Small-scale commercial chicken production: a risky business for farmers in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam
Small-scale farming of meat chicken flocks using local native breeds contributes to the economy of many rural livelihoods in Vietnam and many other low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). These systems are also the target of high levels of antimicrobial use (AMU); however, little is known about the profitability and sustainability of such systems. Since small-scale farms are commercial enterprises, this knowledge is essential to develop successful strategies to curb excessive AMU. Using longitudinal data from 203 small-scale (100-2,000 heads) native chicken flocks raised in 102 randomly selected farms in Dong Thap province (Mekong Delta, Vietnam), we investigated the financial and economic parameters of such systems and the main constraints to their sustainability. Feed accounted for the largest financial cost (flock median 49.5 % [Inter-quartile range (IQR) 41.5-61.8 %]) of total costs, followed by day-old-chicks (DOCs) (median 30.3 % [IQR 23.2-38.4 %]), non-antimicrobial health-supporting products (median 7.1 % [IQR 4.7-10.5 %]), vaccines (median 3.1 % [IQR 2.2-4.8 %]), equipment (median 1.9 % [IQR 0.0-4.9 %]) and antimicrobials (median 1.9 % [IQR 0.7-3.6 %]). Excluding labor costs, farmers achieved a positive return on investment (ROI) from 120 (59.1 %) flocks, the remainder generating a loss (median ROI 124 % [IQR 36-206 %]). Higher ROI was associated with higher flock size and low mortality. There was no statistical association between use of medicated feed and flock mortality or chicken bodyweight. The median daily income per person dedicated to raising chickens was 202,100 VND, lower than alternative rural labor activities in the Mekong Delta. In a large proportion of farms (33.4 %), farmers decided to stop raising chickens after completing one cycle. Farmers who dropped off chicken production purchased more expensive feed (in 1000 VND per kg): 11.1 [10.6-11.5] vs. 10.8 [10.4-11.3] for farms that continued production (p = 0.039), and experienced higher chicken mortality (28.5 % [12.0-79.0 %] vs. 16 [7.5-33.0 %]; p = 0.004). The rapid turnover of farmers raising chickens in such systems represents a challenge to the uptake of messages on appropriate AMU and chicken health. To ensure sustainability of small-scale commercial systems, advisory services need to be available to farmers as they initiate new flocks, and support them in the early stages to help overcome their limited experience and skills. This targeted approach would support profitability whilst reducing risk of emergence of AMR and infectious disease from these systems.