What to do when fleas attack your chickens and growing best onions - Daily Nation

What to do when fleas attack your chickens and growing best onions

Friday April 10 2015

A worker tends to strawberries grown in pipes in a greenhouse in Kinangop. FILE PHOTO |

A worker tends to strawberries grown in pipes in a greenhouse in Kinangop. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP


My name is Peter from Murang‘a County and I am a dairy farmer.

My question is, how can I store napier grass for six to 12 months when I have plenty?


The most common feed conservation technologies are silage and hay making. Silage is the easiest and preferred for such a period.

There are several ways you can make silage. These are using silos, tanks or plastic bags. Recently, farmers have started using small concrete tanks.

The advantage of this method over the others is that spoilage is reduced as only one tank is used at a time and the space required is small.

When choosing the method to use, consider cost and viability.

Wangui James Chege,

Department of Animal Sciences,

Egerton University.

I wish to start a hydroponics farm to grow vegetables (spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and capsicum). My questions are;

1. What is the best hydroponic system for each and how will I go about setting up?

2. What are the nutrient requirements and what specific fertilisers would they need?

Kiige James

I would advise you use either the water culture hydroponics vegetable system, which is useful for the water-loving plants such as spinach and lettuce or the drip hydroponics vegetable system.

For further information about the systems, contact [email protected] Nutrients and fertilisers for these vegetables can be obtained from the agro-vets.

Ask for those designed for hydroponics since the composition of elements in nutrients designed for those grown in the soil are different.

With hydroponics, there is no soil to get the elements from, so the two are very different in composition.

For example, nitrogen in the form of urea is not immediately available to a plant in hydroponics because the mineral is not soluble in water.

Thus, nitrogen must be delivered in its nitrate form.

Sophie Miyumo,

Department of Animal Sciences,

Egerton University.


For the last six months, I have been fighting fleas that have invaded my layers.

I have tried a number of medicines including Ectomin, Delete, Actellic and Debush without success.

What do I do since my layers have started dying?

Jane Njoroge, Kitengela

Fleas are common pests of chickens and infestations can cause a reduction in laying, pale combs and wattles, anaemia, feather loss or even death like in your case.

They attach to the skin around the face and head causing severe irritation and even blindness.

Treatment or control of these parasites involves using pesticide dusts or sprays but first ensure a clean and tidy chicken coop.

If one discovers fleas, the chickens and the house should be treated on the same day.

In your case, infestation may be recurring due to multiplication of the fleas left during control, therefore, understanding the fleas’ life cycle is important for effective control.

To ensure proper control, remove all the chickens from the house, then clean it entirely, removing all the beddings and cobwebs from the rafters.

Burn all the beddings and do not add on your compost pile. Wear gloves and dust the whole house with a pesticide as per the instructions on the packaging.

Thereafter, treat the flock applying the dust directly to every bird in your brood, including under their wings and their fluffy bottoms.

Repeat the entire process of deep cleaning the house and re-dusting the flock once again 10 to 14 days later and sometimes for third time to break the fleas’ life cycle.

Felix Akatch Opinya,

Department of Animal Sciences,

Egerton University.


I would like to keep dairy goats in Meru (Chogoria). I need advice on the best breeds for milk production. Where can I get them and how do I take care of them?


Goats are easy to keep as they can utilise locally available feeds, widely adapt to various climatic changes and demand little space.

In Meru, you can source your foundation stock from reputable organisations like Dairy Goats Association of Kenya or Meru Goat Breeders Association.

They keep the goats known for high milk production like Saanen and Toggenburg.

You can start with a few goats and gradually increase the population as you learn from experience.

During feeding, remember to incorporate crude protein-rich fodder trees like lucerne, mineral salts and clean water for drinking.

Ensure hygiene in the house to stop diseases but always contact your veterinary officers in case of attack.

Felix Akatch Opinya,

Animal Science Department,

Egerton University.


I am currently exploring the possibility of cultivating bulb onions on my one acre in Mumias, Kakamega County. Please advise on:

1. The best variety to grow.

2. Preparation of seedbed.

3. Management of the crop after transplanting.

4. Potential diseases and pests.

4. Expected yields and the cost of production.

Francis Muhande

Common varieties of onions include red creole, tropicana hybrid and white creole. However, the best to grow is red creole.

Ecological requirements

Onions do well in hot warm climate, though some species prefer cool conditions, with an altitude of 2,100m above sea level. The soil should be fertile, well-drained with a pH of 6 to 7 while rainfall should be 1,000mm per year. They require a fairly long dry period for ripening.

Preparing land for onion plantation

Land should be prepared to a fine tilth with all the weeds removed to give the crop a good start. Farm yard manure at the rate of 40 to 50 tonnes per hectare should be applied and mixed well with soil to help hold plant nutrients.

Seedbed preparation

Onion seeds are small and require a well-prepared, fine seedbed with well-drained soils. We recommend the use of trays and cocoa peat so that little or no seeds are lost during this process.

Using fertiliser

Application of fertiliser should be determined from a soil analysis to avoid guessing, which can lead to wastage. Most onion roots occupy a 15cm radius from the stem and, therefore, they are shallow feeders, which means they cannot recover leached nutrients.

That is why you should incorporate farmyard manure.

Transplanting of seedlings

Seedlings are usually ready at eight weeks after seeding, when the majority of their necks are pencil size (65 to 80mm) in diameter, 13.5 to 30cm tall and have four to five leaves.

Irrigation can commence immediately after planting to prevent loss of the plant population.

The recommended spacing is 20 to 30cm between rows by 8cm from one crop to another with a plant population of 500,000 plants per hectare.


Soils are irrigated to field capacity to build up reserves for later use by the crop. After transplanting, the soil is kept cool and moist with a daily irrigation of 3 to 5mm.

Onions produced under hot dry conditions may require two irrigation cycles per day.

Water shortage at any stage during growth may result in decreasing yields.

Regular watering promotes good growth and helps keep the soil firm around the bulb.

Cracks in soil and inconsistent soil pressure around the onion bulb results in misshaped onions.

Do not over irrigate as this leads to bulbs that are soft with a poor shelf-life.

Pest and disease control

The major pest is thrips, which if not controlled can cause reduction in quality and quantity of produce.

A number of diseases do attack onions but the major ones include downey mildew and purple blotch.

The diseases can be controlled through management practices, resistant cultivars and chemical sprays.

Thrips management

Heavy rains reduce the population of thrips, but it escalates during the dry weather. Good crop management and sanitation generally keep thrips away.

Healthy leaf tissue will endure thrips feeding better than stressed tissue.

Thrips tabaci has a wide hosts, including numerous weed species thus weed control in and around the crop is essential.

Also, cultivation and plowing to eliminate debris near the soil surface will reduce thrips’ populations.

Approved insecticides can be used, however, several applications are needed and resistance to insecticides has been reported.

Downey mildew (Peronospora destructor)

Symptoms on the crop

Typically, the first symptom is the brownish-purple velvet-like sporulation of the pathogen on healthy green leaves.

As the disease progresses, lesions that are slightly paler than the normal leaf colour enlarge and may girdle the leaf.

These lesions progress to a pale yellow followed by brown necrosis resulting in collapse of the leaf tissue. Field infections usually begin in small patches and progress rapidly throughout the field.

Bulbs can be infected and may either rot in storage or if planted give rise to pale green foliage.

Conditions for disease development

The fungus survives in volunteer onion plants, onion sets, plant debris or in the soil. The fungus grows internally and continues to produce spores as long as the weather remains cool and wet.

Management of the disease

Farmers should put into place a prophylactic protective fungicide spray programme based on climatic conditions to reduce losses.

Avoid planting onion sets that are contaminated with the fungus. Eliminate plant debris and cull piles. Plant rows in the direction of the prevailing winds and use furrow irrigation rather than sprinkler.

A three to four-year rotation out of onions in areas where the disease is present can help reduce losses.

Purple blotch (Alternaria porri)

Symptoms of the disease

Older leaves tend to be more susceptible than younger ones. Symptoms begin as water-soaked lesions that usually have a white centre.

If the fungus invades the bulb, the infected area is initially bright yellow but eventually turns a characteristic red wine colour.


A fungicide spray programme utilising leaf wetness monitoring and broad spectrum protective fungicides applied prior to infection can provide good protection.

Keep moisture levels low by using surface rather than sprinkler irrigation, good field drainage and correct plant spacing can reduce disease development.

A rotation out of allium to unrelated crops for several years can reduce disease as well.

What is your gain?

A hectare of red creole onions would ideally produce 17 tonnes.  Average market prices for a kilo of onions are Sh50. This means that one would make at least Sh850,000 from the harvest.

The cost of planting the one hectare is around Sh100,000.

Onions take five months from planting to harvest. Currently, most farmers average three tonnes per month from small-scale farming.

The yield can double by simply reducing production expenses through labour and Good Agricultural Practices.

Peter Caleb,

Horticulture Scientist,

Department of Crops Horticulture and Soils,

Egerton University.


I need to contact Jackson Achiela or his employer Washington Omollo, the poultry farmers in Homa Bay County.

I have already started keeping chickens, but I picked the wrong breed.

Emmy Silayi

I was excited to read the Homa Bay farmer’s poultry story. Please help me with the contact of Jackson Achiela.

I have 100 chickens in Kitengela but diseases are disturbing me.


Editor: Please talk to Achiela on 0725818413 or Omollo on 0721583077.


I am writing in reference Laureen Aseka’s story. I am a young farmer and I would really appreciate if you could give me her contacts.

I would love to learn from her since we are in the same college.


I am Anthony Kinyanjui from Weteithie, a town between Thika town and Juja.

I was so impressed by Laureen’s story which made me think hard. She encouraged me not to have doubts in my dream. 

Kindly assist me with her contact so that I can visit her farm to learn more on furrow farming.


I am Arnold Murunga, a 25-year-old budding farmer.

Last year I started with watermelon farming and managed to advertise them in Seeds of Gold.

I am interested in expanding my knowledge in tomato farming and Laureen Aseka’s story was inspiration. I need to contact her.

I have been struggling to grow tomatoes in a greenhouse but the pests and diseases are too many.

I want to try the open field method and the stories of Laureen Aseka and Stephen Ndungu inspired me.

Samuel Gathege

EDITOR: Laureen is available on 0701213653.


I am Henry, a farmer from Baringo. I read about ornamental fish farming and I am very interested in it.

Kindly help me with Francis Kirima’s contact or any other.

EDITOR: Talk to Francis Kirima on 0722626951.


I would like to tell you this; thank you for the help you are giving farmers. May God bless you.

Kathleen Wachira

EDITOR: Thank you for your support and keep reading.


I read poultry farmer Gitahi’s story with keen interest. I want to know the following things.

First, how he mixes his chicken feeds and second, the market for his rabbits that he sells at four months old at Sh400 a kilo.

Mwanyai Siko

EDITOR: Please talk to Gitahi on 0720404421.


Please provide me with the contact of Margaret Nyaguthie, the mango farmer in Mbeere Mwea.


I read with interest the story of Margaret Nyaguthie who has a mango farm covering over 20 acres in Sagana. Kindly assist me with her mobile number as I would like to learn more from her.


EDITOR: Please talk to Margaret on 0721311763.


You carried a story on stinging nettle on January 17 and said the scientific name of the plant is Urtica dioica. I would like to correct you that the true name for the plant you featured was Urtica massaica. A botanical name stands for one and only one kind of plant and being internationally used, it does not vary from place to place.

Muruga Gachathi

EDITOR: Thank you for the correction.


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Our pool of experts from Egerton University will respond to your questions with proper advice.

Please send your questions to: [email protected] Read us online at www.nation.co.ke/seeds of gold