Two and a half years ago, Vijay Bhagwat quit a lucrative job as an offshore health and safety manager to become a poultry farmer.
He started off as just three chicks to launch what has now become a booming venture that includes a hatchery located on six acres of land at Rest House Trace, St Mary’s Village, Moruga.
His stock now includes Black Giants, Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red, Plymouth Rock, Dominique, Hybrid Turkens (clean neck), Blue Orpington, Buff Orpington, Dark Brahma, Buff Brahma, Light Brahma, Ameraucana and Araucana. The latter are much sought after as they lay blue/green eggs.
Apart from the imported chickens, which can fetch anywhere from $40 to $500 depending on the rarity, Bhagwat’s livestock includes pure bred jumbo Guinea birds, three times the size of local ones, ranging between seven to ten pounds. These are considered a local delicacy, costing as much as $400 a dish.
A former school teacher, Bhagwat, 36, said he switched careers because he was working from Sunday to Sunday and never had time for his family.
“I was going to a job which made me unhappy,” he said. “I got three chicks which were initially collectors but soon realised there is a commercial application of possibilities and I looked at the feasibility of the business.”
That was how Infinity Imports TT Limited, an online import delivery company, was born. It is closely affiliated with the St Mary’s Hatchery which is also operated by Bhagwat and his close-knit family.
Bhagwat’s father, Doodnath, a retired teacher, is in charge of the Guinea birds and his mother, Marilyn, is responsible for the hatchery. Sister Devika oversees the eggs and brother Devanand, who is self-taught, handles all the woodworking.
When he started off, Bhagwat used all of his savings to invest in Black Giants birds. He soon realised no one was importing heritage breed chickens into the country.
“What we have in Trinidad and Tobago are mostly inbred, whether third or fourth generation, fowls. After extensive searching I realised I couldn’t get any pure stock locally and it took me about a year and a half to get a supplier from the US and that’s how we started getting them in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
Bhagwat, who has double major in Management and Government from UWI and is the father of an 18-month-old boy, Liam, has never regretted his decision to rear livestock.
He said people come from all over the country to buy his high-bred chickens. There are currently 14 different breeds of birds at the hatchery.
Why invest in such expensive livestock? Apart from wanting a few of his own, Bhagwat explained: “We wanted to add to the gene pool we had at the hatchery. It was pretty much an expansion move.
“On the other side of the coin, we can supply different breeds to the country as well as add to the existing gene pool of the breeds in Trinidad and Tobago.”
He said the venture has been very viable as most of his initial expenses have already been recovered.
“However, given that it’s work in progress, we are nowhere where we want to be. A lot of the capital being generated is being ploughed back into the operation,” he said.
Bhagwat plans to import 50 other breeds in the coming months and wants the business to become parallel with household names such as Arawak and Nutramix which specialise in broilers.
“We want to be the largest in what we are doing in the country,” he said. Peachicks and peahens are among the top sellers at the hatchery. A new batch is expected to arrive in July but all were sold out since November last year with the Indian Blue fetching $3,000 a pair and the white $5,000 a pair.
Bhagwat said this is the last year he will be importing exotic peachicks like the Black Shoulder and Java Greens as he intends to breed them locally for sale.
The hatchery is also a one-stop shop, offering free technical support, with Bhagwat sourcing equipment and machinery for clients.
There are benefits for the community, he explained: “We try to inject money back into the community. We hire a lot of people within close proximity of our operations to do transportation, labour and contract jobs.
We spend an exorbitant amount of money in the neighbourhood hardware and agro shops to buy feed and other supplies.”
Profits from poultry
There is tremendous profitability in chicken rearing. A farm raised layer will produce table eggs which sell at around $12 a dozen, while home fowl eggs, the types supplied by Bhagwat, are priced between $25 and $35 a dozen. A crate of 30 home fowl eggs sells for $50 to $60.
It costs between 22 cents and 44 cents to produce an egg a day regardless of the chicken breed, Bhagwat explained.
“Profit on each layer egg will be between 78 to 56 cents per layer egg as compared to $1.86 to $1.64 per home fowl egg per day,” he said. “If one were to scale operations to 100 birds, the monthly profit based on a 30-day period would be: Layers, $2,340/$1,680 while home fowl eggs would be $5,590/$4,930 at $25 a dozen and $8,090/$7,440 at a price of $35 per dozen.”
Bhagwat said meat production calculations are based on one of two categories of chicks-crossed breeds at $20 each and pure breeds at $40 each.
The birds consume between $0.22 to $0.44 in feed a day for monthly feed cost per bird per day of $6.60 to $13.20 a month to maintain each bird at a 30-day monthly cycle.
“Factoring in the cost of respective chicks, it will cost $59.60 to $99.20 to raise a crossed breed bird for six months, while it will cost $79.60 to $119.20 for a pure breed bird.
“If one were to scale the operation to 100 birds, at the end of a six-month cycle profits on the cross breed birds will range between $13,540 to $9,580, while pure breed profits will range between $5,580 to $9,540 after sales,” he said.
Birds supplied by Bhagwat have the capability of achieving more than the average seven pounds in less time and in many cases they weigh more than ten pounds.
Mining the birds is a cost in itself, especially to ensure good health and production.
Bhagwat says he prefers a natural diet, including grains, grass and corn, rather than pumping the poultry full of antibiotics.
Frustrated by bureaucracy Bhagwat faces his fair share of pitfalls. Importing the birds is challenging.
“There is only one supplier that ships to Trinidad from outside of the US and they ship solely to our operation but to get them to go outside of their general portfolio of operation was a bit difficult.
“It took about a year and a half just to convince them to start shipping to Trinidad. That is an exclusive arrangement we have,” he said.
Because he is seeking to rapidly expand, sourcing capital is an issue and banks are not always a viable route.
“Going to the bank for loans is not an option for us so we generally reinvest into the business. Cash flows might then to be an issue from time to time,” Bhagwat said.
While there are incentives available from the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) to access finances, that is easier said than done, he said.
“The bureaucracy and the amount of red tape and the amount of criteria that you have to meet to get a loan…we decided not to go through that avenue.
“The system is designed to frustrate entrepreneurs.
Whether you check the banks or the Government programmes, it is too bureaucratic.
“They ask for a million things you have to provide, meet criteria and eventually when you do get thorough you end up paying through your nose on the interest.
That’s a headache I prefer to do without,” Bhagwat said. Opportunities for retrenched workers Since establishing Infinity Imports, Bhagwat’s clientèle has included a growing number of retrenched workers.
One of them is former fire watch attendee Joanne Graham- Boucher who was laid off more than a year ago and still hasn’t found employment.
With her husband as the sole breadwinner and two children in school, Graham-Boucher said investing in poultry will bring in much-needed income as well as feed her family.
“Even people with secure jobs, as well are looking to do something that is stress free and profitable, they are putting things in place,” Bhagwat said: “so the tough economy is a catalyst in the growth of my business as well. We are building the business one customer at a time.”