Diary of a poultry farmer: Is the chicken mash you buy worth your money?

Friday May 27 2016

The grains are collected and sold in retail to small poultry and animal keepers after millers have bought them from farmers.

Sieving the chaff from grains for making chicken and animal feed. The grains are collected and sold in retail to small poultry and animal keepers after millers have bought them from farmers. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By SUBIRI OBWOGO
More by this Author

Are you sure that the bag of poultry mash you are buying is actually 50 or 70kg?

Not sure? Well, you may be a victim of weight cheating. Weight cheating is common and I have been a victim.

The problem with this practice that many farmers ignore, or are totally oblivious of, is that it increases operational costs and reduces profits.

Certainly, this pervasive problem is not limited to fuel pumps, supermarkets and butcheries.

My first experience with weight cheating, which taught me to take this problem seriously, was with the raw materials I was buying for making feeds.

If you are a regular reader, you probably know that about a year ago, I started making my own feeds instead of relying on commercial preparations.

I was motivated by two reasons: poor quality of some feeds in the market and to cut costs.

Now, making feeds requires assembling a lot of bulky materials.

They include energy sources (cereals and cereal products like whole maize, maize germ and wheat bran), proteins (fishmeal, soya and sunflower cake) and micro-nutrients.

Other ingredients include amino acid supplements (lysine, methionine and tryptophan), coccidostat and mycostatin.

In my case, I was using maize germ, fishmeal, and sunflower cake as the main sources of energy and proteins.

At the time, I had not started using soya beans. Soya can replace fishmeal as the main source of protein for animal feeds.

Because of the high cost of these ingredients in Nairobi, I had to source them from as far as Uganda and Migori.

Then, I was buying a kilo of maize germ at Sh17 while in Nairobi it was Sh25.

SIGNIFICANT SAVINGS

Sunflower cake was retailing at Sh30 in Migori and Sh38 in Nairobi. Omena, on the other hand, was retailing at Sh70 a kilo, against Sh120 in Nairobi.

Since I was making about a tonne of feeds every month, the savings I made by buying raw materials from Uganda, even after adding transport costs, were significant, or so I thought. Until I decided to weigh the sunflower cake.

I had paid Sh3,000 for 100kg. Instead, the sack only weighed 77kg. If you think this is not a significant loss, do the math with me.

If you divide what I paid with the actual kilos delivered, you will realise I was buying a kilo of the sunflower cake at Sh39 per kilo, instead of Sh30.

If I add Sh500 transport charges, each bag of the cake to Nairobi cost me Sh45 per kilo. In fact, it was then cheaper to buy from Nairobi.

Now, hold your horses. The cheating didn’t stop there. You see, sunflower cake has to be ground into flour if you are going to use it to make feeds, meaning, I had to take it to a posho mill for grinding.

Jackson Achiela feeds his poultry in their

Jackson Achiela feeds his poultry in their poultry farm in Homa Bay County. PHOTO | EVERLYNE AKEWO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

It is interesting that in the 21st century, we still use ‘volume’ as a proxy measure for ‘weight’.

Here is what I mean: If you take your maize or millet to a posho mill for grinding, the standard measure that they use for ‘weight’ is a 2kg tin widely known as gorogoro, but the charges are quoted in kilos.

You see, a gorogoro of maize does not weigh the same as a gorogoro of millet, or that of sunflower cake, even if they occupy the same space in the tin.

I tried to explain this to the lady at the posho mill but she was adamant, “You are the first person who has ever complained,” she blurted out.

Here is the answer to this jigsaw puzzle. My sunflower weighed 100kg in Migori. In Nairobi, it weighed 77kg.

When I took it to the posho mill, it turned 60 gorogoros, the equivalent of ‘120 kilos’.

WEIGHT CHEATING IS PUNISHABLE BY LAW

The obvious reason for this discrepancy is that a small amount of sunflower cake occupies a lot of ‘space’ in the gorogoro tin.

I was charged Sh15 per kilo for grinding, meaning for the 60 gorogoros, I paid Sh1,800. By now, the cost of the sunflower cake was hitting Sh69 a kilo.

I figured out a way to reduce weight cheating. These days I carry two scales in my car always: a kitchen scale for measuring minerals in grams and a normal scale for bulky things like maize germ.

This has served me well, but it almost landed me in trouble recently.

This was when buying methionine from an agrovet in Nairobi. I got into an argument with the owner of the retail store for insisting to confirm the weight using my kitchen scale.

You see, methionine is an essential amino acid (building block for proteins) that retails at Sh1,200 a kilo. I use about 26g to formulate a 70kg bag of layers mash.

Meaning, if I am sold 900g, instead of 1kg, I am losing amounts required to mix into four bags of layers mash.

Looking agitated, the seller snapped, “If you don’t trust me, you can go elsewhere.” He proceeded to lecture me about how he has been in “this business” for over 40 years and had not received any complaints from customers.

The funny thing is that the weight was correct, so I didn’t understand why he was agitated.

May be he knew what I didn’t know at the time that according to the Weight and Measures Regulations, weight cheating is punishable by law.

All said, trust but verify.

***

Dr Obwogo is a farmer and a medical doctor. He works as a senior quality improvement advisor in health policy and systems strengthening with an international NGO.