Diary of a Poultry Farmer: You too can have a poultry side hustle

Friday January 27 2017

A labourer feeds chicken in Mukui Poultry Farm, Bahati, Nakuru.

A labourer feeds chicken in Mukui Poultry Farm, Bahati, Nakuru. It takes will and dedication to succeed in any agribusiness. PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATIAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By SUBIRI OBWOGO
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Some four weeks ago at about 6am on a Saturday, the guard’s voice came over the intercom informing me that I had a visitor at the gate.

“Who is it?” I asked politely as I rubbed sleep off my eyes.

“It is the taxi man,” he replied. Certainly, I have great respect for the guards who stay up the whole night to ensure we are safe.

Normally, I am always picked up by the taxi in the wee hours of the morning to catch a flight for a work assignment, but this call was unusual because I hadn’t made a booking.

It was also my day off and some farmers were coming to my farm in Njiru for classes. Shrugging off the thought of a mix-up, I asked the guard to let him in as I shuffled towards the balcony.

I opened the door of my apartment, and from the first floor, I saw Mureithi, my taxi man for the last one year or so.

After the usual salutations, I informed him that I had not made a booking and it must be a mistake.

“No,” he quipped, “I am here to enquire whether I can attend your classes on feed formulation.”

Now, at that point I learnt that besides being a taxi driver, Mureithi also reared chicken, but he had never disclosed to me before.

That morning, he recounted that he had bought a copy of Saturday Nation and read this column in Seeds of Gold only to discover I am the one who writes it after seeing my photo.

He then decided to contact me. We agreed that he books to attend the classes. I also promised to visit his farm.

I didn’t hear from Mureithi, thereafter, until last week when my wife, Ciru, informed me that he had been looking for me.

HOW HE JUGGLES THE TWO JOBS

I decided to pay him a visit because I was curious to know how he juggles the two jobs, farming and driving taxi.

When I visited, I found that Mureithi kept about 600 broilers in a chicken coop measuring some 20 by 5 metres barely a five-minute walk from where I live in Nairobi, a business he started nearly six months ago, though he has been rearing poultry for over three years in Kirinyaga.

The coop was made from iron sheets all round except the front, which was covered on the lower side with iron sheets and the upper half was covered with a wire mesh and a net.

He also had a chain link running on the front side to keep away predators.

Now, you would expect that there would be no predators in the city. “We have wild cats and stray dogs here,” he said.

“I also have to battle with rats and eagles.”

I learnt several things from Mureithi right away. First, instead of dropping rat poison pellets randomly around the chicken house like I do, he mixes them with chicken mash in special feeders.

“When you mix with chick mash, the rats cannot distinguish the poisoned pellets from the food,” he offered.

In my case, the rats had been giving the green-coloured pellets a wide berth.

So, how does he juggle running a taxi business and a poultry farm? In my mind, I assumed he had installed the automated nipple drinkers that don’t need to be changed regularly.

DIVERSIFY HIS INCOME

I was surprised to see that Mureithi had fabricated 20 litre jerricans that lasted the whole day.

“I can go away for two days and the birds would still have adequate drinking water,” said Mureithi, who went into poultry farming to diversify his income as he didn’t wish to put all his eggs in one basket with the coming of Uber, which has eaten into the market of other taxi operators.

He has been contracted by a Chinese firm that runs a chain of butcheries in town. “I am not even able to meet their demand for supply because of limited space and capacity,” he said.

He sells a mature bird at Sh280 after 45 days when the weight is between 1.5 and 1.8kg.

Like other farmers, Mureithi is uncomfortable with the high cost of commercial feeds that eat into his profits and he wants to learn how to formulate his own feeds to lower cost.

Looking at Mureithi, I realised that it takes will and dedication to succeed in any agribusiness.

***

YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Barnice Wambi, Tharaka-Nithi: I am a beneficiary of your informative articles and would like to invite you to visit our farm, Cefra, which specialises in ornamental birds like bantams, ostriches and geese.

Thank you and keep reading. I will make a point to visit and share some lessons with other farmers.

Julius Maina: I refer to your moving piece on getting yellow-yolked eggs using leucaena weed. I would like to know where to get the seeds to plant.
Leucaena has been criticised as it is an invasive species and can easily become a weed on farms. Instead, I suggest you get calliandra calothyrsus, which also will make the yolks yellow. Please call Mary Gichuki on 0722694802 who can help you get seeds or seedlings. For a free brochure on calliandra, which is also good for feeding dairy cows, get in touch with Dr Franzel on [email protected].

Vincent Collins: I would like to know if I can mill the leaves of leaf meal (calliandra) and blend into dairy, goats and poultry feeds.

The recommend ratio is 6 kg leaves per cow per day, which is roughly equivalent to 1kg dairy meal. For a free brochure on calliandra, get in touch with Dr Steven Franzel on [email protected].

Kennedy Achola, Syokimau: I need a farming guide on feeding and vaccination schedule and housing plans.
Send me an email for a free copy.