A lively trade in live chickens

More than a million live chickens are traded every quarter in South Africa’s townships and rural areas, and the trade is an important part of the country’s informal economy.

Details of how this works are contained in a feature article in the latest issue of the Poultry Bulletin, official journal of the SA Poultry Association (SAPA).

The trade in live birds, known as the cull trade, is a feature of developing economies, the article states. It involves “spent hens” and older broiler breeders from commercial egg and broiler producers. The birds are sold mainly through cull trading depots, while some smaller producers sell at the farm gate.

In the poultry markets of the US, UK and Europe, spent hens and older breeders have little commercial value. Most are euthanised and turned into protein meal or pet food, or buried and composted.

“In South Africa and other developing countries however, there is a vibrant and profitable market for spent commercial layers and broiler breeders. Not only is it an important link in the food-security chain, it is also a driver of economic activity in peri-urban and rural areas.”

The article enlightens readers on the value the live birds have, and market preferences for weight, age and colour. In the cull trade, commercial layers are known as “hardbodies” while broiler breeders are known as rocks because they are so big and heavy.

Biosecurity is important because there is a risk of spreading avian influenza when live birds are moved. Since 2017 the cull trade has been regulated, with health permits required before birds are moved off a farm. Buyers and sellers have to register, and sales are reported and collated.

In a separate article, the Poultry Bulletin reports that the South African poultry industry is seeking to tighten compliance with these regulations.