Trees sway gently to the mid-morning breeze and birds chirp incessantly as I navigate my way in Westlands, Nairobi, to Dr Subiri Obwogo’s home.
It is not difficult to trace the block of flats where he lives as the storey buildings can be sighted from a distance.
After security checks at the gate, the guard gives me direction to Dr Obwogo’s house located on the first floor of one of the flats.
I meet him on the staircase and he ushers me into his house, not different from that of any other middleclass family in Nairobi.
But there is more. The medical doctor is a poultry farmer who hatches chicks for sale at his flat.
Driven by passion for poultry, Dr Obwogo has converted his laundry area at the back of his house into a hatchery.
The 1 by 6m space hosts a 528-egg capacity incubator and three carton brooders measuring a metre-squared each, where he keeps the chicks depending on their sizes before he sells them.
“These ones hatched less than 10 minutes ago,” says Obwogo as he opens the incubator’s door to reveal over 100 chicks.
“They can now survive outside the incubator,” he adds as he puts the Kienyeji chicks into one of the brooding boxes.
The medical doctor – a general practitioner, started poultry keeping in 2010. He was doing it at his rural home in western Kenya but not for commercial purposes.
KEROSENE FOR DIGESTION
He went into commercial poultry farming over a year ago after buying 100 indigenous chicks from Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) in Naivasha at Sh100 each.
“When I bought the 100 chicks, I did not even have proper background on poultry farming. I had read mostly in books but I had no practical experience,” recounts Obwogo.
About 20 of the chicks died due to poor care at the laundry area and diseases as they stayed in the brooding boxes for over a month.
He later transferred them to a house in Parklands, where other members of his family live. Soon, the about 35 hens (the rest were cockerels) started to lay eggs, and Obwogo, who had then toyed with the idea of selling eggs switched to hatching.
“I saw a good business opportunity in selling chicks because many people were keeping chickens for eggs.”
The farmer then bought the incubator at Sh66,000 and placed it at the laundry space, together with the make-shift brooders.
“I then worked with an electrician to connect the gadget and light the three brooders to keep the chicks warm as my business took off.”
Since he started the business, Obwogo has not let his clients down, despite his small space. On the day of the interview, he was sending 200 chicks to a farmer in Siaya.
The chicks’ business is at his home in Westlands, while he keeps the mature birds, about 300 of them at the servant quarter’s in Parklands.
He gets more than 180 eggs every week for hatching from the laying brood of 35 hens, served by 10 cockerels.
Once the eggs hatch, Obwogo transfers the chicks to the makeshift brooders.
He feeds them on chick mash and mixes their water with glucose for energy.
“I also add some paraffin in drinking water to help in digestion. At this stage, their intestines are still weak, thus, the kerosene helps.”
At three weeks, just before another set of chicks are hatched, he transfers the birds to the farm in Parklands, that is, if his clients would not have bought them.
“At the Parklands pen, I have partitioned the room to serve the chickens according to their ages,” says Obwogo, who has another chicken farm in Njiru, where he keeps over 1,000 birds and hatches the chicks onlyby order.
Having immense interest in poultry farming, the medic who works for University Research Company and holds a Masters in Public Health, makes his own feeds.
“I use maize germ, wheat bran, sunflower and fishmeal (only by) as the source of carbs and proteins.”
He prefers maize germ to whole maize because the former has 14 per cent Digestible Crude Protein (DCP), which is more nutritious than whole grain maize, which has 9 per cent DCP.
“One doesn’t need to include both ingredients. You must also master the rations to make quality feeds,” says the doctor, displaying his love for poultry farming.
To use soybeans in place of fishmeal as a source of protein, he advises that one should watch out to avoid poisoning the chicks.
“Soybean is one of the highest sources of proteins but before you use it, bake it. The reason is that it has a chemical called anti-trypsin, which needs to be inactivated by baking at 180 degrees centigrade, especially if it is to be used in poultry feeds.”
The farmer resorted to making his own feeds to be assured of quality.
“I recently subjected a sample of maize germ from one supplier to a quality test. The results showed it was fake because the miller was grinding maize cobs and selling as maize germ.”
He also tested a sample of chick mash from a miller he considered reputable, and found the results disappointing as the crude protein value was 15.06 per cent against the recommended 18-20 per cent.
Obwogo reckons that this is what is killing the poultry industry as farmers are exploited.
According to him, poultry farming is a rewarding business but it needs a lot of patience.
“My first brood of chickens started laying eggs at about 20 weeks. By that time I had spent close to Sh100,000,” says the doctor, who easily strikes a balance between his full-time job and poultry business by supervising the making of feeds and vaccinating the chicks during weekends.
He sells day-old chicks at Sh100 and mature cocks that have attained 4kg at Sh1,000 to individuals and farmers group.
He also sells eggs at Sh320 a tray.
“I enjoy doing what I am doing because it gives me satisfaction, profit aside,” says the father of two who has employed four workers that he pays using proceeds from his chicken farm. He has also bought a stand by generator for use in his chick farm when there is no electricity.
His biggest challenge is space as the indigenous chickens require movement. However, he has tried to compensate for this by making for the chickens perches.
“The cost of electricity is high making it expensive to use the incubator for 21 days and to take care of the chicks when they are hatched from a day-old to three weeks. During this time, the chicks need heat for their growth,” says the farmer, whose monthly electricity bill comes to an average of Sh7,000.
Sophie Miyumo, a poultry expert from Egerton University, says one can use any material to construct brooders as long as they keep the chicks warm.
“Poultry farming need not be expensive. The most important thing with brooders is that the chicks are warm and you supplement warmth by heating the facility using a bulb or even a jiko.”
She adds that to make chicken feeds, one must master the ingredients and principals of poultry nutrition.
“You must know what ingredients give you protein and carbohydrates and in what quantity. Then add lime for calcium, minerals and premixes for vitamins,” she explains, discouraging the use of crushed maize cobs in poultry feeds because they have no nutritive value.
How to bring cost of feeds down
Sophie Miyumo, Egerton university
To bring the cost of chicken feeds down, the medical doctor advises the government should allow millers to import yellow maize duty free.
Maize is the main ingredient for making animal feeds and is also a staple food in many parts of Kenya, thus, using it makes animal feeds compete with human feed increasing the cost.
Poor quality feeds lead to slow growth, low egg production, diseases or even death.