Mudete is a small trading centre in Vihiga along the Chavakali-Kapsabet Road, but it is one of the busiest in the county particularly on market days.
About a kilometre from the market centre in Nabwani village, Maxmillah Muhalia runs her poultry farm.
I find her dressed in a green blouse, a khaki pair of trousers and black sandals feeding her chicken with layers mash.
She later moves to the laying nest to collect eggs. This is part of her routine when she arrives at her rural farm after every two weeks, where she keeps 200 Kari Kienyeji chickens, 144 of which are
hens, 33 cockerels and the rest chicks. She also keeps four guinea fowls.
“I run my poultry farms in Vihiga and Nairobi. In Vihiga, I mainly keep the birds to get eggs for hatching in Nairobi. I sell fertilised eggs, birds for meat and hatch chicks,” says the farmer, who started the venture in 2014.
Maxmillah recounts that she would come home over the December holidays and saw how prices shot up.
“It pained me that to buy some for the festive season, one had to spend a lot. I saw there was money in it. This pushed me into starting my own business,” says the mother of two.
but unlike other farmers, she did not buy chicks, Maxmillah went for an incubator and fertilised eggs.
“By the time I was starting, I had not put up a poultry house and I didn’t have enough funds, which made me go the hatching path. Again, I did not want to fall prey to traders who sell chicks that turn out not be the KARI Improved breed.”
BOUGHT AN INCUBATOR
She bought an incubator with a capacity of 42 eggs at Sh20,000, with the money coming from her savings. She then bought fertilised eggs at Sh1,350 from a farmer in Luanda in the county.
“Out of the 42 eggs, I hatched 38 chicks. At first we were excited, opening the incubator frequently without realising it let air in, thus, affecting the humidity. We isolated a corner in our house as
the brooding point for the chicks,” says the farmer.
Currently, Maxmillah has five incubators, four with a capacity of 42 eggs and the other 528, all in Nairobi.
“I had to move the incubators to Nairobi because that is where we are based and can monitor the humidity and temperatures. Besides, there is no regular power in the village and in Nairobi, we
have a solar backup,” she adds.
The farmer collects 350 eggs every week. She has a parent stock of 77 birds comprising of 64 layers and 13 cockerels.
She packs 200 eggs in boxes and she picks them when she visits the village or they are transported via courier for hatching, the rest are sold to farmers at Sh30 each to raise money for feeds. She
buys more eggs for hatching in Nairobi.
During the incubation process, the farmer keeps the temperatures at 37.8 degrees Celsius and humidity of 55 to 65 percent for 18 days.
“On day 19 to 21, I step up the humidity to 80 percent and the temperature remains at 37.5 degrees Celsius. Once the chicks hatch, we administer the vaccines against Gumboro and Newcastle
Disease, among others.”
The farmer sells chicks at different ages with prices ranging from Sh110 to Sh150 for week-old chicks.
“Most farmers buy three-week-old chicks because they are already vaccinated and easy to manage. Three week-old chicks go for Sh220, a-month-old at Sh250 while two and three-month-old for
Sh450 and Sh600 respectively,” says the farmer, who supplies the chicks in Nairobi, Meru and Kirinyaga.
She sells hens at Sh800 and mature cocks for Sh1,500 mainly for breeding to women groups in Vihiga, farmers in Kakamega, Kitale and Nandi.
“I buy two 50kg bags of layers mash and 70kg of growers mash every week, which costs me Sh2,400 and Sh2,500 each respectively,” says the 48-year-old who runs an insurance firm in
Nairobi. She is currently learning how to make her own feeds. She has employed a worker who takes care of her chickens in Vihiga. She also regularly consult a veterinary officer.
The farmer has had her share of challenges in running the poultry venture. In February, she lost 70 chicks to fowl pox.
“I had 180 two-month-old chicks with swollen pimples around the eyes, combs and wattle.”
Amos Amenya, an agronomist at the Lake Basin Development Authority, says hatching fertilised chicks from the beginning, then growing them to parent stock, helps one to be sure of the history
of the flock, their breeding ratio and the vaccination. However he warns farmers some viral diseases are carried in eggs.
“Timely vaccination against fowl pox is important and the farmer should isolate the affected flock and get rid of them. If possible sell off those that survive.”