The force of River Thika has diminished, its waters flowing lazily as they leave behind twigs and all manner of dirt they usually drag along on their way to the mighty Tana and then on to the Indian Ocean.
It has not rained for a long time and the river has lost its vigour.
“In March when the rains have started, you can’t be near this river because the water has a lot of force, but fortunately it has never flooded,” says Kenneth Macharia, 54.
Macharia has seen the river swell and shrink since 1995 after he bought half-an-acre next to it and established a farm.
The river has become his source of inspiration as he enjoys his retirement after working as a technician in the Ministry of Transport from 1978 to 1995.
However, despite being next to a stable water source, he does not grow crops.
On one corner of the farm are two ponds, where Macharia, his wife and children keep ornamental fish and other breeds like catfish.
Away from the ponds, there is a poultry coop with 3,000 chickens, mainly the Kuroiler breed. The Macharias hatch and sell chicks and eggs.
A dairy unit is not far from both the fish ponds and the poultry coop. The family keeps 19 dairy cows that produce 100 litres of milk every day.
However, it is not the proximity to the river or the three agribusinesses that make the family’s farm unique.
It is the way they manage it. Each family member manages a unit of the business, with Macharia handling the dairy farm, his wife Margaret (50) and son Kevin (27) handling the poultry unit while one of his daughters Maureen Nyambura (23) the fish business. The lastborn Diana Wambui (16), who is in secondary school, helps across the farms.
“When we moved into this farm as a family, we had one thing in mind; to start farming. We discussed and settled on the name Sky Blue Farm ,” says Macharia, adding that as parents, they considered themselves as a river, where their children, the tributaries can flow from and have their own life.
Each family member is responsible for what happens in their business and must ensure they bring in profit. They tell Seeds of Gold how it all works.
Margaret: I fell in love with the kuroiler breed
I manage the farm with my son Kevin Macharia, who is our first born and a fourth year Environmental Science student at Kenyatta University.
I have been rearing chickens since 1989 when I was still a young mother to supplement my husband’s income.
I was keeping both layers and broilers until 2010 when I switched to kienyeji chicken after visiting Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation stand in Thika Agricultural Show.
I was impressed with the chickens and I decided to give them a try. This saw me expand my brood to over 1,000 and start hatching my own chicks.
It is then that I brought my son on board because the number of birds increased.
After rearing the breed for about three years, we learnt of kuroilers early last year and my son got interested. We invested Sh200,000 as starting capital in buying the chicks from Uganda.
He bought 500 kuroiler chickens. We are now rearing over 3,000 chickens on our farm.
We collect over 10 crates of eggs every day, which we supply to several shops in Thika town. This gives us an income of between Sh100,000 and 150,000 every month, with a crate going for Sh300.
On my son’s advice, we recently bought an incubator that holds over 3,000 eggs.
We hatch both kienyeji and kuroiler chicks, but farmers mainly love the latter because they are hardy.
Overall, my husband oversees the project and handles the finances while I deal with purchasing feeds and other necessities. I also ensure each animal is vaccinated to prevent disease outbreak.
Maureen: I love ornamental fish and aquariums
My work is to ensure that everything at the fish farm goes well, including looking for market. I balance the work with my studies at Kenyatta University, where I am a third year film student.
The fish farm mainly comprises two fish ponds that host catfish and various species of ornamental fish.
My father started the business in 2012 with 1,000 tilapia and catfish. We then diversified to ornamental fish which led to aquarium business. In a good month, we make a profit of about Sh100,000 from this.
One of the 8 by 9ft fish ponds hosts catfish while the other houses gold fish, yellow comet, fantail, sword fish, shubunkin fish, sword fish and koi cup fish that we sell to ornamental fish lovers.
We normally harvest catfish after it attains about 1kg at eight months. A kilo goes for Sh200 while we sell the ornamental fish per inch. It depends on the type but prices range from Sh200 to Sh300.
We also make different types of aquariums. So far, we have four types namely wall mount, tank, coffee table and TV trolley.
We sell to people according to the design, with the lowest going for between Sh35,000 and Sh40,000, exclusive of the ornamental fish.
This is our newest business and I am the one who proposed it after doing some research on the internet. We started by outsourcing the construction of the aquariums but we are now making our own under the name Sky Blue Production, which has employed two people.
So far we have constructed and sold more than 35 indoor and outdoor aquariums.
The raw materials include special glass, silicon, lighting system, aeration system, heater, water treatments, sand, beautifications like castles and plants.
We get our fees and pocket money from the business based on how they perform. If my brother or I make more money, we are given more university upkeep cash.
Also, at the end of the year, we have a family outing to help us bond, evaluate the strides we have made and focus on what to do the following year.
Kenneth: Milk is my business
I started this project in 1995 with two Friesian cows that I bought at Sh40,000 each.
I have been upgrading the quality of my cows using both imported and local semen. We now have seven lactating cows and produce an average of 100 litres a day.
We have 13 heifers, four in-calf; very soon we will start getting more than 150 litres of milk a day.
From the milk we get, we take 70 litres to a shop we own in Thika where 40 is used to make yoghurt and the rest mala. The other 30 we sell to our neighbours at Sh50 a litre. The milk business fetches us a net profit of Sh70,000 a month.
One of the things we do not compromise about is hygiene. We clean the dairy unit each day and use the dung to make biogas for our home use.
The most challenging part is when our children return to school.
This forces myself and their mother to oversee everything, which is demanding. Sometimes we have to hire more people to help us.
But they come at least twice or once a month and see how things are faring.
The best thing about this is that it has brought us together as a family. It is motivating us to work together and achieve a common goal.
I am now confident that if I retire or my age does not allow me to work on the farm, my children will steer it to the next level.