The two cocks compete to crow as they look over the dozens of hens strutting around the compound in Kitengela, on the outskirts of Nairobi.
One cock runs to stop a fight between two hens, as if to remind them that it is in charge.
The owner of this fine flock on the half-acre farm is Esther Wanza, who rears the chicken under the free-range system.
Esther, a theology lecturer at African Leadership University in Nairobi started keeping poultry in 2011 under the intensive system.
However, about mid last year, she switched to free-range system.
“I began raising poultry commercially as a way of augmenting my salary since I was working as a part-time lecturer. I bought 500 Leghorn chicks which I was raising for eggs.”
Despite consulting veterinary officers and vaccinating the chicks, 340 of them succumbed to Gumboro, a highly contagious viral disease.
This decimated the number to 160 birds by week 10.
Not one to give up, Esther purchased another 500 chicks, which survived.
“These ones did not do badly. They were producing 300 eggs but production declined as they aged.”
She sold them for meat in 2012. It is then that she replaced them with 50 kienyeji chicken.
“I had inquired from fellow farmers and veterinary officers who told me to rear kienyeji chicken because they are disease resistant.”
She went into free-range after being advised that when raised under intensive system, kienyeji chicken don’t do well.
David Mutiso, a veterinary officer with FarmChem in Nairobi, says kienyeji chicken are best reared under free-range system since when they exercise, they produce quality meat and eggs.
“Walking helps the birds exercise thus their meat has good fibre. Again, free-range chicken are not prone to diseases like cocciodiosis that tend to affect birds under intensive system.”
The 50 birds Esther bought from Kenya Agricultural Research Institute have now grown to over 300, excluding chicks.
“I hatch the eggs artificially. I buy roosters now and then, treat and use them to strengthen my brood.”
“The kienyeji chicks are good. They mature in six months and are highly resistant to diseases. They also have high egg productivity,” she adds.
The lecturer sells a day old chicks at Sh100, two to four weeks old chicks at Sh250 and mature hens at Sh500.
The cockerels go for between Sh1,000 and Sh1,500 while an egg at Sh15 to Sh20. A sack of manure, on the other hand, goes for Sh500.
“Raising kienyeji chicken under free-range requires astute planning just like any other form of farming. You need to have a business plan where you consider the land, capital, equipment and manpower that you shall require to successfully run your enterprise. The birds have better profit than the others.”
To keep pests at bay, she advises one must invest in a good fence.
“Free-range system requires adequate space for the chicken to forage for food and coops to shelter at night. Chicks younger than two months need to be placed in portable enclosures that allow them to bask in the sun without threat from hawks and other birds of prey. Then the birds should have places to perch and rest.”
Even though they are significantly less labour intensive, kienyeji chicken still require good feeding for optimal returns.
Esther counsels that getting quality chickens under the free-range system starts with proper construction of the pens.
“Then you have to feed them mixed diet and vaccinate against all preventable diseases.”
To cut the high cost of feeds, she feeds the chicken with maize germ, sorghum, millet, wheat, and sunflower or groundnut cake.
“I also give them weekly bone meal and salt. In addition, free-range chicken forage for insects and green plant matter. This gives their eggs and meat a tasty flavour.”
The farmer promotes her products by word of mouth.
Placing an advert on her campus notice board also helps her advertise to a large group.
She has also approached several outlets, including supermarkets, which place regular orders.
“Initially, I would make a net income of about Sh10,000 in a month because of the high cost of production. But now the returns are higher because of the good prices the kienyeji chicks, hens, cocks and eggs fetch especially in April and December, during Easter and Christmas.”