When Michael Koome Mburugu bought a piece of land in Maili Nane, Buuri Constituency of Meru County, the lawyer and accountant did not imagine the predominant semi-arid landscape would be as fruitful as it is now.
The land, which the lawyer had been buying in bits, was 22 acres in 2013. He wanted to run an enterprise that would benefit him and the neighbourhood.
With his wife Jennifer Kago-Koome, who runs the Amboseli Institute of Hospitality and Technology in Thika, Mburugu planted onions, which was the craze then.
It was initially a shrub land and he figured that as a virgin plot, it would be very productive.
And productive it was but the onion option was a huge blunder. There was a glut in the market for the two seasons the couple grew onions.
“A kilo of onions sold for as low as Sh100. That made no economic sense,” Mburugu says, adding that he donated five acres of harvest to orphanages.
The couple then settled on keeping pigs after figuring out that the demand for animal protein would soar.
Goats and cattle were not viable options since grazing fields in the area, which is about five kilometres from Isiolo town, were diminishing. There is also an ever ready market for pork and bacon.
In 2014, the two bought 30 gilts and began keeping them on the five acres.
Later, Mburugu and his wife added 20 more. With time, the breeding stock grew to 220 pigs. On the five acres today are nine building blocks, each holding 26 or more pens. Every pen has at least a dozen animals.
Daiichi Farm Ltd has more than 2,700 Duroc, Landrace and Large White pig breeds. According to the couple, observing best animal management practices, investing in good feeds and hygiene as well as trained and educated personnel have contributed to the success of the enterprise.
Daiichi farm manager Daniel Simiyu, for instance, is a livestock management studies graduate from the University of Nairobi. Three other workers have similar qualifications.
The farm has 32 permanent employees and additional ones hired on a need basis. All the permanent workers, Jennifer says, live on the farm.
When Mburugu and his wife ventured into the business, they faced challenges, especially with regards to feeds.
“We bought expensive but bogus feeds from companies that are usually out to make a quick buck from gullible farmers,” the lawyer says.
This pushed them into making their feeds with help from Urban Farmer, a South African company, which has a branch in Nairobi.
A nutritionist from Urban Farmer is always at hand to administer the needed formulation.
The farm produces starter, lactating sow, dry sow, grower and finisher feeds.
New-born piglets are fed on their mothers’ colostrum until they are 10 days old. That is the time they are introduced to the starter feeds, which contain a concentration of energy and other nutrients. The other feeds are the then introduced as the piglets become older and gain weight.
They remain with their mothers until they are 35-days-old when they are weaned. At 90-days-old, the piglets are introduced to growers feeds.
“We make up to 6.5 tonnes of feed daily but the animals consume just 4.5 tonnes,” Simiyu says.
He adds that feeding is usually done in the morning, at noon and late in the evening, with a majority of the pigs eating just three kilos of feed daily.
The piglets are, however, fed when hungry as their eating is at times erratic.
Many also tend to start scouring when just a week old. Simiyu says the farm uses injectable antibiotics on the piglets when they scour. Optimal sanitation must be observed.
PROPER MANAGEMENT PRACTICES
Water is always available in the pens. The animals have been trained to drink directly from spouts mounted on the walls.
Dr Joseph Mugachia, the chairman of Garden Veterinary Services Ltd, says pigs should be given high quality feeds that are free of disease-causing organisms.
“The meat from such pigs is safe to humans while the animals are safe to others too,” he adds.
The vet says the African swine fever is among the most lethal pig diseases. It can wipe out an entire drove. No vaccines have been produced for the viral disease but biosecurity measures can be observed to curtail its spread.
Daiichi Farm has also had the challenge of transporting the animals to the market; largely constituting Farmers Choice Ltd and butcheries.
Lorries carrying the animals are at times arbitrarily ordered to pay cess.
Water was a big problem at the farm but it was addressed when the couple invested in a borehole.
“Our biosecurity interventions have ensured that diseases do not attack our animals. We don’t let anyone who has just been at another pig farm wander here,” Jennifer says.
After birth, the piglets’ teeth are clipped to prevent them from hurting their mother while suckling and biting one another.
Their tails are also docked to facilitate fast growth. When three days old, a piglet is given an iron injection, which protects it from anaemic conditions and improves their bones.
“Males are castrated when they are 21 days old,” Simiyu says.
State urged to stop bad imports
Mburugu urges the government to ensure sufficient access to quality breeding material for pigs.
“Low quality pig product imports hamper the local industry. We want to set up a value-addition component at the farm. We will begin producing pork and bacon products,” he says.
The farm’s remaining land is forested. The couple planted an additional 12,000 trees.