chickens. They are different in their growth rate and location of the muscle on the carcass because they have been genetically selected for well over 100 years to produce as much meat as possible within the shortest period of time, with the lowest possible input of feed. They are developed for a different purpose than egg layers.
Egg layers, by contrast have been genetically selected for smaller size, putting all their energy into egg production. They were developed to produce chickens that produce as many eggs as possible per feed input.
Free-range chickens, on the other hand, are usually meant for people who do not really want to venture into commercial poultry farming, but just want fresh eggs almost on a daily basis and do appreciate the taste of organic or semi organic chicken meat. While you can perfectly and easily commercialize a free-range chicken project, however, most backyard chicken farmers do raise this type of poultry for personal consumption.
Initially, starting a poultry farming business requires much capital to begin with but less start-up cost is needed to start a free-range chicken project. Almost any material can be used to build a free-range chicken coop because they are generally resistant to some diseases that easily attack broilers and layers. Broiler chicken farming is also comparatively cheaper to start as compared to layer chicken farming. Broilers need fewer vaccines than layer chickens and less space as compared to both layers and free-range chickens.
The start-up cost for raising layer chickens is higher than that of starting a broiler farming project or a free-range chicken business. In fact, you don’t make any profit within the first 18 to 20 weeks of starting your layer-chicken project. While in most cases it's also the same with the free-range chicken business, however, it's not always the case, because you can buy day-old free range chicks, raise them for 2 to 3 months, then sell them as meat chickens – remember free-range chickens are raised for either meat or eggs or both.
Therefore, if you decide to start a layer chicken business, make sure that you have enough capital to spend on chicken feed for at least 5 months, money and also vaccines or medications and poultry equipment should be on the ground before purchasing your day-old layer chicks. You need to be financially stable to successfully run a layer chicken business.
DISEASES AND MORTALITY
When there is a disease outbreak, you will lose some of your broiler chickens and within 2 to 3 months you will be back rearing another set of the broiler chickens. When it comes to layer chickens, it is completely a different story.
Should a disease outbreak affect your layer chickens, and some hens die, it is not easy to replace those layers, especially if they were about to start laying eggs. You will need to wait for almost a year to fully recover from such a loss. So, therefore, looking at it from this perspective, layer chickens are the worst affected by disease outbreaks and higher mortality rates. As for free-range chickens, well, they are the hardiest type of chickens. Free-range chickens don't easily fall sick. If you vaccinate them against some of the most common diseases that hit chickens in your country or town, and once they reach 3 months of age then they will rarely fall sick, let alone suddenly die.
Almost every disease that hits layer chickens affects their egg production, which is their primary, if not only source of your income. If there is a shortage of feed for the birds, that will reduce their egg size and at times egg production as well. In some cases, even changing feed from one manufacturer to the other also negatively affects egg production. You will see a significant drop in the number of eggs you pick per day for a week or two.
VACCINES AND MEDICATIONS
Since free-range chickens are the hardest type of chickens, it means they don't require lots of vaccines and medications. Personally, I just give my free-range chicks a stress pack and an antibiotic such as oxytetracycline, which is also known as terranox in some countries, for the first 5 to 6 days after hatching, and that's all. With broilers, you will spend less money on vaccines and medication as compared to layer chickens. This is because they reach market weight within a short period of time, leaving no room for diseases and pathogens to manifest and wipe all your flock.
Just a few diseases like Newcastle, Infectious Bursal Disease which is also known as Gumboro disease and Coccidiosis, affect broilers within that short period of time. The good thing is that those diseases can be prevented by vaccinating your day-old broiler chicks. On the other hand, layers require more vaccination and medication because they take longer at the farm (about 16 to 18 weeks to get to point of lay, and 72 weeks to become off-layers). Therefore, you are likely to face more challenges with layer chickens as compared to broilers and free-range chickens.
BASIC SKILL REQUIREMENT
The easiest type of chicken to raise is definitely the free-range chicken. They know how to hatch their eggs, take care of their young, teach them what to eat and where to find food and water, and they don't easily fall sick as compared to broilers and layers. So with that in mind, free-range chickens require the least amount of poultry farming experience or training. However, a beginner or novice can easily raise broiler chickens with fewer casualties as compared to layer chickens because broilers grow very fast and can be sold at 5 to 6 weeks of age, leaving no room for some disease manifestation, which most beginners may not be able to handle without some experience and skills. With layer chickens, it is totally different; you cannot raise layers without some basic skills and guidance from an experienced farmer or without some form of training or literature.
Most people believe that free-range chickens are the least paying type of chickens. Some even believe that you can't successfully run a free-range chicken project since it is believed that you have to raise free-range chickens for 6 to 12 months to reach slaughter weight.
Well, the truth is that indigenous free-range chickens or native road runner chickens are the ones that usually take that long to grow. Renowned and internationally recognised breeds such as Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red, Black Australorp, Plymouth Rock, Orpington and Leghorn chickens do generally grow bigger and faster than native chickens and these breeds sell well world-wide. You can raise these best free-range breeds, hatch their eggs then sell day-old chicks at anything between US$0.50 and US$1 per chick, depending on the breed and your location. The cost of hatching a crate of 30 eggs is usually 10% to 20% of the cost of selling a single day-old chick in many countries. So hatcheries normally charge US$3 to US$6 for 30 eggs. With a hatch rate of 80%, expect 80 chicks per every 100 eggs incubated, and those 80 chicks will give you US$40 to US$80. In other words, that's US$80 per 100 eggs laid.
On the other hand, in most countries, 30 table eggs (a crate of eggs from the shop) cost between US$3 and US$4. So from 100 eggs you can get about US$30 to US$40, which is way less than what you get when you sell day-old chicks.
Still on free-range chickens, some breeds can hatch their own eggs, and that further lowers your cost of production, but then, it also means less eggs per year for you. Alternatively, you can purchase your own incubator and hatch your own eggs as this increases your profits in the long run.
Another source of income when one ventures into free-range chicken farming is to sell meat. In my country of residence, a 2.5kg to 3kg free-range chicken costs around US$10 while a 2.2kg broiler chicken costs around US$5. Therefore, free-range chickens fetch double the amount that broiler chickens cost. It takes one and half months to raise a broiler chicken, and I know commercial free-range chicken farmers who are raising a breed of free-range chickens from France called Sasso. They keep the chickens for 2 months and sell them as meat chickens for US$8 per bird. That is certainly more lucrative than selling broiler chickens.
Now lets talk about the profitability of broilers and layers. Keeping layer chickens will eventually be more rewarding than raising broiler chickens.
If a single layer hen can lay 6 eggs per week, that's a dozen per hen for every two weeks – holding everything else constant. If you harvest 3,000 eggs per week and a crate of 30 eggs costs about US$3 to US4 in most countries, that means you get US$300 to US$400 every week for about a year to about 15 months or so.
After 16 months when the layers permanently stop laying, you can always sell the birds as meat chickens at usually half the price of broiler chickens and that will give you extra income in addition to what you got from selling eggs.
To achieve this same amount of revenue with broilers, you need to have a chain of customers who will be buying your broiler chickens periodically. You also need to raise more chickens to match the income that a layer chicken farmer gets with the same amount of birds. Having such customers who buy lots of broiler meat regularly and satisfying such customers at all times is not an easy task at all.
A single layer chicken lays about 300 to 320 or 340 eggs per year. 300 eggs cost US$30 to US$40 in most countries. A single broiler chicken costs US$4 to US$6 in most countries. Let's work with US$5. To match the US$30 to US$40 per year that a single layer chicken brings, you need to sell 6 to 8 broiler chickens. This means that you need to have 6 to 8 batches of broiler chickens per year to match the income that someone who has the same number of layer chickens gets per year from selling eggs alone.
Poultry farming is generally a profitable business, whether you decide to raise free-range chickens, layer chickens or broiler chickens. What you should just know is that each of these species of poultry requires a different market strategy and you get income differently from broilers, layers and free-range chickens.
Broiler chicken farming is a short term business, you will get profit or loss within one and half months of starting the project, and layer chickens are a medium term project, you start getting income from them after at least 6 months of raising the chickens. Before you start picking up eggs, it is upon you, the farmer, to feed the layers and feed itself costs about 70% of the total day-to-day cost of production.
Free-range chickens are the best option if you just want to harvest your own fresh eggs, and eat healthy chickens that you raise on your own. If you want to go commercial then free-range chickens are still a great option as you can sell day-old chicks to other farmers. Those day-old chicks that are not sold can be marketed as 1 or 2 week old chicks and the price definitely increases. Again, if they are not taken, you can still raise them until they are 2 to 3 months old where they attain a live weight of 2 to 2.5kg then sell them as meat, for about US$8 each.
In short, if you have more capital to invest then you can do layer chicken farming, broiler chicken farming or even free-range chicken farming.
If you have a limited amount of capital, then your two options are broiler chickens and free-range chickens.
If you are hard pressed, you cannot afford to buy commercial feed or just want the cheapest poultry farming project, then your only option is free-range chicken farming, but my advice is that if you decide to go for free-range farming then raise one of the best free-range breeds that I mentioned in this tutorial. They have a higher market demand across the world, grow bigger and lay more eggs, in some cases they even lay more eggs that commercial layer chickens.