In Kashmir, lack of hatcheries forces import of nearly all chickens

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About a decade ago, Shayeq Hussain Mir, then 19-year-old, decided to set up a poultry farm in his native village of Balhama in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, after seeing his friend’s success in the poultry business.

According to the import bill of Jammu and Kashmir, the value of poultry and egg imports to the erstwhile state was estimated at 2,000 crore rupees annually. This is a potentially huge market that could be captured by local farmers but locally reared chickens are more expensive than those imported from outside the Valley, thereby limiting local farmers to the role of merely filling the gaps in the supply.

The lack of hatcheries in Kashmir, Mir said, has forced local farmers to import chicks from north Indian states, like Haryana. “Because of this we sell our broiler at 170 rupees when the imported broilers cost 150 rupees,” said Mir. “People prefer imported chickens.”

Mir had started off with about a thousand chicks and established his farm on land measuring one kanal. His farm flourished and he set up two more, rearing about 12,000 chickens annually, and is determined to further increase the output. “I have come to know about things that can help the farmers of Kashmir,” Mir said of innovations in poultry farming and new technologies, “but they require a lot of investment.”

Lack of innovation

In the last decade, Mir, now 29, has banked on traditional labor-intensive methods of farming poultry, from feeding to temperature management. “Around four laborers work on one of my farms,” said Mir. “They manually start the heater in the morning and then feed the broilers throughout the day.”

The process of rearing broilers involves the import of one-day old chicks from outside the Valley. The chicks are then housed in a shelter where the temperature must be maintained at a constant 36 degrees Celsius for the first week, subsequently reducing it by two degrees after thirty-five days. “During this time, the broiler gains around one-kilogram weight and is ready,” he said.

The temperature is maintained, said Mir, using sawdust heaters that require manual labor till the temperature is achieved. “Other places have central heating systems. The entire room heats up quickly because of it,” he said. Maintaining the temperature in winters is even more expensive.

For insulation, the walls of the poultry house is covered with layers of mud and all windows and vents are covered with polythene. “It is a very old method. The new ways include gas brooders,” said Mir, adding that these brooders are not available in Kashmir. Furthermore, the cost of an automation plant — that includes a central heating system and automatic feeding system through which the feed reaches to the broilers in just one click — is around four lakh rupees. “Manually, this job takes the entire day,” he said.     

The lack of hatcheries has been restricting farmers from increasing the production rate but the setting up of a hatchery was a costly affair, said Mir. While he has been thinking of upgrading to the technology required for better production, Mir’s profits have dwindled as the price of feed soars.

“In 2010, a bag of fifty kilograms of feed cost about 1100 ruppes. Today, the same bag is sold for around 1800 rupees,” said Mir. “There should be financial support from the government. Then only the dream of having poultry farms on a bigger scale is possible.”

Other possibilities?

In 2010, orchardist Syed Fida Hussain introduced backyard poultry farming on his orchard spanning over 35 kanals of land in Shivpora area in Srinagar. Ten years later, he is supplying chicken to his area as well as shops across several districts in Kashmir.

Besides apples, about 300 poultry birds are reared in batches. “I not only have kuroiler and vanaraja [hybrid breeds of chicken feeding on agriculture and kitchen waste] but turkey and ducks as well,” said Hussain, adding that backyard farming is simpler as the poultry did not require any specific feed. “They literally eat the leftovers, weed, and worms.”

Broiler chickens, as per Hussain, gain weight of one kilogram in twenty-two days whereas backyard poultry take forty-nine days. But the difference was in the quality of the meat. “Their meat is far better than broilers. Broilers are more prone to diseases,” said Hussain. “They lay eggs and after one year, they can even be eaten.”

Hussain’s income has been supplemented by a modest three lakh rupees every year — in addition to the income generated by the fruits — and has also sold around ten thousand chicks to other orchard owners and local residents who wanted to rear poultry in their own backyards.

Dr. Mohammad Tufail Banday, Professor in the Division of Livestock, Production and Management (LPM), Faculty of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology Kashmir said that the current monthly consumption of chickens in Kashmir was about fifty lakh, or five million birds.

Backyard poultry farming, said Banday, is gaining popularity amid the rising cost of poultry. “We often say that backyard farming is like an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) for farmers,” he said. “They get eggs as well as hens.”

But to increase incomes, there is still a need for larger technological innovation to boost output in the poultry sector. In a poultry house, a farmer requires about 1000 square feet to rear a thousand birds. However, in environmentally controlled poultry houses (fitted with automation), four times more birds can be reared in the same space, said Banday. “Automation poultry plants might be expensive but it can improve productivity in the longer run.”

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