Diary of a Poultry farmer: After a bad year for my business, Christmas washes the blues away

Saturday December 30 2017

Tumaini Obwogo dresses chicken for sale at the farm in Njiru.

Tumaini Obwogo dresses chicken for sale at the farm in Njiru. The challenge of selling chicken at a flat rate is that the weight varies. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By SUBIRI OBWOGO
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Last week, I got a text message from Edith, a long time loyal customer. She wanted to know if my chickens were ready for sale.  

You see, I brought in a new stock in June and for the last six months, my diehard clients had been waiting anxiously for the batch to mature. 

“How much are you selling a chicken for?” she enquired.  

When I told her a kilo retails at Sh800, she let out a sigh of relief. “I thought you’d say something like Sh1,500 for a chicken being the peak season with the high demand.” 

You’ll have to hold your horses to know how my conversation with her went.  

I don’t think there’s a single idea for selling poultry products – eggs and meat – I haven’t experimented with.  

First, I tried to get my products onto the supermarket shelves (April 9, 2016).  

However, my dream to become a major supplier to supermarkets only went as far as registering a company, getting a Kenya Bureau of Standards mark of quality, designing a logo and a matching slogan.   

By the time I met all these requirements, my production levels had dropped so considerably, mainly due to diseases. I couldn’t even meet the demand for my household needs. 

As such, the idea to supply the supermarkets was shelved (January 7, 2017). 

Next, I tried to sell chicken in parts. I got this idea earlier in the year when I heard that the South African poultry industry was taking a beating from cheap imports of chicken thighs and drumsticks from the European Union (February 18, 2017).  

If you can recall, I’ve been reprimanded by some customers for not packing the head, legs, intestines and gizzard in that order for dressed chicken (December 25, 2016).  

SELLING CHICKEN MEAT PER KILO

So, when I heard that Europeans consider these parts a ‘waste,’ I thought this was weird. 

I then enquired further why the demand for wings, thighs and drum sticks was low in Europe and why they instead prefer the chicken breast. I was shocked by the answer I got.  

“The preference for chicken breast is partly related to health,” one certified clinical nutritionist intimated to me.  

She told me that the breast is the leanest part of the chicken followed by the drumstick, wings and the thighs in that order.  

As such, when compared gram–for- gram, “eating chicken thighs, wings and drumsticks can give you just as much saturated fat and calories as you get from red meat,” the nutritionist said emphatically. Saturated fat is bad for the heart. 

When I tried to introduce this novel idea of selling chicken parts to a few of my customers, I surely got an egg on my face and shelved it.  

“Stop conning people,” one client blurted out. “Either you sell to me the full chicken or I source from elsewhere!” As a man, I felt his pain. The breast was going to cost him more!  

Another idea I’ve tried is selling chicken meat per kilo (Jan 30, 2016) and that is where my conversation with Edith led to.  

This is what I told her: “The challenge of selling chicken at a flat rate is that the weight varies.” She was not convinced.    

You see, on average, a live chicken could weigh anything between 1kg and 3kg.  

“If you sell to a customer a chicken weighing 2kg for Sh1,500, they’ll complain the next time if the weight is 1.5kg or 1kg and, especially, if the price remains the same,” I explained.  

WHEN DEMAND IS HIGH

I then told her that from my experience, a chicken weighs half a kilo less after it’s been dressed.

“If I sell to you a live chicken weighing 2kg, by the time it lands into the cooking pot, it will weigh 1.5kg.”  
Aha! She finally bought into my argument, hook, line and sinker.  

I’ve also shared before that most customers prefer the weight to be between 1.5 and 2.5kg. When it is too low or too high, they’ll take a long walk to the nearest park.  

What this means is that if you are rearing improved indigenous birds like the Kuroilers that can reach 4kg, you need to sell them as early as possible.  

Most customers are also reluctant to pay for the extra weight if they are buying chicken. One told me this, “I would rather I bought a goat instead.” 

There’s another reason I don’t hike prices over Christmas and New Year festivities when the demand is high.  

Initially, I was targeting any willing buyer, including those who wait for a year – I mean 365 days – to eat a chicken.  

But this Christmas, my niche was those clients who were looking for quality attributes such as “taste, culinary delicacy, right texture, leanness (less fat) and products free of drugs and antibiotics,” I told Edith. 

And I must says that business was not bad enabling me to wash away the blues I had after a dog and diseases mauled by chickens.