Poultry farming gaining popularity across Western Kenya region.
For many decades residents of western Kenya mainly thrived on fish, sugar cane and cotton farming for income generation.
Then came the mismangement of the sugar and cotton subsectors, reducing most into paupers. The effects of global warming, overfishing and influx of imports have also seen farmers’s earnings dwindle with every passing year.
Fed up with the downturn, individuals are turning to other farming ventures to imporve their lot.
Poultry farming is particularly gaining popularity across the region.
Steve Sande is among farmers quickly making a name for themselves in the sub-sector. He had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, therefore after getting employed by one of the city’s leading millers few years ago, he saved enough money to set-up a poultry farm in Sinyolo, a village on the outskirts of Kisumu.
The venture was rather side hustle, so he employed farmhands to look after the birds as he kept his job in Nairobi.
Like most newcomers in any trade, Sande started small; both in cash and stock.
He constructed a mud-walled house with iron-sheet roofing and brought in 50 chicks of local breeds which he bought from his neighbours.
Out of the initial flock, only two survived after most of them died due to lack of vaccinations and poor hygiene.
And while he obviously went through seasons of setbacks and false starts, the food science technologist kept injecting money into the venture hoping it would bolster the business.
On the other hand, he was a ‘telephone farmer’ hence wasn’t always there to personally supervise the farm’s activities and instead of profits, he ended up losing lots of money in the hands of his untrustworthy farmhands.
As the farm’s product and profits kept dipping, Sande was left with two tough options to choose from; quit his job and concentrate on farming or fold the buisness and focus on employment.
He opted for the former.
“I started in 2014 with a capital of Sh50, 000. However, at the time I was being confronted with these options I had invested about Sh2 million and there was no way I was going to bottle all that. So I resigned from my job in 2015 after working for three years,” he explained.
The dramatic move was a big gamble no doubt, but more than six years later the KAMSA proprietor has more than 5,000 birds which he rears on battery cage system.
The layers are of Lohman Tradition, a German poultry breed supplied by Isinya Chicks.
“Initially I mainly reared chicken for meat. I had 50 birds of local breed then introduced 100 chicks of improved kienyeji chicks which were very productive and I increased the number to 500,” he pointed out.
Later in 2018, Sande realised that there was a huge demand for eggs around Kisumu and immediately switched to rearing layers.
Currently, they sell 150 trays of eggs daily, each at Sh280. Sande sells his produce directly to retailers, which ensures that consumers get them at affordable prices.
Animal welfare crusaders, however vouch for free-range poultry farming system instead of battery cage system.
Dr Victor Yamo, Farming Campaigns Manager at World Animal Protection said birds in cages suffer from bone weakness due to the high levels of calcium depleted from their bodies to form high numbers of eggshells, and the restriction of the bird’s movement within the cage further exacerbates this problem.
This leads to a higher incidence of weak bones and fractures among the caged birds, he explained.
“Lack of nesting opportunities for the bird also results in severe frustration when laying eggs. This leads to increased stress, weakening the bird’s immune system, leading to outbreak of diseases,” the expert said.
But Sande pointed out that the free range system is expensive as it requires acres of space.
Besides, he added, owing to the small number of flock that can be reared within an area, it cannot meet the rising demand for chicken meat and eggs, hence he has to make do with the the battery cage system.
“Imagine if you had to put 5,000 birds in a compound when you’re still required to maintain the same level of production standards such as hygiene, and security. It can be hectic,” said Sande.
The farmer recently partnered with the Global Alliance of Improved Nutrition (GAIN)which offered a grant to expand the farm, buy more equipment besides supporting in market research across Kisumu, Siaya and Vihiga counties to so as to establish market gaps.
But even with a production of about 5,000 eggs a day, Sande said they only meet half of their egg demands.
“We are producing less than 50 per cent of our demand so I would want to increase production. We want to get to over 100,000 birds in the next five years and may be begin producing our feeds,” he noted.
Feeds, according to the farmer, accounts for about 98 per cent of the total production cost. If the birds are well fed, they give the right size of eggs, he retorted.
According to him, a good chicken should give 340 eggs in a year and then it should be replaced after 18 months.
“As a farmer, you should know how your birds are performing. Count your eggs and divide them by the number of birds. A good performance should be over 85 per cent,” explained the farmer who has employed three farmhands and a manager to help him run the business.
He further added that proper housing, timely vaccination and hygiene are also crucial in poultry production.
But unlike many smallholder poultry farmers who make own feeds, Sande buys all his feeds from millers, which according to him make production process easier.
Feed production, he said, is a complicated process where quality assurance matters a lot to ensure consistent quality. Besides feeds, one needs good capital for raw materials and equipment which is financially strenuous.
“Most of the raw material are not locally available especially at the scale that we would need, therefore we are forced to source them from Uganda and Tanzania then mill. The logistics is just strenuous,” he said adding that economically, anyone doing between 200-10,000 birds should use commercial feeds while those doing above 10,000 birds or below 200 chicks should process own feeds.”
While he admits that challenges posed by that price fluctuation of egg prices due to influx of eggs from Uganda and Tanzania, Sande advises those planning to join the trade to first get the knowledge on poultry farming.
“Many people don’t take the information seriously because they imagine the know better because they have been growing chickens before.”