They came in buses, others in sleek cars while some walked. And the carnival mood they made at the picturesque farm on the slopes of Mount Kenya painted the picture of a colourful wedding.
But the guests who thronged the Wambugu Agricultural Training Centre that warm Thursday morning for the first of a series of Seeds of Gold farming clinics were united by one goal: to learn the poultry management practices that would put more money into their pockets.
One of the hundreds of farmers who were eager to learn was Rachel Njoki from Muthithi in Murang’a.
Rachel, who ventured into poultry farming in June this year after injecting into the business over Sh300,000 which she had saved from her previous job in a non-governmental organisation, wanted to start hatching her own chicks.
“I also wanted to learn how to make my own feeds using locally available materials. Since I am quite new in poultry farming, I need to attend as many trainings as possible,” she said at the two-day event that began on September 17.
Jeremiah Kamia, a 45-year-old poultry farmer from Machakos, said for over 20 years, he has been able to maintain his agribusiness by using simple techniques and locally available materials to make his own feeds on the farm, but he needed to update his knowledge as technology is dynamic.
“I want to know how to choose the best eggs for incubation,” said Kamia, who leads the Machakos County Indigenous Chicken Farmers Association.
And the farmers were not disappointed. They went through the best poultry farming practices from incubation of eggs to hatching, proper housing, feeding to the control and treatment of common diseases, all for free.
And most of the methods of control were as simple as they come; a mix of modern medicine, traditional applications and basic hygiene.
For instance, that ash from your jiko or fire place comes in handier than you thought. Just a little sprinkle on the floor of your poultry house prevents a number of deadly diseases like New castle and Gumbaro.
A collaboration between Nation Media Group, Egerton University, the County Government of Nyeri and Homerange Poultry Kenya, the symposium was held at a time the cost of feeds has soared and the concern on many farmers’ minds is how to reduce costs and maximise profit.
There are also concerns that some unscrupulous companies are making fake feeds, a situation which has driven many farmers into huge losses.
“The solution is in your hands. You can bring down the costs and enhance productivity through the application of simple skills,” Mr Ian Mutwiri, the chief executive of Homerange Poultry, who took the enthusiastic farmers through most of the lessons, said.
He stressed that chickens, just like humans, require a balanced diet that has all the food categories namely proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins.
For carbohydrates, one gets from maize, millet and sorghum. Termites, insects and cotton cake offer good proteins while sun dried eggshells are good for minerals and greens and sunlight for vitamins.
“What few farmers know is that feed ingredients should always be dried in the shade and not under direct sunlight as nutrients are lost. Home-mixed feeds should also not be stored for more than a week to avoid contamination,” Mutwiri cautioned.
According to him, chicken droppings are a wonderful feed.
“Sweep the droppings to a corner, sprinkle water on them and cover using a nylon paper. After a few days, the droppings will develop maggots which are a good source of protein for chickens.”
Farmers can also turn fresh cow droppings into chicken feed, as the birds search through the waste to get insects, a good source of proteins.
Farmers who keep their chickens for egg production should also crush egg shells and dry them to use as feeds.
“Farmers should regularly consider feeding their chickens with green vegetables to provide them with enough vitamins,” advised Mr Mutwiri.
He said a balanced diet helps in provision of high quality eggs that have yellow yolks.
According to Joseph Wang’ombe of the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation Naivasha, farmers should add some glucose into chicks’ drinking water for energy.
For those with small plots, Mr Ronald Kimitei, an animal expert from Egerton University was at hand to dispense lessons on hydroponic fodder growing, a soilless technique, which has intrigued many farmers with some complaining the feed produced through this method was inadequate.
“Hydroponics works, but it is not for everyone. It is for those with land issues like urban dwellers, but who need to keep livestock. Even then, it has to be supplemented with other feeds,” Kimitei told Seeds of Gold on the sidelines of the symposium.
He also took the farmers through the short courses available at Egerton University, including those on feed formulation.
But it was not all about feeds. Farmers were also taken through proper poultry housing which makes all the difference between a healthy and productive brood and sickly loss-making chickens.
Mutwiri said a chicken house should be well ventilated, spacious and should be built in a rectangular shape. This is to ensure the house has sufficient ventilation to avoid the buildup of ammonia from chicken droppings.
“If living in a very cold area, it is recommended that the farmer puts curtains on the long sides that he can close or open if it is hot or cold.”
Farmers are also discouraged from building houses facing North-South directions. “We advise farmers to always ensure that poultry structures are constructed on the East-West as this ensures that the sun passes over the roof of the house, preventing the chicken from being exposed to direct sunlight,” he said.
For farmers who use broody hens to hatch their chicks, the laying nest should be kept on the back side of the house far from feeders and drinkers to avoid disturbance and to reduce noise.
A storied poultry house helps in reducing cost and space. It should have a wire mesh on the upper wall to allow ventilation, the farmers learnt.
A poultry house should also be built in a way that the entrance has a footbath for a farmer or her visitors to disinfect their feet. This is to prevent diseases from being introduced in the pen.
A farmer should keep a vaccination programme, added Mutwiri. A day-old chick should be vaccinated below the skin against Mareks. The chicks are given the first dose against Gumbaro at 10 days, and the second dose is administered on the 18th day.
At week three, they are vaccinated against Newcastle Disease, at week six they are given a jab against fowl pox through a wing stab and at week eight, they are given the second dose against Newcastle and fowl typhoid. At week 18, the chicks are given the third dose of Newcastle and deworming is done at 19 weeks.
To ensure this is adhered to, keep chickens of different ages in separate houses.
“If you follow this programme strictly and supplement it with aloe vera drink and a regular sprinkle of ash, you will not have problems with diseases,” Mutwiri assured.
How to ensure you achieve a near 100 per cent hatching of eggs
Have a ratio of one cock to five hens to guarantee fertilisation of all eggs.
Do not brood eggs which are more than 14 days old.
The fertilised eggs for incubation should be stored with their broad side facing up. This is where the air bag which keeps the embryo alive is.
Fertilised eggs for hatching should never be washed as it destroys the outer protective cover on eggs, hence reducing their shelf life.
Wash your hands before collecting eggs as this avoids transfer of germs to the unhatched embryo.
If you are using an incubator, ensure you have a power back-up in case there is a blackout as your incubator should never stay for more than an hour without power.