Diary of a poultry farmer: My blueprint to reap from poultry in 2018

Saturday January 6 2018

Poultry farmer, Gladys Migwi tends to her layers in her farm in Ngoru Village in Nyeri.

Poultry farmer, Gladys Migwi tends to her layers in her farm in Ngoru Village in Nyeri. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG 

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It’s 6am and I’m sitting by the beach in Malindi enjoying the cool breeze as I rack my brains trying to figure out how I would steer my poultry business in 2018. The sky is clear and the sea is a little calmer.

My crystal ball tells me that 2018 would bring better tidings for my business after a tough 2017, but that is if only I can implement 10 lessons learnt.  

You see, I came into 2017 expecting the worst. I was smarting from a nasty disease that wiped out my entire flock forcing me to de-populate, clean and disinfect the chicken pens and start afresh.  

To add insult to injury, as the year was coming to a close, my loyal dog mauled 130 hens just when they’d started laying eggs (November 18, 2017).  

Therefore, to make 2018 work, I decided to use sometime during my holiday with my family at the Coast to meditate. And these are the ten lessons I learnt in 2017 to make my poultry business better this year.

In God we trust, but for livestock feeds, verify:

First, whether you formulate your own feeds like me or rely on commercial rations, you need to test their quality regularly. You see, investing in a good chicken breed is useless if the quality of the feeds is wanting.

There are many millers out there who sell sub-standard feeds to farmers. Poor quality feeds affect growth rate and can lead to diseases and death. Making my own feeds has helped me control the quality. 

To verify, take a sample of feeds, commercial or home-made to a laboratory for testing. Myself I send the samples to Kalro, Naivasha. You may find that feeds are the reason production of your birds has dipped drastically.

Big Brother can’t solve all your problems:

Besides the quality, the cost of feeds accounts for up to 70 per cent of the total cost of producing an egg and chicken meat. In my case, the savings were minimal in the previous year partly because the cost of raw materials, especially maize, went up drastically. 

I urged caution last year when the Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich gave a nod to millers to import yellow maize duty-free for use in making animal feeds to ease pressure on white maize. I also advocated for waiver of 16 per cent value added tax levied on raw materials for making animal feeds.  

Unfortunately, none of these policy shifts have achieved their intended results. Therefore, the cost of animal feeds remains high. According to a study by the Tegemeo Institute, maize reflects a complex political economy that keeps prices artificially high. As such, policy directives targeting price reductions are a hard sell.  

Business plans don’t answer all questions:

You’ve probably heard that before you venture into poultry farming, first develop a business plan. Okay, although it’s an important working document, a business plan is just a guide to ensure the risks you take do not outweigh the benefits.

10-point plan for success in 2018.

10-point plan for success in 2018. PHOTO | COURTESY

As such, it doesn’t have to be perfect and focusing too much on it can lead to planning fatigue. Instead, start small and learn as you go along.  

Vaccinating against common chicken diseases is not a substitute for poor hygiene practices:

I used to vaccinate my fowls against common chicken diseases such as Newcastle, gumboro, fowl typhoid and fowl cholera and ignored farm bio-security (infection prevention) and basic hygiene practices that include things like isolation, traffic control and sanitation (November 26, 2016). But this I changed after my flock was attacked by infectious coryza and mycoplasma, diseases that made me dispose my flock.

Another key component of farm bio-security plan is the so-called “all-in, all-out” management approach where you get rid of a given stock after sometime, clean and disinfect the premises and leave empty for three months before bringing the new stock.

The bigger lesson here is that merely vaccinating your birds against common diseases is certainly not a substitute for poor hygiene practices. 

Not everyone who eats chicken is a potential buyer:

Just to be fair, marketing is such a wide and complex subject, but here’s my take: If you’re looking for buyers, don’t target anyone who eats chicken or eggs.

In fact, we read from the Holy Scriptures that although many are called, few are chosen. The idea here is to develop a product – chicken meat or eggs – to satisfy the preferences of a few but loyal customers who are willing to pay the premium.   

Don’t be a lone ranger:

Okay, poultry industry (and farming in general), works best through networks where ideas and inputs are shared.

As such, it helps to be part of a supportive network of producers, processors, financers and business experts. Reading Seeds of Gold is part of this network.

The moment you stop making mistakes, it’s time to close the business:

You’ve probably heard that if you make the same mistake twice, you haven’t learnt anything. That’s true. But then, there is something else I learnt when my loyal dog mauled 130 hens that had just started to lay eggs.

Gladys Migwi with some of the birds that she rears in her farm in Nyeri.

Gladys Migwi with some of the birds that she rears in her farm in Nyeri. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

That is, people who don’t make mistakes are those who take no action. The moment you stop making mistakes, it means you are not taking (calculated) risks. By extension, you’re not learning anything and it’s time to close the business.  

To make money from poultry, think beyond the common fowl:

I used to advise anyone interested in keeping poultry to think beyond chickens and consider a whole range of exciting birds like turkeys, guinea fowls, geese, ducks and peacocks.

I just discovered recently that there’s demand for indigenous chickens with special features such as frizzles, naked- neck, feathered feet, dwarfed, five-toed and bearded types.  

Include books of accounts in your farm records:

Besides keeping farm records related to animal husbandry practices (deaths, egg production, feed quantities, weight gained and equipment inventory), it adds value to keep books of accounts to track expenses in a systematic manner.

Books of account can be used to seek grants or loans from banks and to make tax returns.   

Don’t quit just yet!

Finally, I’ve come to learn that it’s easy to give up in the face of hardships. In such times, it helps to focus on short-term rewards because the big money doesn’t come quickly.