Dirty, untidy and filthy. These are words that are commonly used to describe a pigsties and pigs.
But pigs are some of the cleanest animals, and the pigsty can be one of the best places to sit and relax.
“It all depends on the farmer. How he takes care of the pigs will determine whether they are dirty or clean,” says Margaret Wathuti, a pig farmer.
Wathuti, who engages in pig farming in Kahawa West, Nairobi, has found beauty in rearing the animals to the amazement of her peers.
Residents call the 26-year-old msichana wa nguruwe (the girl who rears pigs) because of her love for the animals.
It was not difficult for Seeds of Gold to locate her in Kahawa West as all we needed to ask for was msichana wa nguruwe.
Her 26 pens, which occupy less than a half of her leased quarter-an-acre farm, hold over 60 pigs, and this does not include the piglets. The number is the threshold required by Farmers Choice, the largest buyer in the country.
“You only need five sows to reach 60 pigs,” she says as she lets us into her farm. “And to get these five sows, you only need one gilt (a young female pig that has not mothered), about two years and commitment.”
Margaret ventured into the business after failing to proceed to college when she finished high school in 2006. With just one Danbred Landrace gilt that she got from her uncle for free after telling him she wanted to rear pigs, sheer determination has brought her to where she is now.
“I used to think that lacking the money to study accounting killed my dreams, but when I look at my pigs, I believe they will one day hire an accountant for me,” she says.
After taking care of her first pig for some time, she enrolled for a month’s training at Farmers Choice and retook the course a second time to make sure she got it right. She still goes for training once a year to refresh her memory.
Today, she sells about 10 pigs after every three months for about Sh15,000 each depending on the weight. Margaret observes a strict rearing formula.
“They say pigs are noisy and dirty, can you hear any loud grunting? Can you see any flies? Is my pigsty smelling bad?” she asks as if reading our minds before we ask her why her pigs are that clean.
She has divided her sty into separate furrowing pens for almost mothering sows, weaned piglets, fattening and dry pens for sows in early pregnancy. All these are cleaned after each two days using a detergent and a lot of water.
“If you keep your pens clean, there is no need to clean the pigs physically. Pigs love rubbing themselves against the walls and roll on the floor when bored and this cleans them naturally,” she says.
Unlike most farmers who feed their pigs with leftovers sourced from markets, hotels and schools, hers are only given manufactured feeds. She fortifies the feeds with Sunflower seeds, soya beans, crushed dry maize stalks, rice bran and dagaa (omena) that she sources from Gikomba market. She does this twice daily at 8am and 5 pm.
“When you feed them with leftovers from other sources, you don’t know where the food has come from and it contains a lot of worms because most of it is stale,” she says.
“This slows down the pig from achieving its desired weight on time, plus you will be calling a vet from time to time, so you think you are saving money, yet in essence you are losing lots of it.”
At 1pm every day, she feeds all of her pigs with fermented milk stored in a large 200 litre blue container.
“Milk has a lot of nutrients. That is a universal fact. That is why babies are fed on milk only for the first six months of their lives. It is a booster and makes them grow quickly and maintain good health,” she adds.
She has made arrangements with milk sellers and farmers to supply her with milk they fail to sell, most of which is stale. This is acquired very cheaply at Sh15 per litre and she does the fermenting herself.
When her sows are on heat, she borrows boars from other farmers and makes sure they are Danbred Landrace breeds because they mature faster, have good feed conversion and are among the breeds preferred in making bacon and pork sausages.
She sells her pigs to Farmers Choice when they reach seven months at Sh220 per kilo.
As a lady, does she fear dirt?
“In pigs business, if you fear dirt, then you fear success and thus you will die poor. So you have to teach yourself to do any work as so long as it makes money.”
Patricia Chami, an animal production research officer at Farm Africa, says there is lack of information on the correct methods of rearing pigs.
“Pigs are quintessential biological recyclers, foragers, and grazers. They love to eat almost anything they have access to,” she says.
“Because of this, most farmers feed pigs with leftovers, which is dangerous. If you want to do it commercially, feed them with the accredited feeds for protein, specifically lysine.
“Pigs will happily drink fresh milk but you may find that it’s worth your time to “age” your milk in barrels for a few days before feeding them. This will help the pigs digest it more efficiently,” she explains.