Helping backyard poultry farms bounce back

Wildlife attack, competition and rising feed prices may have caused a number of shutdowns

Self-sufficiency: The backyard poultry farms, which supplied most of Trashigang’s eggs in the past, are facing a tough fight from semi and commercial poultry farming the dzongkhag is increasingly witnessing.

Competition in the market, frequent attacks by wild animals, high feed price and the need to replace layer birds (egg laying hen) are attributed to the closing down of quite a number of backyard farms.

Choda, 65, recently lost more than 40 layer birds to wild animal attacks.  The farmer cannot identify the animal, but said that her farm was attacked twice in a month.  After spending about Nu 20,000 to feed the pullets (chicks) for almost six months, she said it was a huge loss for farmers like her. “As there is no electricity in the shed, I had to light fire at night to keep wild animals away,” she said.

Another farmer, Sangay Tenzin, who started poultry farming in 2009 near Lungtenzampa, Samkhar gewog, said he had been fighting wild animal attack since he started. “After the first attack, I built another stable poultry shed and connected it with electricity. Still, the wild animals managed to enter the shed,” he said. “We reported the case to livestock officials and have asked if they could provide us with electric fencing.”

With frequent wildlife attacks happening around the Lungtenzampa area, a few backyard farms had to close down about three years back, said Sangay.

He added that the rising price of feed against lower egg price was another factor affecting the poultry business.  From about Nu 1,000 for a 50kg bag few years back, he said, price today has increased to Nu 1,475 per bag.

“I’m running the farm under loss and, if this remains the case, I might have to close it down,” he said.

Another poultry farmer, Karma, said most backyard poultry farmers are losing interest because of the high mortality rate. “Few pullets already die, when they are transported from bigger farms. And untimely medication and poor management results in more deaths,” he said.

“We can’t use the layer birds beyond 18 months. After that, we have to bring in an entire new stock of pullets. Some farmers can’t afford this,” he said.  The price of a pullet varies from Nu 170 to Nu 225.

Dzongkhag livestock officer (DLO), NS Tamang, said that the backyard poultry farms that have closed down would be those owned by the poorer lot and their numbers would be few.

“In fact, we’ve received about three more applicants, who have proposed to start poultry farming through Business Opportunity and Information Center (BOiC) funding,” he said.

Stating that higher mortality of hens was unlikely, given the technical assistance and other support the livestock department provides, he said the reason for backyard farms closing could be because of market competition and high feed price.

Livestock extension agent of Kangpara gewog, Rinzin Namgyal, said that it was difficult for farmers in the gewog to market their eggs.  He added that wild animal attacks were a serious threat in 2013 to the sustainability of poultry farming in the gewog.  Farmers were advised not to set their hens free and build stable sheds.

“Today, poultry farmers are doing good, and cases of wild animal attacks are rare,” he said.

The DLO said that, if wildlife attacks were frequent, the department might think over providing electric fencing to commercial poultry farms.

“However, we’d have to study the intensity of the problem and see if such a measure is required,” he said.

There are 11 individual poultry farms and 21 group poultry farms in Trashigang.  The International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) through its Market Access and Growth Intensification Project (MAGIP) helped 32 households in remote corners to set up backyard poultry farms last year.

These poor households were supplied with 10 to 15 pullets and poultry feed to last for one production cycle free of cost.  MAGIP also provided them with CGI sheets, cement and mesh wires to build sheds.  This year, another 40 households will be supported by MAGIP.

By Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang

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