Why keep hens?

The cage

The hens

The eggs



Health and disease

How to make your own cage




As a result of the high cost of meat, people are constantly looking for a cheaper source of protein. Eggs provide a valuable yet affordable source of high quality protein and vitamins required for normal growth, especially for children.

This guide will show you how to build, manage and maintain your own affordable household egg production unit on a small scale. Later on you can increase the size of your unit in order to sell eggs in your community, if the demand for eggs is big enough.

The information given is based on poultry production in the warmer to hot areas of South Africa.





o You can provide eggs for your family by keeping 9 to 12 hens.

o Each hen will lay up to 6 eggs per week. In this way
you can even start your own small business.

  o If you have 9 hens, they will lay 8 to 9 eggs per day. You will need to sell 4 eggs per day to pay for the feed of the hens. The remaining eggs can be used for household consumption.
  o Eggs provide a valuable yet affordable source of high quality protein and vitamins required for normal growth, especially for children, when meat is too expensive or is unavailable.
  o If there is a demand for eggs in your area, you could expand and sell more of the eggs.



It is best to keep the hens in a cage.

This means that:


• the hens can be kept
in a small space

• the hens are kept in a cleaner environment

• the eggs are not broken easily

• the eggs stay clean

• the eggs can be collected easily

• the hens get fewer diseases

• there is less chance of hens being stolen

• they need very little care

• it is very easy to keep the cage clean as the manure falls through the mesh floor

• you can easily see when drinking water is finished

• feed is not wasted easily

• it makes good record keeping possible.


o You can buy the cage or make your own. It is, however, cheaper to make the cage yourself (see instructions on page 11).

o The cage should not stand on the ground to ensure that the manure falls through.


o Put the cage on poles, bricks or fasten it to the wall of a house, hut, shed or hang it from ropes tied to poles.

o The cage should be protected from overhead sun and rain by an overhang or roof (eg thatch).

o In hot climates keep 9 hens in a cage—3 in each compartment.

(In this way there is enough space for limited movement, and they can all get to the feed trough at once)

o In cold climates, 4 hens can be kept in 1 com-partment (total of 12), but then their movement is very limited.


  o You can buy day-old chicks and rear them, but this is expensive and often the chicks die if they do not receive good care..
  o It is better to buy young hens, called point-of-lay pullets (18-19 weeks old) which are ready to start laying eggs.

o The hens you buy must be of very good quality and be fully vaccinated against all known poultry diseases.

o The best layer breeds to buy are: Amberlink or Hy-line laying hens—these hens will start laying within 2 weeks after being bought (20_21 weeks of age).

o First (pullet) eggs are small, but gradually become larger after about 2 months.

The number of eggs laid also peaks halfway through the year and then starts dropping.

o The hens should be kept for 1 year and then sold as cull hens.
If the feed is very cheap, the hens can be kept up to 2 years

o If you keep the hens for longer than 1 year,
they will start laying fewer eggs until they stop


They will, however, eat the same amount of food, so profits become less and the enterprise eventually uneconomical.

o Before selling the hens for slaughter, you must order new pullets. Do this at least 4 months ahead of time.

o You can only start selling your old hens once the new hens are in production, especially if you have standing orders with clients and do not want to disappoint them.


o The money made from the old hens will pay for the new hens.


  o In order for the hens to lay as many eggs as possible, they must have enough light.
  o They need 16 hours of light every day.

o This can be done easily if you have electricity, because you can put the lights on before sunrise and let them stay on for some hours after sunset.

o If you do not have electricity, the hens will not lay as many eggs as in artificial light.

o To get maximum egg production without electricity, place your cage outside where the hens can make use of natural light.

  o Do not put the cage in direct sunlight—the hens will get too hot and die.
  o With 16 hours of light every day, each hen will lay about 280 eggs in
1 year and without extra light they will lay about 200 eggs.


  o To lay well, the hens must get the best possible feed.

o Hens need plenty of calcium
in their diets to lay eggs
with hard, strong shells.

o It is best to buy a good
commercial feed such as
laying mash/pellets.

The mash is specially
formulated to provide all the
nutrients they need in the correct

You can buy this feed at most

Laying mash
  o Feed must be available in the trough at all times, as well as cool, fresh water in the bottles.
  Prevent wastage, do not overfill the trough

o Each hen will eat 120 to 150 g of feed per day (some will be wasted, landing on the floor).

o One bag of feed (50 kg) will last approximately
1 month—make sure that you have bought enough feed (2 months supply) before the hens arrive.

o Make sure that you have a permanent supply of fresh drinking water for the hens.


Fresh manure can be covered with a layer of sawdust or dried leaves, grass or any other dry vegetation every day. It will become good compost
if turned regularly. This method also helps to remove bad smells.
  The manure can be sold in feed bags as organic fertiliser or compost for vegetable gardens. You can also use it for your own garden or vegetable garden or lawn or cattle pastures.

Old feed bags



  o If you buy point-of-lay pullets from a reliable producer, they will be fully vaccinated against all major diseases —no need for you to buy vaccines.

o To make sure that the hens adapt quickly to their new home, give them Stresspack in their drinking water when they arrive at your home.

o If there is a sudden serious outbreak or epidemic of a specific poultry disease in your area (eg Newcastle disease), vaccinate all hens against the disease immediately. If the hens get lice, treat them with Karbadust powder.

o Keep wild birds away from the hens and their feed, to prevent the spread of the disease to the hens.

o Make sure that the hens AT ALL TIMES:

- have clean, fresh, cool water (wash water bottles once a month)
- have enough fresh feed (throw wet, mouldy or rotten feed away)
- are kept under shelter away from the sun, rain and cold.




o Be sure to make your cage strong enough to carry 9 to 12 hens.

o The size of the cage must be 120 cm long by
70 cm wide by 45 cm high.

o You can build it from galvanised welded mesh, cane, bamboo or wattle sticks.

o The floor of the cage must be made of welded mesh so that the hens' droppings will fall through. This ensures that the floor on which they stand stays clean.

The tools you will need

Measuring tape
Wire cutter
Tin-snips Hacksaw Hammer

Small spanner
Marking pen

  Material you will need
Galvanised welded mesh
(type = 25 x 50 mm)

Metal frame

Hose pipe—old , secondhand or damaged pipe

2 l plastic cold drink bottles

3 Drinking nipples
Old feed bags

Measure and cut the welded mesh

Cut the right length of mesh, 180 x 120 cm, and bend it until flat
  Get your frame ready

Attach the mesh to the frame with pieces of wire
(secure tightly)

  Bend the mesh around the frame

Use a hammer to flatten
the mesh and keep the edges and corners flat and sharp


Cut the binding wires

Separate the mesh from the frame after cutting the binding wires

  Measure and cut 4 side panels
  Cut the 4 panels 55 x 45 cm,
2 for inside and 2 for outside
  Cut every second tip off for both inside panels
  Cut 3 corners off for the 2 inside panels
  Cut every second tip off on the 2 outside panels
  Fasten the panels

Use pliers to fasten the 2 inside panels to form 3
equally sized compartments
  Fasten the 2 outside panels. Neaten, cut off or bend all sharp points or edges


  Use a hacksaw to
cut a piece of gutter, 140 cm long
  Mark off 10 cm at each end of the gutter and cut along the bends
  Fold each piece inward  
  Neaten and flatten by using the hammer and pliers. Remove sharp edges
Lastly, make a small hole on each end for securing the feeder to the cage with wire


  Punch holes in each bottle cap using
a nail and hammer—do not remove the plastic inner lining of the cap
Use a hand drill to enlarge the holes so that the nipple will fit tightly
Screw in the nipple until it fits well
Cut the bottom of the bottle using a knife or
a pair of scissors
Screw the caps onto the bottles and fill each bottle with water to test for leaks. If the cap leaks, make a new one or seal the faulty one with silicone sealant.

Attach the bottles to the cage in the centre of each compartment. Use pliers to bend the mesh slightly for the bottle top to fit in tightly

Plastic pipe protection

Prevent injury to the hens' necks by making sure that the pipe used is smooth
Cut 2 lengths (200 x 120 cm) of old plastic irrigation pipe or hosepipe
Slit both pipes open along
their length
Fit one pipe over the back edge of the gutter and the other one over the top of the cage opening
Secure the pipes with wire or cable ties. Make sure that any sharp ends of the ties or wire are cut off short and are facing away from the hens' necks

Your cage is now ready

When putting the cage into position, remember to slant it forward slightly so that the eggs, once laid, can roll down the slope gently into the egg tray.
Test this before securing the cage.

Printed and published by Directorate Communication,
National Department of Agriculture and obtainable from

Resource Centre, Directorate Communication,
Private Bag X144, Pretoria 0001, South Africa


ISBN 1-86871-040-8

Gavin Mac Gregor

Department of Animal Health and Production, Medunsa

For further information contact

Michelle Müller 
Department of Agriculture
Nelspruit Mpumalanga
Tel: (013) 753 3795 or 
(013) 755 2055 ext 268  
Fax: (013) 755 3542 
Thierry H. Smeets
Funda Mlimi Training Centre
Department of Agriculture 
Tel: (013) 986 0472
Fax: (013) 986 0495
Cell: 082 677 1818