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Chris McCullough

BOTSWANA, Africa – Running a large pedigree Brahman beef herd in Botswana in southern Africa takes a lot of time. That’s especially true because Wayside Brahman Stud is also home to a game farm, commercial beef feedlots, holiday chalets and an 18-hole golf course. The Munger-family owners bring new creativeness to the word “diversity.”

A number of years ago the family saw a niche market for eggs. They added layer houses to their diversity, with huge success. As a relatively cheap source of protein in Botswana, eggs have become popular and in big demand from consumers. That’s particularly true in Francistown, where Rowland Munger and his son Rowly farm with Rowland’s dad, Keith, who started the farm.

Hens look out of cages

More space is given to Wayside birds to increase animal welfare.

The egg-laying enterprise is situated on the far end of the farmyard, extending to seven houses with a total capacity of 30,000 birds. Currently the farm is running 14,000 birds producing about 10,000 eggs per day for sale.

“We have 17 staff dedicated to the laying-hens enterprise,” Rowly Munger said. “Two staff are allocated to each house and the rest work in the egg-processing room. The hens are kept in cages but we keep fewer birds per cage than our full capacity, to give them more room and increase the animals’ welfare and subsequently their longevity.

Rowly Munger shows egg

Rowland Munger lifts the first egg of the day at Wayside Brahman Stud in Botswana in southern Africa.

“Our houses are relatively simple as the first ones were built around 1990. But as time has passed we have built more-modern houses with automatic-feeding systems from Big Dutchman. They are still generally all quite labor-intensive but there is a good supply of labor here in this area.

“The laying unit was first started back in 1990. We ran it for six years and then sold the business to a poultry-specialist company that took it over. But they stopped about 10 years later and the houses lay empty, until we decided to resurrect the business again in 2013.

“More of the houses need upgrading and we will modernize them in a gradual process. Right now the system is working well and there are not so many issues with the egg business. Of course the prices could improve and that would be a good help.”

Layer-hen houses date to 1990

Older Wayside layer-hen houses date back to 1990. 

Eggs are collected twice per day from all the houses. They are taken to the processing unit to be graded into size and cleaned if necessary. Eggs are graded into XL, L, M and S sizes – with any double yolks going to the Munger households.

Employee packs eggs

Wayside eggs are packed in trays for delivery.

Employees package eggs

Most of Wayside's egg packaging is done by hand.

“We sell around 10,000 eggs per day to the retailers,” Munger said. “Eggs sell for Pula 1.66 each (USD $0.16) for a large egg. By far the most common packaging size is four-dozen eggs, which people demand more of as the packs are handy to carry coming in a carton with a handle on it.

“The first egg collection is finished by the mid-morning and the second one starts at 2 p.m. Each collection takes about an hour to complete. Eggs are then graded by the automatic machine but it has to be loaded by hand.

Employees grade eggs

Employees grade and process eggs at Wayside.

“We only produce brown eggs for sale, and use the Lohmann Brown and Hi-Line Brown breeds. There was a problem with sourcing birds at one stage and we had to bring in a white hen which was guaranteed to lay a brown egg.

“In order to increase the welfare of the bird we only keep three of the birds in each cage and we normally keep a chicken for about one year. Our average laying percentage is around 80 percent, and we try to keep it at that level if we can.”

All the hens are usually sourced at point-of-lay stage from breeders in South Africa. They are fed layers mash, which is also imported from South Africa.

“As we cannot grow any significant areas of cereals in this Botswana bush, we are forced to import all the feed for the hens from South Africa,” Munger said. “This inevitably increases our cost of production but there is nothing we can do about that.”

Birds are all vaccinated against Newcastle Disease; there has never been any issue with bird flu in Botswana.

The staff at the hen houses work in shifts, having every second weekend off. Eggs are delivered up to 200 kilometers away – about 125 miles – by the farm’s own delivery vehicles, to a range of retailers in the towns and to food-production outlets.

Temperatures can hit 104 degrees in that region of Botswana so the hens must be kept well-ventilated. The Mungers discovered a novel way of keeping the birds cooler.

Hen houses have open sides

With open sides, hens have good ventilation on a hot day.

“The sides of the poultry houses open up so we can regulate the temperatures inside,” Munger said. “It can get pretty hot here so we must monitor the temperatures often throughout the day. We found that by painting the tin roof of each house with white paint that naturally dropped the temperature inside the house down by a few degrees.

“It was another cheap way of controlling the environment for the birds inside their houses. Obviously at night time we close up the houses as it does get a bit cooler when the sun goes down. (Also) there are a few predators such as wild cats, jackals and hyenas around so even though the birds are in cages it is better to close the houses up each night.”

Hen houses clean

Hen houses are kept clean, tidy and well-ventilated.

The manure from the hen houses also doesn’t go to waste. It’s sold to market gardeners and used on the family’s own fields.

“There is big demand for the manure as a rich fertilizer,” Munger said. “It certainly works well in combination with our soils to grow vegetables.”

Botswana strives to be a nation that produces the majority of the food it needs itself. It’s currently 95 percent self-sufficient in poultry meat and eggs.

With 16 years experience behind him, award-winning agricultural journalist Chris McCullough is always on the hunt for his next story. He grew up on the family dairy farm in the heart of Northern Ireland and is based on the country’s east coast. He travels around the world to bring readers international news.