Diary of a Poultry Farmer: It’s time to make merry and money for poultry keepers

Saturday December 24 2016

Christmas is usually the time to make some quick, good money from poultry as buyers come for them.

Christmas is usually the time to make some quick, good money from poultry as buyers come for them. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By SUBIRI OBWOGO
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Once again, it is Christmas time, a time that is so special to many small poultry farmers like myself.

You see, I struggle all-year round to find market for my products, especially chicken meat, but during Christmas, buyers come for them.

In short, Christmas is the time to make some quick, good money. But this is only possible with good planning, which must start sometime in June.

Now, sometime mid-year, Cleophas my farm manager came up with a marketing idea that I believed was unique, but I was sceptical about it.

You see, then, I didn’t have a plan to introduce new stock of birds on the farm.

What I did instead was to hatch day-old chicks all-year-round, sell some off and raise the rest to maturity to sell for meat and eggs without marketing considerations.

Cleophas, however, suggested we don’t hatch chicks for sale but we rear them beginning June.

“If I look at our sales numbers, the peak is usually December, meaning, if we can raise birds to sell around Christmas, we would have no problem looking for customers.”

That is exactly what I did and early this month, I asked Cleophas to put an advert on the farm’s gate reading “Kienyeji chicken for sale”. I must say that this plan of selling live birds targeting festivities has worked well so far, with each going at between Sh700 and Sh1,000.

EMPTY THE CHICKEN HOUSE

You see, it does not make sense not to sell the birds whose production has dropped to as low as 10 per cent, and continue feeding them in January.

Simply put, it’s time to empty the chicken house.

Initially, I had to slaughter and dress chicken meat for sale, which required a slaughter processing unit that included a set of sharp knives, a killing cone, running water, gloves, protective clothing, plastic bags and refrigeration. If you have to slaughter yourself, you will also need a food-handler’s certificate.

But thanks to Cleophas, for the better part of this month, things have been rosy. Auma, a hotelier in Ruai is one of the big customers I landed.

“I need about 10 birds of different plumage colours —black, white and brown every week,” Auma said. “Another thing, I need both hens and cocks.”

If I reminisce special attributes that most customers attach to poultry products (Seeds of Gold, January 30), the colour of the plumage is certainly not one of them.

One customer told me, “I prefer indigenous birds because the meat is lean, better flavoured and is an organic product.” Another customer told me point blank that she could not stand meat of indigenous chicken.

A man sells kienyeji chicken.

A man sells kienyeji chicken. Selling poultry meat per kilo as opposed to per live bird is usually the best way to maximise returns. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“Broiler meat is tender and lacks the strong Oduor found in indigenous birds raised under free-range.”

I have also met customers who prefer hens to cocks for meat but they are few. In fact, selling a hen at the same price as a cock doesn’t make economic sense because I get about 200 eggs a year from one improved Kienyeji bird, which I then sell at Sh25 each because it is fertilised.

COLOUR PLUMAGE ASSOCIATIONS

Alternatively, when my incubator was in perfect condition, I would hatch chicks and sell day-old at Sh100 each. In addition, my live cocks weigh between 2 and 2.5kg while the hens rarely average 1.5kg.

To understand Auma’s preference for cocks and hens and the colour of the plumage, I pressed her further.

“As a hotelier, I get customers from across the country. What I know is that customers from Central Kenya ask for poultry meat from cocks and those from Western Kenya prefer hens,” he said.

Auma further noted that customers associate a single colour plumage with exotic birds and multiple colours with indigenous birds.

What I found unusual was that the last batch of Kari Improved Kienyeji chickens I bought sometime in August came in single mix of black, white and grey colour plumage, unlike the previous stock which was a either pure white, brown or black and a mix of the three colours.

I enquired from Sophie Miyumo, an animal scientist from Egerton University, and her answer was crisp. “The colour of the plumage depends on the imported parent stock that is used for breeding but the genes are still from indigenous birds.”

For now, my further enquiries have shown that customers from Western and Central go for hens and cocks respectively, pointing to how culture may be unwittingly affecting marketing of poultry products.

I hope anthropologists would one day give reasons for this ‘strange’ phenomenon.

FULL DRESSED-UP CHICKEN

Another thing I have observed is that for Luhya customers, an order for a full dressed-up chicken must include gizzards, legs and the head (you only discard the feathers and intestines).

The gizzard is reserved for the man of the house. Customers from other communities don’t demand the items, thus, enabling one to sell them for more cash.

Another thing I have learnt is that although size matters to customers, when it comes to chicken meat, there are limits.

Currently, I am disposing my hens that have reached their peak of laying and their cold dressed weight is between 1 and 1.2kg, which is low for some customers.

The cocks, on the other hand, have a cold dressed weight of between 1.8 and 2.5kg. However, customers shy away from chicken meat above 2.5kg. “Not too big but not too small”, seems to be the rule.

One more thing, selling poultry meat per kilo as opposed to per live bird is the best way to maximise returns. I am now selling the meat on order to friends at Sh700 per kilo.

You see, improved chicken breeds – Kenbro, Kuroiler and Kari— have a high food conversion efficiency that allows for faster weight gain.

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Your Questions Answered

Philip Omolo:I would like a basic plan to start rearing 100 birds. Please send me an email for a handout that includes topics like housing plans, disease control and vaccination, feeding, rearing day-old chicks.

Ouma Polo, Ongata Rongai:I would like to know about improved kienyeji breeds that would survive in semi-arid conditions and where to source them.

Improved indigenous birds combine characteristics of highly productive exotic birds with those of indigenous chicken that can tolerate scavenge conditions and diseases, making them ideal for your environment.

There are several breeds like Kari Improved Kienyeji, Kuroiler and Kenbro. The former can be sourced from Kalro in Naivasha.

However, unlike the other improved indigenous breeds, do not expect Kuroilers to go broody.

Alexina Omengo:I would love to have free booklets about poultry farming.

I have a handout of common poultry diseases that I could share. Please send me an email.