Rama Ndaw slowly climbs the stairs to the terrace of her family home. She gently pushes aside feed bags piled high on the stairs. A strong odour emerges. Behind the mesh door at the top of the stairs are about 300 chickens. Weighing 1.3 kilograms each, the month-old chickens are ready for sale.
As she arranges feeders and drinkers, Mrs. Ndaw finds a dead chicken. She pops it into a black plastic bag and sits down on a wooden bench at the entrance to the chicken house, shrugging her shoulders. “After six years, I’m used to it…. It’ll be ok.”
Mrs. Ndaw is 40 years old and a mother of three. She lives in the Guediawaye suburb of Dakar, Senegal’s capital city. Like other suburban poultry farmers, she struggles to meet ventilation and hygiene standards in her small space. But after seeking advice from a veterinarian, she has changed her methods and reduced losses due to diseases.
Mrs. Ndaw has been raising chickens since 2011. She started out with 50 chicks in a 10-square-metre corner of the local market. She got the chicks from her brother, who had abandoned his poultry business after a series of losses. She spent four years raising chickens in the market, but didn’t have room to expand beyond 100 birds.
She saved 300,000 CFA francs (US$510) and, in 2015, built a chicken house on the terrace of the family home. It is 20 square metres and made of concrete blocks, has wood chips on the floor, and fenced openings, tarps, and canopies to protect the chickens from rain and sun. She also invested in feeders and drinkers.
But she suffered heavy losses. During the dry season, Mrs. Ndaw sometimes lost more than two-thirds of her birds to disease.
Infectious bursal disease, also known as Gumboro disease, is common in Senegal’s poultry sector. It’s a viral disease that causes diarrhea and reduces birds’ appetite.
Seynabou Diop raises chickens in Serigne Mansour Ly, another suburb of Dakar. Depending on the season, she has between 300 and 700 chickens in her 36-square-metre space.
On one side of the chicken house, 300 chicks peck at the drinkers and cardboard feeders on the floor, which is covered with wood chips. The room is dark. All openings have been closed to protect the three-day-old chicks from the heat and windblown sand. Despite these precautions, a chick is dead—the third in two days. The 22-year-old farmer is a little worried.
She says: “I do not like this at all. In August of 2016, I lost 200 of my 300 chickens because of diarrhea. And they were at their 35th day … I had even begun to sell. Imagine the investment, nearly 400,000 CFA francs (US$680), all for nothing. Diarrhea kills my chickens all the time.”
Veterinarian Sarra Ndao advises both Mrs. Ndaw and Mrs. Diop on how to improve their poultry operations. He explains that overcrowding, poor hygiene, and inadequate ventilation promote the spread of disease. Diarrhea can kill the birds.
He says: “In the first week, you can have 30-40 chickens per square metre. During the second, 25 to 30 per square metre; the third, 20 per square metre; during the fourth, 15 per square metre; and finally, 10 per square metre beyond the thirtieth day. These standards are rarely respected in urban areas. Farmers want to do more, but their space is limited. This is the case with these two breeders.”
Dr. Ndao says that chicken houses should be rectangular, with mesh-covered openings near the ceiling to allow air flow. Mrs. Ndaw’s chicken house doesn’t have such openings because she worries her neighbours will complain of the smell. Mrs. Diop’s chicken house is also closed to protect her birds from blowing sand and heat.
Since they’ve decided they can’t meet the ventilation standards, both breeders are focusing on following the veterinarian’s hygiene recommendations to improve their birds’ health.
They have begun to reduce the number of chicks to suit the size of their buildings. In recent months, they began taking a 15-day break between batches of chicks. During that time, they clean the chicken house, air it out, and disinfect it with detergent to remove even the most resistant germs before bringing in new chicks.
Before taking these measures, between 40 and 70% of their birds died. They reduced their losses to between 20 and 30% in the last two batches. They hope to further reduce losses by continuing to improve hygiene and maintenance.
The women earn an average of 300,000 CFA francs (US$510) every 35 to 45 days. Mrs. Ndaw uses her income to help pay her family’s daily expenses. Mrs. Diop supports her parents, and is saving up to invest in sheep farming.
Both women dream of having large farms outside the city, where they would have the space to better meet ventilation and hygiene standards, raise more chickens, and earn more income.
This story was originally published in October 2017. Photo: Rama Ndaw with her chickens