Some squawk, others perch on rails placed near the walls of the chicken house in Gachaki, Murang’a while the rest feed from the troughs.
Mwangi Wainaina, the owner of the farm, scoops some feeds from a bucket he is carrying and puts it in a trough, with the birds scrambling to have a share.
The storeyed poultry house hosting close to 1,000 layers look like any other. It has the perching rails, feeding troughs, nests where the hens lay and it is made of wood and iron sheets.
However, one thing stands out inside the chicken coop. Hanging from the roof are cables holding several water drinkers.
“These are automatic chicken waterers. Once we fill the tank, the water flows into the drinkers drop by drop as the chickens consume it,” says Wainaina, 29.The water from a borehole at the home is pumped into a huge plastic tank for domestic and farm use. It is then channelled into the poultry coop into the plastic drinkers.
Once filled with water, the drinkers lower themselves, thus, breaking the circuit in the water supply system. The water never, therefore, spills onto the floor.
“We only offer the birds water manually during vaccination because we cannot mix the vaccine in the entire tank,” he explains.
Wainana says he came across the system while foraging on the internet, hoping to find something that would minimise his farm expenses.
He searched for them around and luckily, an agrovet in Thika had stocked them. Each of the drinkers which come with a thin black pipe connected to the tank cost him Sh1,700.
“I had spent Sh400,000 putting up the poultry house and was going to spend another Sh10,000 in buying day-old chicks, so I had to find a way of cutting down any further expenses,” says Wainaina, who studied business administration at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.
Managing 1,000 birds meant he had to employ about three farmhands to efficiently look after the chicken considering the fact that the birds need about 200 litres of water every day.
However, with the technology in place, he learnt that he only needed to employ one person to feed the birds and clean their pen because the drinkers are self-regulated.
The poultry run, made of timber and corrugated iron sheets which his father, a retired teacher gave him, measures 40 by 15 metres. It houses 400 hens on the ground floor while the upper hosts 600.
LESS WATER WASTAGE
With support from his father, Wainaina’s dream of becoming a commercial poultry farmer became viable.
The farmer collects 28 to 30 trays of eggs daily, which he sells at Sh260 a tray to a wholesaler who comes for the eggs on the farm.
Wainaina’s sojourn into commercial poultry farming began in mid-2015 after abandoning kienyeji birds because he could not get 500 chicks. He later nursed the idea of rearing broilers but changed his mind after undertaking a number of surveys in Nairobi hotels.
“Most of the hotels needed about 20 broilers a day but I saw that as a big challenge as it meant that I make trips home every day.
You see you must slaughter the birds in the morning and deliver them to the hotel, which was a lot of work,” says Wainaina, who is currently volunteering as the Director of Projects at the World Youth Government, Ministry of World Trade and Global Youth Entrepreneurship. Initially, he worked at Onfon media as a business developer.
He moved to layers, buying the chicks in September and by February, he had started getting eggs.
“It took me about 15 days after the first egg to start collecting a tray. The biggest challenge is the cost of feeds. My birds consume two bags of mash daily and a bag costs over Sh2,500 yet you have to run the business for about five months before you see any profit from it,” he says.
He now plans to increase his flock to 5,000 birds by the end of the year. The farmer says he has been lucky since his flock has not been attacked by any disease.
“I have a vaccination calendar from the chick suppliers, which guides me on the dates of vaccination. We collect also the droppings, dry them for two days, sieve then mix with dairy meals, maize bran and salt and use as dairy feed for our cows to cut costs,” he offers.
Sophie Miyumo, a poultry breeding expert at the Animal Sciences Department, Egerton University, says the auto-drinkers ensure optimal hygiene and less water wastage at the farm.
“The advantage of this kind of system is that you don’t have to carry water around in buckets, and the chickens can drink any time they want.”
How it works.
The system uses gravity to feed water into a tray.
A hen drinking from the tray reduces the level of the water temporarily; this allows air to escape into the water reservoir above the drinking tray; once the air goes into the reservoir, water is released into the tray filling it back to a set level.
Once an equilibrium between the water and the vacuum pressure in the reservoir is achieved, no more water will leak into the tray until it is removed again.