How heat stress is affecting poultry farming in Sokoto

NIGERIA has the largest annual egg production and second-largest chicken population in Africa, according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). But rising temperatures in states like Sokoto are causing heat stress and frustrating business for farmers, some of whom have been forced out of business.

NIGERIA has the largest annual egg production and second-largest chicken population in Africa.

In December 2021, Zubaida Abba, a resident of Sokoto, Sokoto state, began a small poultry business with 25 birds.

By February 2022, her birds were grown, but the heat had also set in, and they began to die one after the other. By the end of the same month, Abba lost 22 of her birds.

“I just abandoned the business after that. I could not take that risk again,” she told The ICIR.

Abba is aware of the adverse effects of heat stress on poultry farming, but she also told The ICIR that a lack of experience might have contributed to her loss.

However, in another part of the town, Amina Suleiman, a poultry farmer who has been in the business for over a decade, lost a quarter of her birds in 2023 alone.

Suleiman, who rears birds in the backyard of her Gwiwa residence in Sokoto, stared at three of her week-old chicks as they lay dying in their pen while sharing her farming experience with The ICIR.

A dying chick. Photo: The ICIR.

In a different section of the poultry, two big broilers also lay on the ground, legs stretched in opposite directions as they struggled with death.

“This is how they die nearly every day. I had about 200 birds. For the smallest ones, the one-week-old, 25 have died. Then the bigger ones, about 15 birds, have died. I have lost almost 50 birds. Most of my big birds died because of heat,” Suleiman said.

Heat stress is one of the most significant challenges of poultry farming. It occurs mostly during periods of high temperatures, causing birds difficulty in balancing heat production and loss.

According to a Journal of Agriculture Science & Technology, heat stress causes several physiological changes, such as suppressed immune competence and acid-base balance, leading to reduced feed intake and conversion ratio, reduced meat and egg quality, and sometimes mortality. This results in financial loss for poultry farmers.

States like Kebbi, Kano and Sokoto are among the hottest in the country, and in 2023, Sokoto state was predicted to be one of the states to exceed 40 degrees, according to the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET).

For farmers in Sokoto, high temperatures pose a major business challenge, as older birds are usually more prone to developing respiratory and other diseases during the heat, usually after a lot of investments have been made by the farmers.

Heat stress is even more difficult to manage for smallholder farmers, who often have less financial capacity.

In Nigeria, these smallholder farmers mostly consist of women, who, though responsible for about 70 per cent of farmers in the country, are often found in small-scale enterprises.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 85 million Nigerians are involved in poultry production, many on a small to medium scale.

As a result of financial constraints, most small-scale farmers run backyard poultry farms, which limits the level of ventilation available to the birds.  This places the birds at more risk of developing respiratory problems during the heat period, which can ultimately lead to death.

In 2017, a Policy Research Brief prepared for USAID/Nigeria by Michigan State University (MSU), the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (Nigeria), and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) also found that about 68 per cent of poultry farmers believe that temperatures have increased significantly.

Almost 50 per cent of the poultry farmers studied said they had observed an increase in the length of the heat period in their states, and 10 per cent have experienced losses of products due to unfavourable weather conditions.

As part of efforts to help their birds survive heat stress, smallholder farmers like Fatima Isah Wasagu explore various options.

“We don’t put down the drapes that period. We always keep them up. Sometimes we make thatch and place it on top of the roof to reduce the heat, as we are not big enough to install artificial cooling mechanisms,” she said.

Roof of a pen on a farm in Sokoto, covered with thatch. Photo: The ICIR.

This did not prevent her from losing at least a tenth of her birds during the hot season in 2022.

“We tend to lose them when they are bigger. When the heat is too much, they cannot breathe well. You see them fine just now. You go away and come back to meet them dead,” she said.

Although smallholder farmers are more likely to lose birds to heat stress because of inadequate ventilation and financial constraints, large-scale farmers are also faced with similar challenges.

Zayytun Integrated Farms, located within the Kwakalawa area of Sokoto, has a capacity of 7,000 breeders.

Zayyanu Abubakar, who owns and manages the poultry, told The ICIR that he loses hundreds of birds to heat stress annually despite investments in alternative cooling methods.

“During the heat period, we try to save our birds from heat stress. But due to our climate and the weather, which is very harsh, no matter how you provide some artificial ways to reduce the temperature, you must get mortalities. Here, we try as much as we can to reduce the mortality, but in a year, we lose like 300 birds.

“Last year, we had 4,000 birds on this farm. We lost about 320 just during the heat period alone,” he said.

Zayyanu Abubakar, owner of Zayytun Integrated Farms. Photo: The ICIR.

To reduce the deaths, some measures Abubakar has taken include using foggers, sprinklers, exhaust fans and regular room fans. The cost of purchasing such equipment takes its toll on his profits.

“We are spending a lot of money to save our birds through these mechanisms, like diesel. Every day, we consume N20,000 worth of diesel. Just to save our birds from dying.

“We have to turn on the generators to power the fans, foggers and sprinklers. The profits that we are supposed to gain, we put it back into the poultry. So we are not getting that much profit because of the extra expenses. If you don’t have any way to protect your birds from the heat, you can lose all of your birds in one day,” Abubakar said.

Worsening climate conditions raise cost of meat, eggs

Speaking on the issue, a Professor of Veterinary Medicine at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (UDUS) Usman Musa, identified climate change as a significant problem for farmers.

“Climate change is a reality and a serious problem. If you look at it, there is late coming of rain and early cessation of rain. All these things, we can attribute it to climate change. If you look at what happened this year, the rain ceased earlier than what happened in the past,” Musa said.

Beyond weather conditions directly causing harm to birds, Musa also stated that they affect the cost of poultry products in the market.

“As a result of climate change, if the farmers do not harvest enough, the feed millers will purchase the grains at high cost. The poultry farmers also have to increase the price, to make a profit and recover the cost of his feed. All these are factors that increase the cost of the chicken and its product,” he said.

In 2019 alone, residents spent N800 billion naira on the consumption of poultry products, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The prices of these products have significantly increased due to the high cost of production. Between 2022 and 2023, the cost of eggs surged by nearly 100 per cent, going from an average of N70 to N120.

Musa added that many poultry farmers are thrown into a state of panic during the heat.

However, for Salaudeen Adekunle, General Manager Sarkin Gobir Adiya (SGA) Farms located in Sokoto with a capacity of 50,000 birds and a production rate of 1500 eggs daily, proper planning is a significant step towards mitigating mortality, even in states with high temperatures.

Funding, adequate planning can reduce mortality –Experts

Adekunle, who has been in the poultry business for over 15 years, told The ICIR that SGA Farms recorded only about one per cent mortality due to adequate planning and funding.

He encouraged poultry farmers to be more conscious of the weather conditions and note what breed of birds thrive in different seasons, as the planning process would depend largely on the birds being reared.

“For broilers, the life cycle is within six weeks. So if you do it right, you can get a broiler of nothing less than a 2kg life weight in six weeks. This means that during the heat period, you will not engage in production of broilers because once you engage in that and you don’t have the facilities to manage the heat, you will run at loss,” he said.

Salaudeen Adekunle, General Manager, SGA Farms

He encouraged farmers to make use of thermometers to get accurate weather readings, ensure proper ventilation and use fans, foggers and chillers to regulate the temperature of the birds during hot periods.

According to Adekunle, biosecurity, which is the management of human and other movements within the poultry to avoid the transfer of pathogens and likely infections, is one of the most important steps to ensure the survival of birds.

“Biosecurity measures are very paramount. Because if you don’t do it, all we have talked about will amount to zero. We have different sections on the farm. We make sure that people that are working with the layers don’t go to the broilers section. People working with the poulette don’t have anything to do with others,” he said.

He, however, noted that such measures are cost-effective and pointed out that smallholder farmers may find it difficult to manage heat stress without adequate finances.

Other limiting factors

Adekunle noted that government policies and the unavailability of raw materials for feed were other factors worsening the poultry business for farmers in Nigeria.

“There are some policies made by government that don’t favour the farmers, and that is part of the reason why some of the raw materials used in the production of the feed, especially maize and soya, are not easily accessible and are very expensive,” he said.

Farmers like Zayyanu Abubakar also spoke on the high cost of feed and its impact on business.

“Feed companies are always increasing their prices. Sometimes in a week, the prices can change three times. Now, the lowest standard feed starts from N10,000 and above, and we need about 20 bags in a day. Profit that we are supposed to get goes to feed. And when they heat comes, the birds cannot even eat very well,” Abubakar said.

Adekunle and Abubakar noted that the increasing price of feed is another key factor responsible for the hike in the price of poultry in the country.

For Adekunle the unavailability of foreign exchange further worsens the situation, as it limits farmers from importing items like maize and others which are not being produced in adequate measures within the country.

“What makes the cost of eggs go up is the feed. The people buying raw materials also want to make money from the production. The people suffering it the most are we, the poultry farmers. Even the prices in the market are not the real price we should be selling it. The profit margin is very low.

“In Nigeria now, many farms have closed down. So we that are in the business it is just by the grace of God and trying to use our own expertise to mitigate situations and improvise so that we can still be in business,” he said.

Smallholder farmer Binta Manga also cited insecurity in the northern part of the country as a significant reason for the shortage of feed, as farmers no longer have access to their farmlands to plant or harvest the required grains.

    “This soya beans and maize is something that we grow in the North. We have capacity to produce them, but insecurity has done a lot of damage to the cost of production. These are things we grow on the soil here, but now we cannot grow them, because majority of the people that grow them are off their farms,” she said.

    While large-scale farmers with access to funds can plan better and manage the heat, smallholder farmers like Zubaida have been kicked out of business as a result of harsh weather conditions.

    *This report was sponsored by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development with funding support from the Public Diplomacy Section of the U.S. Embassy, Abuja.*

    NOTE: The report (first paragraph) was updated to reflect that Nigeria is the second-highest producer of chicken and not the highest producer of chicken as earlier stated.

    Ijeoma Opara is a journalist with The ICIR. Reach her via [email protected] or @ije_le on Twitter.

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