James Nyamai pours the contents of the pail he is carrying into a grinding machine, a press on a switch button nearby and the machine roars to life.
A continuous mild crashing noise ensues as the machine grinds the ingredients.
In May 2012 when James, a 29 year-old mechanical and production engineering graduate, decided to quit his lucrative engineering job at Kalu Works Ltd in Nairobi, he only had one notion in mind; fully getting into farming.
Poultry farming has always been his passion, he had at one time taken over a servants’ quarters, when his parents lived in an apartment in Nairobi, and transformed it into a housing unit for his few chicken then.
Continued growth of his flock, meant a need for more space to accommodate the birds, necessitating a shift to their rural home, where the family owns a 22-acre farm, which they have christened African Green Farm, in Katheka-Kai Vota, less than 20 minutes’ drive from Machakos Town.
Here, in 2011, James bought 100 kienyeji birds, keeping them on free range, but within an enclosed area. However this didn’t work out as he envisioned.
“The birds took a very long duration of time to mature, forcing me to change tack,” says the graduate of Moi University, adding that he wanted a poultry venture that was a little bit quicker in giving returns.
Broiler chicken farming is what came to his mind, after conducting some research.
Through Cyprian Amakalu, the business advisor at TechnoServe, to whom he was introduced to by a friend, via a programme dubbed Africa Youth Agribusiness Programme (AYAP), he managed to expand on the poultry venture he had already started.
TechnoServe, an organisation that promotes agri-business solutions in developing countries by linking people to information, capital and markets, through AYAP supports youth in agri-ventures.
James attended trainings organised by AYAP at his former university, gaining much of the insight required to run the numerous agribusiness ventures available.
“Broiler farming is more profitable, uses much little space and takes a relatively short time to give the returns,” declares the now seemingly contented James.
“Two weeks ago, I had 1000 mature broilers and another 1000 chicks, now there are only 400 mature ones, and shortly I’ll buy 1000 more chicks, just to keep the market replenished,” he says of the dynamic venture.
James’ strategy is simple. He buys 1000 chicks each time and once they approach maturity age, he ships in another batch of 1000 chicks, usually from Mawadi Enterprises in Nairobi among other outlets, sometimes as far as in Uganda, ensuring there is constant supply of chicken for the market.
“The birds’ feeding has always been a challenge, as sometimes their prices soar unmanageably, while at other times the feeds quality gets compromised by the manufacturers,” he says noting an incidence in which he lost 100 birds at a go due to feeding them on feed that was perceivably adulterated.
This was just about the much that he needed as motivation to start producing his own chicken feed, as he didn’t want to lose more birds to that, compounded with the high feed prices constantly digging holes in his pockets.
He now saves between Sh15 and Sh20 for every kilo of feed that he makes, widening his profit margins.
Maize germ, sunflower seedcake, maize, cotton seedcake, soya, wheat pollard, fish meal and vitamin premixes are the main ingredients he uses to make the feeds, noting their ratios to ensure he meets the nutritional needs for the birds’ different age-groups.
He buys the ingredients from different suppliers mainly in Nairobi and Kitengela and the finished product can be fed directly as mash to the birds or made into chicken feed pallets, a process he performs in his feed manufacturing plant.
James established the plant in 2014, putting in more than Sh500,000.
His mechanical engineering background also came in handy as many of the machines in the plant are his own creations or modifications of other machinery to suit his prevailing needs, saving him money on that too.
He now makes about 1,500 kilos of feed every three days, to ensure there is no deficit of the commodity.
The feed he manufactures is currently for his flock’s consumption, but he is working on a strategy of going commercial with the feeds project, having already initiated the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) certification process.
Back in the coops, the birds are housed in separate units, capable of housing nearly 4000 birds, according to their maturity, while automatic drinkers dangle from the roof, ensuring constant supply of water pumped from a tank nearby, saving him the manpower needed to water them.
The venture however has its challenges. At one time power failure saw him lose 700 slaughtered birds at a go in the cooling facility.
He is however working on acquiring a power generator to check the re-occurrence of such events in the future.
James now runs two outlets in Machakos and Mlolongo from where he sells his already slaughtered chicken at Sh360 a kilo, with some of his birds clocking 1.5 to 2 kilos on the weighing scale.
The outlets also supply processed and packaged chicken products such as liver, kidney and gizzards.
According to Regina Gichuhi, the Community Investment Manager at Barclays Bank, who partnered with TechnoServe to run the programme sponsoring youth entrepreneurship in agriculture, they target mainly young people aged between 18 and 35 years old, who have a passion for farming activities such as dairy farming, poultry keeping and horticulture, among others, but lack the means to start the ventures.
Cyprian adds that their partnership offers such youth financial support, marketing, advice and business development strategies on related agricultural ventures, to curb youth unemployment through agri-business ventures.
Dr Victor Yamo, the council chairman at the Kenya Veterinary Association and also a poultry expert, says that poultry farming, broilers in this case, is economically viable in most of the areas in the country, semi-arid areas included.
He however notes that, while it is a lot cheaper to manufacture one’s own chicken feeds, with the ingredients mixed in the right ratios, the downside is that certain essential micronutrients and minerals such as coccidiostat, are easily overlooked by the farmer in the process, compromising the nutritional value of the feeds.
He nevertheless advises on watching out for diseases such as Newcastle, Infectious Bronchitis, Coccidiosis and Gumboro which are highly distressing to such a venture.
Dr Yamo adds that most of these diseases are easily controlled by better management practices such as timely vaccination, proper clean housing units, better feeding and constant cleaning of the feeding equipment.
“For such a venture to be successful, find a suitable market first, keep track of the climate and practice better management practices,” he says.