American author and businessman Clement Stone coined the now famous quote: “When life hands you a lemon, squeeze it and make lemonade.”
This dictum rings true to Michael Wanyoike, 66, to whom the 2007/2008 post-election violence handed a lemon. He did not sulk or curse after the 12 beef cattle he was rearing at his 50-acre Kongoni Farm in Isinya, Kajiado County, were stolen by people who took advantage of the chaos to disinherit others. He lost Sh300,000 in the theft.
After the chaos, he picked up the pieces and eight years later, he has risen to be the best Farmer’s Choice bacon producer in Kenya for three consecutive years in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
“I bought the farm in 2003 but did not know how to utilise it to make money. In early 2007, I was advised by a friend that Isinya was very ideal for beef cattle. I took the advice and bought 12 mature animals at Njiru market in Nairobi.
There was a lot of fodder on my farm and in six months, the animals were fat enough for the market. But as I was readying to sell them, thugs, who were taking advantage of the 2007 chaos took away all the 12,” narrates Wanyoike.
Despite the setback, Wanyoike did not abandon his quest to put the land in the semi-arid region into good use. In 2009, with no previous experience, he ventured into pig farming.
“I realised that cattle keeping in the area is prone to rustling. It was at that moment that I decided to get into pig farming since the animals are rarely stolen.”
Having held a white collar job all his working life, the father of four did not know where to start to actualise his new dream. But Farmer’s Choice extension services came in handy in actualising the former BAT Kenya human resources director’s dream.
“They gave me the basic information on pig farming. But what was more important is that they recommended me to some accomplished farmers in Nairobi and Murang’a, who I visited. These visits gave me the inspiration and confidence to implement my plans. Since then I have been learning new things every now and then.”
After the learning experience, he was ready for the toil, which he started by purchasing his first stock of six pregnant sows at Sh30,000 each from Farmer’s Choice.
From that moment, he has never looked back and listening to him now talk about pig farming, and what it takes to produce the best bacon in the country, you could easily take Wanyoike who has 550 pigs at any moment for a university professor with a PhD in animal husbandry.
Wanyoike, whose pig farming knowledge is from practical experience right from the onset, attributes his success to pig management practices that he adheres to.
“I make sure that I keep breeds that are good farrowers (giving birth prolifically) and fast-maturing,” he says. On his farm, Wanyoike keeps three breeds for various reasons.
These are Landrace, Large White and Duroc. Landrace are long, big, farrow more and are very good mothers. On the other hand, Large White are big and strong while Duroc grows very fast, puts on weight fast and are heavy.
“Farrowing should be at least twice a year. I make sure that the sows are properly fed and kept in good health to ensure they come to heat soon after farrowing. Equally important is that boars should be well-fed and be healthy for proper serving and prevent spreading of diseases.”
He is excited about the recent introduction of artificial insemination services for pigs that enhance the chances of achieving two farrows a year.
“In the last two months, we have been using AI on our sows. This is a milestone as it guarantees quality breeds while reducing the risk of disease infections through mating. We purchase semen a dose at Sh1,500 from Farmer’s Choice and do the serving ourselves on the farm".
For optimal returns on investment in pig farming, Wanyoike focuses on ensuring that each farrow has at least 10 piglets a litter.
GOOD SELECTION OF BREEDERS
“The number can be up to 15 but on my farm the average is 12. Anything less than 10 is not good business. To achieve a good litter, you have to do good selection of the breeders, ensure they are healthy and stress-free.”
Another factor that he considers is to make sure that his piglets weigh at least a kilo each.
“This is very important because the birth weight indicates the health of the piglet and how it is going to mature. A piglet weighing below one kilo will need more time with the mother, is delicate and susceptible to stress and diseases and will also cost more before going to the market compared to the one with good weight. What is important to keep in mind is that the weight of the piglets depends on the health of the mother.”
On his farm, weaning is done a month after birth. “A pig’s gestation period is three months, three weeks and three days. This means that if you wean after one month, the mother should move back to production cycle soon enough and, therefore, help you achieve the two litter a year target,” explains Wanyoike.
“The weight gain for the piglets has to be properly managed. We strive to ensure that at weaning, the piglets weigh between 7 and 8kg. At three months, they should weigh 20kg and, thereafter, gain 0.45kg daily,” he adds.
In most cases, Wanyoike sells his pigs for slaughter when they are six months. At this time the pigs’ live weight is usually between 90 and 105kg each.
“At around six months, the pigs stop putting on weight. This means that if you do not sell them at that age, they will be eating into your profits as you will continue feeding them although they are not gaining weight.
This will also interfere with the quality of the carcass, especially the fat-depth, which is very critical in grading of meat quality.”
COST OF FEEDS
One of the biggest challenges facing pig farmers is the quality and cost of feeds available in the market. Wanyoike has been able to overcome this by making his own feeds.
“When I started my project, I could not get quality feeds. I tried mixing the feeds to attain the recommended quality but this was tedious and costly. To overcome this challenge, I decided to establish a feed factory in Thika, Bewa Animal Feeds, where I make feeds for my pigs and also sell to other farmers,” says Wanyoike, who makes the feeds from wheat bran, wheat pollard, maize germ, soya, omena, sunflower and vitamins and mineral supplements.
Equally important to feed is water and he has sunk a borehole for his animals.
The services of qualified personnel are also key to success at Kongoni Farm.
“Recently, I engaged a trained graduate in animal husbandry and this has turned around my business. Since she took over, we are able to achieve our quality targets. There are no short cuts to using experts for a successful venture in pig farming,” says Wanyoike. He has also engaged the services of two skilled workers and two casuals.
Wanyoike, who says his family gives him moral support although none seems to be interested in joining him in this farming, has started reaping big rewards from his pig farming business.
He sells at least 50 pigs every month at an average of Sh14,000 a head to Farmer’s Choice, the biggest processor of pig products in Kenya. He hopes to increase this number to 100 given the improved management practices in his farm.
He is encouraging more people to venture into the farming given the rising consumption of pork and other pig products in the country driven by the bulging middle class and influx of expatriates, especially Chinese.
Initially, artificial insemination services among pig farmers was an expensive venture because they had to import semen from as far as Britain. The service was, however, introduced by Farmers Choice few months ago to boost quality of pig breeds. A dose of semen costs Sh1,500, and a pig is served twice for a complete dosage. The storage box is cold enough and can safely store the semen for about three days by keeping it under 17 degrees Celsius.
Peris Wangari, the farm manager at Kongoni Farm in Isinya, Kajiado County, says sows need to be prepared before they are inseminated, a process which takes between four to five days.
“Once a sow has shown sign of heat, for instance mounting on others, it is brought to interact with a boar for a few hours every day to stimulate it,” Wangari said.
“When the sow is ready for insemination, its vulva is washed using a disinfectant to prevent infections, if any, from entering the pig’s uterus.”
The catheter (a flexible tube used for insemination) is inserted through the animal’s vulva after which a bottle of semen is discharged into it.
“The catheter is inserted upwards so that it goes into the animal’s uterus,”Wangari said, adding the dosage is given twice to minimise errors.
The farm inseminates about 10 pigs every month so that as a bunch of animals are sent to the market, a new set of piglets are delivered. The planning ensures they never run out of pigs to deliver to their buyer.