The rearing of improved indigenous chickens is widespread, with many farmers claiming they are making good returns from the business.
However, there is little data from the field to support these claims and to guide other farmers who wish to join the ventures. Particularly missing is what it costs to raise the birds. It is also important to acknowledge the challenges farmers face and proffer solutions.
Without factoring in the cost of inputs, it is difficult to figure out the profit of any business venture. From my personal experience, the main cost drivers are feeds (mainly commercial), transport, running costs (charcoal, sawdust, electricity, diesel and paraffin), labour, vaccination and utilities like feeders, drinkers and jikos.
Traditional indigenous chickens make about 76 per cent of the total poultry population and produce about 55 and 47 per cent of the total meat and eggs.
However, reported productivity from the breed is low due to genotype, poor feed conversion efficiency, diseases and low adoption of modern management practices.
The introduction of improved indigenous chicken was, therefore, a relief to farmers. Clearly, improved indigenous chickens have advantages over traditional ones because the former has undergone intensive selective breeding by primary breeders (universities and research institutions) to ensure optimum performance in terms of increased egg production and higher cold dressed weight.
My chickens started laying eggs at about 20 weeks (age at sexual maturity for traditional ones is six months and beyond) and the eggs weighed more. The cocks also weighed about 2.5 and 2.8kg.
However, the notion that improved indigenous chicken require low start-up capital and have low maintenance costs needs to be re-examined.
For a fact, I spent Sh102,468 to raise 100 Improved Kienyeji Chickens in the first six months, from October 17, 2014 to March 4, when the first egg was laid. I purchased the day-old chicks from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) in Naivasha after a 14-month wait.
Kari Kienyeji is a dual-purpose hybrid developed from pure indigenous breeds by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and Egerton University.
On average, feeds accounted for 43 per cent of the total amount I spent. Transport, running costs and labour accounted for 11, 10 and 10 per cent respectively. The cost of buying 100 chicks, utilities and vaccination (includes antibiotics and multivitamins) accounted for the remainder, 9, 8 and 6 per cent of the cost. A 50kg bag of quality chick mash, barely lasting two weeks, retails for Sh2,550.
Out of the 100 chicks I initially purchased, 77 survived to 20 weeks when they started laying eggs. Out of these, there were 42 cocks and 35 hens respectively. Tragedy struck after I had transferred 32 cocks out of the 42 upcountry to free-range and scavenge for food.
The decision was informed by the need to reduce cost of feeds. I planned to sell them and recoup Sh32,000 during the Christmas season (a bird retails for about Sh1,000).
Unfortunately, within three months, all the birds had died although they had received all scheduled vaccines. I suspected coccidiosis and fowl typhoid due to poor hygiene and lack of routine administration of antibiotics. Interestingly, the traditional varieties kept in the same upcountry farm did not succumb.
Cost aside, I still think raising indigenous improved chicken is a worthwhile venture but more support to farmers is needed. First, the primary breeders in conjunction with county governments should set up a data base of multipliers (investors who obtain day-old chicks from primary breeders and multiply improved birds through private hatcheries for sale to producers) to control the quality of breeds. This will ensure producers (farmers who rear birds for sale) only obtain flocks that are of proven performance.
Second, primary breeders should train extension officers and link them up with farmers. Many farmers lack basic knowledge of disease control and management.
Third, community collaboratives for best practices in poultry farming should be set up in every county to support joint learning. Fourth, marketing channels for products and live birds should be defined to protect farmers from exploitation by middlemen.
I have no doubt rearing improved indigenous chicken can be a profitable venture. From the 35 hens, I get about six crates of quality eggs which I started incubating two months ago. On average, I hatch 150 chicks every week and so far, I have a stock exceeding 700 birds of varying age.
Obwogo is a medical doctor and senior quality improvement adviser in health policy and systems strengthening. He has a special interest in organic poultry farming. Email:[email protected]