Diary of a Poultry Farmer: In defence of vilified telephone farmers

Friday March 10 2017
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A young poultry farmer, Abel Aluvaga from Kakamega, feeds his poultry birds. Before you plunge into farming big time, start small and learn the ropes of the trade. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


I have been following debate on telephone farming for some time and those who claim it is a recipe for failure are dead wrong.

Farming, generally speaking, is a risky venture and, in my case, I have used telephone farming to learn the ropes as I grow.

Like many big entrepreneurial ideas, my venture into poultry farming started as a passion which I pursued in my free-time over the weekend while keeping my 8am to 5pm job (Seeds of Gold, July 9, 2016).

The idea was to start small and learn from my mistakes, which I have recounted several times. As I have said before, learning comes from doing and no amount of preparation can replace the practical knowledge that only exists in use.

Before you plunge into farming big time, therefore, start small and run the ropes of the trade. If your target is 100 dairy cows, start with 5 or 10, even as a telephone farmer.

I have learnt a lot while undertaking telephone farming and I don’t think even hiring the best professionals in the field would have saved me from my mistakes.


Besides, I have interacted with people who ventured into farming big time for the first time using their pension or golden handshake and their experiences to say the least, were disappointing.

Again, I have also learnt that sometimes our passions can’t pay the bills. But that does not mean that having a side hustle is a waste of time if you are not making money from it.

My farming adventure has become the best pastime for my son Baraka, 5, and daughter Amani, 4. Instead of keeping them indoors to watch TV or play video games the whole day during weekends while sipping sodas, I get them to play and learn life skills and stewardship (Seeds of Gold, November 12, 2016).


Here’s the thing. Being there for your business 24/7 will add value but you still have to deal with high cost of feeds, poorly defined marketing outlets, nasty diseases, lack of capital for growth and unreliable workers.

When I first read the story of Hilda Kimata (Seeds of Gold, October 2015) a farmer in Nakuru who was pictured with hundreds of unsold eggs following a glut resulting from increased imports from Uganda, this was the question on my mind, “Would being there 24/7 for her business have helped her to cope with external shocks resulting from cheap imports of eggs from a neighbouring country?”

In my case, the cost of feeds accounts for up to 70 per cent of my total cost of producing an egg or chicken meat. I have tried to lower this by up to 40 per cent by formulating my own feeds.

However, starting November last year, the cost of white maize has been rising steadily from Sh34 a kilo to over Sh45.

Therefore, I was forced to stop formulating my own feeds because the savings were minimal if I consider the cost of transport, storage and the raw materials.

Now, even if I was there 24/7 for my poultry hustle, it would not have changed the cost of the feeds (Seeds of Gold, July 16, 2016).

It would not have opened up the marketing outlets that are poorly defined and often controlled by middlemen.

It would not have meant that I spend less time to invest in knowledge and skills to manage my enterprise.

The banks would not have lent me money to expand my enterprise just because I am there 24/7 for my business.


The diseases that have given me sleepless nights would not have vanished overnight. It would not have made unscrupulous traders who sell sub-standard livestock feeds to stop their trade (Seeds of Gold, January 2, 2016)

My point is that there are external and internal factors at play, whether you are undertaking telephone farming or you are there 24/7.

Of course to make telephone farming work requires extra effort. For instance, I have had to hire a trusted and qualified manager to oversee the day-to-day farm management and schedule daily telephone updates with the workers.

At the back of my mind, I know that sometimes I may be given wrong information but my policy is to trust what the workers say but always verify.

For now, there is only one limitation to becoming a large-scale poultry farmer and it is not related to telephone farming, it is lack of adequate capital.


Your Questions Answered

Anthony Maingi, Makueni: What are the pros and cons of rearing chicken under intensive system?

The merit is you keep diseases from neighbouring farms and predators at bay.

The downside is that you spend more money on feeds and diseases may spread faster if there is congestion.

Kibet Emmanuel: I fear my chickens might contract diseases.

Apart from routine vaccination and de-worming, I don’t give healthy chicken any medications. I only administer antibiotics to sick birds if the vet recommends.

Palvine Kioko: I wish to attend the next feed formulation training.

It is on March 25 and April 1st and 29. Send me an email to book.