A short distance from Bumala market centre in Busia County sits Uriya village.
As many other hamlets across the country, agriculture is the mainstay of Uriya, with residents growing maize, cassava and beans and keeping dairy cows and poultry, among others.
Bonventure Owitch, a mechanical engineer with Vivo Energy in Nairobi, is one of the proud sons of the village. Well, not only because of his profession but also as a commercial poultry farmer running Owitch Farm.
Seeds of Gold finds Owitch, farm manager Vincent Onyango and Pius Ofwono, a worker, offering tens of birds their morning meal.
Ofwono whistles and the birds that include ducks, guinea fowls, turkeys and geese come running to where the trio are.
“We keep the ornamental birds mainly under free-range but the rest, the improved Kari Kienyeji chickens and the traditional birds are under an improvised cage system,” offers Onyango.
The farm keeps 920 chickens, turkeys (10), goose (12), pearl grey guinea fowls (15), white guinea fowls (15) and ducks (25).
A tour around the farm reveals how Owitch has taken his investment seriously. The poultry house is partitioned into five rooms and each has a CCTV camera mounted at the corner of the roof.
“The cameras help me in monitoring the happenings on the farm through my phone while I am away. They have also boosted our security,” says Owitch. He started the 0.97 acres farm in 2016 with 300 Kienyeji birds as a hobby, and he has grown it to what it is today.
“I started the business with Sh120,000, dividends that I was paid by our sacco, Shellise. I used Sh60,000 to buy wire mesh, timber and cement to set the 20ft by 8ft poultry structure. The 300 birds were day-old chicks that I acquired at Sh100 each,” says the father of five.
He also bought feeders, drinkers, poultry feeds and vaccines.
“The business was doing very well as he increased the number of birds and diversified his flock to include the ornamentals but it was also dogged with mismanagement and poor hygiene,” says Owitch.
“Some workers were disloyal. At times either the birds or eggs disappeared. This prompted me to install the CCTV cameras placed strategically to monitor everything on the farm since I am always away in Nairobi. At least the theft of eggs and the birds is no more,” he says, adding the system cost him Sh100,000.
The farm uses an improvised cage system to keep a section of the birds, with the poultry structures fitted with nipple drinkers.
Wooden feeding troughs have been placed at the corners of the poultry house while the floor is made of wire mesh, to allow easy collection of droppings.
“The structure is raised from the ground. We borrowed the idea from the battery system which improves hygiene standards. With this system, there is less contamination between the feeds and the droppings,” says Onyango, the farm manager.
The workers’ day starts at 5:30am, where they clean the poultry houses, feeding troughs and drinkers. They feed the birds twice a day, early in the morning and late in the evening.
“We feed the birds on commercial rations and those we formulate on the farm. For those laying, we have a mix of 200 Kienyeji and improved Kari layers. We offer them commercial feeds that go for Sh2,800 for 70kg bag to avoid interfering with egg production,” says Daniel Maumo, the farm’s vet, adding they have maintained a ratio of a cock for seven hens.
The rest of the birds are fed on formulated feeds. The workers mix cotton seed cake, maize germ, wheat bran and minerals bought in Busia town. Every week, they make three 70kg bags of formulated feeds.
The farm currently collects two crates of eggs daily, with the fertilised eggs sold to farmers for Sh600 a tray.
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The biggest returns, however, come from the sale of cocks for either meat or for breeding purposes.
In a good week, the farm sales up to 90 cocks of various sizes at Sh1,000 each to the small hotels, especially on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and to farmers who use them for breeding.
A guinea fowl, on the other hand, costs Sh1,500, a goose at Sh2,000 and turkey from Sh5,000 to Sh7,000 depending on the size.
The 44-year-old farmer says business was lucrative during the Christmas season.
“Guinea fowls have high market demand because they are very tasty. We sold most of our guinea fowls last year,” he says.
Owitch also markets his products on social media platforms like Facebook, besides referrals.
“My plan is to expand the farm to start selling chicks and in future sale formulated poultry feeds to other farmers.”
His challenges include attack of diseases such as New Castle and gumboro, which, are however, controlled by a strict vaccination policy.
Mathews Dida, a lecturer at Maseno University’s Department of Agriculture, says with proper hygiene, a farmer should be able to prevent most poultry diseases.
“The birds must be adequately fed so that they are not starving. If they have imbalanced nutrients, then they could also suffer,” said Prof Dida, adding farmers should also control fleas in poultry houses.
He warns that for the free-range ornamental birds, one should watch out for diseases that can transmit from one poultry breed to another leading to losses.
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More about the guinea fowl
Guinea fowls have leaner meat richer in protein.
Unlike turkeys that originated in the Americas, guinea fowls were actually exported to Europe by 15th century Portuguese explorers, and then arrived in North America with the early settlers.
There are seven species of guinea fowls, but the “helmeted pearl” is by far the most common, and certainly the ‘weirdest’ looking, with its oddly shaped helmet, white, featherless face, bright red wattles, and grey polka-dotted feathers.
These birds are domesticated, according to the Wildlife Act, as they are classified as “wild”.