Instead of keeping 120 birds in a cage, Jairus Lamwe rears only 90 using the system frowned upon across the globe.
The 50 by 80 metres farm on the outskirts of Kakamega town is neatly arranged, with two chicken houses occupying a section, while the family house another.
Jairus Lamwe, the owner of the farm named Jay, is arranging 20 90kg bags of layers mash he had just received when we arrive.
The farmer keeps 1,200 chickens in two 13m by 6m poultry structures under the battery cage system.
He has 15 cages measuring 2m by 1.8m by 1.6m each. Each cage has a capacity to hold 120 birds but he keeps 90 birds in each, with a cubicle holding three birds.
Some 600 layers are actively laying eggs, the rest are 18-week-old kept separately.
“I collect 18 trays daily and sell them across Kakamega County at Sh280 per tray,” says Lamwe, noting he will dispose the birds at Sh200 in December and bring in another batch of 600.
Lamwe started the venture in December 2014 after a shortage of eggs hit Kakamega.
He bought 500 day-old chicks and kept them in the brooder for about two months as he waited for the cages he had bought online at Sh300,000 from China to arrive.
“I searched online and came across photos of the battery cage system. I realised it had immense benefits, thus, could serve my production needs,” says Lamwe, who is a pilot in the military and has invested close to Sh500,000 in the business.
Fear of pests and diseases saw the farmer go for the battery cage system.
“When I did my research, I found out that when you keep 500 birds under the deep litter system, you may get 350 eggs but you can’t tell which birds are laying because they are mixed up.”
With the cage system, he notes, a flock’s laying rate can hit 98 per cent and it is easier to monitor those that are unproductive for culling.
“One person can comfortably do all the duties on a poultry farm when using the cage system. Secondly, the farmer saves on space, time and there is easy management of diseases and pests,” offers the 30-year-old, who has one employee.
While the cage system is highly economical, enabling farmers to maximise on production, some at the expense of the birds, Lamwe says he takes care of the layers’ welfare.
“Instead of five birds in each cubicle, I have put three to enable them have some space to exercise, stretch and flap their wings, the normal bird behaviour.”
In a month, he buys 30 50kg bags of feeds at Sh2,350 each.
“Each bird consumes approximately 120g of feeds daily. In a day, the 600 layers consume 75kg of feeds,” says Lamwe, who hopes to break even in about a year’s time.
One of the challenges of the system is the high initial cost of acquiring the battery cages and installation.
Amos Amenya, an agronomist at the Lake Basin Development Authority, says the battery cage system has severe disadvantages on the welfare of the birds in the long run, although a farmer benefits from increased production.
“As much as it has tried to address the challenges of feeds coming into contact with droppings, the system confines the normal bird movements. Birds have no room for exercise leading to stress,” says Amenya.
He adds birds like to perch, therefore, restriction has direct impact on egg production, but farmers can amend this by keeping a few birds in the cages.
Countries in the European Union are among those that have banned the keeping of layers in battery cages. And there has been boycott of produce from farmers using the system.