Diary of a Poultry Farmer: I have no choice but to kill my business, briefly

Friday January 6 2017

Sam Ikwaye feeds his chicken on hydroponic-grown barley, in Bamburi, Mombasa.

Sam Ikwaye feeds his chicken on hydroponic-grown barley, in Bamburi, Mombasa. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By SUBIRI OBWOGO
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In the last seven days, I took time to reflect on what happened on my farm in 2016 and what I want to achieve this year.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not a New Year wish list because I don’t believe in a fresh start solely based on wishful thinking.

A few things worked well and will be bettered, like the Saturday classes I ran on various aspects of poultry farming, including feed formulation.

Apart from teaching other farmers how to make their own feeds to improve quality and save between 30 and 50 per cent per 70kg bag, I have also used the opportunity to network.

The security plan I implemented on the farm too managed to keep thieves at bay. I first invested in two German Shepherd dogs and have now added two more.

Marketing of poultry products like eggs and meat was a mixed bag. My dream to become a major supplier to supermarkets went as far as registering a company, getting a Kenya Bureau of Standards mark of quality, designing a logo and a matching slogan.

Unfortunately by the time I met all these requirements, my production levels had dropped considerably, mainly due to diseases that I could not meet the demand.

On the brighter side, however, my plan to market chicken meat directly to consumers worked well especially during the festive season.

I cannot say the same for eggs because at some point, I was forced to discard 15 trays that went bad as I waited for customers who could buy at a price that would allow me to recoup the cost of feeds.

FEED RAW MATERIAL COSTS

The cost of feed raw materials remains a pain in my agribusiness. Despite the 16 per cent tax waiver on raw materials, retailers and millers have been adamant to extend the savings to poor farmers.

I still buy whole maize at Sh35/kilo, maize germ Sh18.6/kilo, sunflower cake Sh35/kilo and soya Sh75/kilo, the same prices before the tax waiver was announced by Treasury Cabinet Secretary in the June 2016 budget speech.

My biggest challenge last year, however, was dealing with stubborn diseases particularly infectious coryza and mycoplasma (Seeds of Gold, August 27, 2016) and I have decided to do something drastic to check them.

If you recall, by the time I consulted a vet surgeon, the death toll had reached 136 out of the initial stock of 320 chicks (43 per cent death rate).

He visited three times and prescribed some treatment. Although the infection seemed to have subsided, the death toll continued to rise and as at end of December, I had lost 224 birds.

I will de-populate the entire stock and undertake a clean-up and disinfection of the facility to break the infection cycle once and for all, as advised by the vet.

I plan to sell all the remaining birds and leave the premises uninhabited for three months before starting all over again.

This means I will kill the business - albeit temporarily and start from scratch. I have reached this painful decision partly because when it comes to infectious coryza, despite treatment, even healthy looking birds continue shedding germs that can hide in the environment—walls, ceilings, floors and clothing for long.

BIO-SECURITY MEASURES

Another reason for this action is the cost of treating the birds has now outstripped the benefits. You see, I spent over Sh35,000 on the vet’s consultation fee and drugs and still have to cull the entire stock.

When it comes to infection control, in addition to disinfecting the premises, I plan to implement the farm bio-security checklist fully.

Bio-security measures are the cheapest and most cost effective means of controlling diseases in poultry (Seeds of Gold, October 29, 2016).

Of course I won’t be getting rid of the guinea fowls and turkeys that have so far not been affected by the infections. Instead, I will invest in more of these ornamental birds because in addition to fetching good price in the market, they are resistant to most diseases that affect chicken.

I will also renew all licences due to the government especially for keeping the guinea fowls which are regarded as wild birds. The annual licence fee is Sh1,500.

Testing the quality of raw materials that I use for making feeds is something I will do to beat unscrupulous traders who sell maize cobs disguised as chicken feeds.

And ultimately, if all goes well this year, I plan to turn the poultry business into a large-scale venture to accommodate between 5,000 and 10,000.