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Feedback: Rains, ducks, deaths of calves

Wednesday May 8 2019

A farmer feeds her kienyeji chicken.

A farmer feeds her kienyeji chicken. Kari improved is a pure Kienyeji bird bred from a range of indigenous chickens in Kenya with known superior characteristics like growth rate and egg production. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

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Thank you for your agribusiness advice. I would like to know more on hydroponics. My thought is to start with fodder as I want to keep rabbits and kienyeji chickens.

Is it recommended to give them fodder? Who can I contact to get the seeds, nutrients and set-up? I would also like to do sample raft hydroponic system for lettuce, spinach and other vegetables. What is the cost and material required?

Glawie Lawrence, Kiambu

Hydroponics is a soil-free farming system where one can control the amount and rate of nutrient supply to crops. The idea behind hydroponics is to allow roots a direct contact with the nutrient solution and a good access to oxygen.

Crops grown by hydroponics are of high nutrient content, superior quality and mature rapidly. They may be grown with roots in nutrient solution only or in an inert medium.


For vegetable farming, there are different hydroponic system designs. You can consider drip systems/fertigation, wick, ebb and flow, nutrient film and deep water culture.

You may consider buying a complete kit or fabricate your own. For fodder, Hydroponic Kenya Ltd is a leading supplier for a system that is electricity-free.

With such a system, you can produce two kilos of fodder a day in one tray using two litres of water. The number of trays will vary with the housing space of your structure.

The costing can be estimated by the number of trays to be installed.

For example, a unit with 20 trays will cost at least Sh20,000 and a 40-tray unit around Sh40,000. The general requirements are a housing structure (shading net or greenhouse), hydroponic trays/container (tray for fodder and containers for vegetables), seeds, nutrient formulation — available in the market at formulations specific for a given crop and a reliable source of clean water.

Samuel Muhoro Kinyanjui,
Department of Agricultural Engineering, Egerton University.



Could you provide information on common duck diseases? Secondly, can you advice on yellow lupin seller. I have looked for one in vain.

Finally, what’s your take on khaki Campbell ducks kept for egg production: Can they be compared to chicken layers?
Nick Kinyua, Laikipia

Dear Kinyua,

Ducks are raised in a wide variety of conditions. They adapt well to a wide range of systems of care. Such systems include high temperature and special attention by the caretaker at early brooding stage, protection from extremes in weather conditions and predators.

A clean, dry sheltered area, clean water for drinking, a diet that provides all of the duck’s daily nutritional needs are also necessary.

Ensure adequate light stimulation, especially for layers and protection from disease. Caretakers must prevent ducks from becoming infected with disease by establishing and maintaining a biosecurity programme.

The birds should be immunised against infectious diseases. Minimise environmental stresses, which may cause ducks to become susceptible to infections.

Common duck diseases include duck virus hepatitis, duck virus enteritis, riemerella anatipestifer infection, avian cholera, colibacillosis, aspergillosis, aflatoxin poisoning and botulism.

On yellow lupins, kindly visit Kenya Seeds Ltd outlets or Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation. They could be having the seeds.

As the population of Kenya increases, demand for meat and eggs will rise.

Do a market survey in malls, supermarkets and hospitals. You can also open a duck eggs sale shop.

Ducks can be classified as meat, egg, herding and multipurpose breeds. The high egg producing breeds include khaki Campbell and Indian runner. One can produce more than 250 eggs a year.

Dennis Kigiri,
Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University



There is a lot of debate on food safety. Kindly break down this for an ordinary person. What is my role as a farmer in this debate


To begin with, food safety entails all measures taken during handling, preparation and storage of food. This ensures that what people eat is safe and free of contamination.

There are indications of a steady rise in food related illnesses that has attracted a lot of attention and continues to bring together relevant government and donor agencies, development organisations and research community to explore ways of mitigating this.

Illnesses arise when people consume foods that are handled unhygienically and produced or prepared in ways that enhance risks.

Food safety is interconnected. It is a shared responsibility and farmers have a great role to play since it begins at production.

One of the main reasons for the prevalence of food-borne illnesses is the use of fresh agricultural produce such as fruits, vegetables and milk.

Farmer interventions involve adopting good agricultural practices, thought planting, growing and harvesting; observing water quality; sourcing and using to acceptable levels or correct application or adherence to instructions on agrochemicals’ usage; observing withdrawal periods or pre-harvest intervals, among others.

Ethical practices during handling of harvested products are also desirable in the push for safety.

Lately, there have been deliberate attempts to increase awareness and train food producers in safety guidelines and standards along various value chains.

Producer compliance to these standards by carrying out self-audit checks would be a big boost to the whole food safety debate.

Felix Akatch Opinya, Department of Animal Science, Egerton University


When the rains come, I start losing my calves. How can I prevent this?

Japheth, Kisii

The rains might be back, presenting a critical time in raising calves. For dairy farmers, calf management during this season must be at the best, failing which they may suffer great losses.

Calf infections and possibly mortality can be influenced broadly by nutrition, low disease resistance and level of exposure to pathogens.

In the prevailing weather, the last two largely apply. This calls for extra attention, especially to newborn calves.

Generally, calves are less able to respond to cold weather compared to mature cattle. Science has it that most of the adipose tissues of newborn calves have the cellular morphology that help them deal with cold temperatures.

When it is cold, this special fat tissue is broken down, creating heat that helps the calf keep warm.

Very cold conditions can overcome this protective mechanism and calves may freeze to death, though this is rare. All these can in one way, or another be addressed by proper housing.

Over and above, creating low temperatures, rainy/cold weather conditions can have a great effect on the risk of hypothermia (exposure to excess cold) or wet conditions, which can kill newborns.

There are farmers who do not shelter their calves during the rains, which also exposes them to humid and cold conditions. That can be stressful to calves. If necessary, chilled calves should be taken in for warming.

As said earlier, these effects can be minimised by proper housing. Good calf housing provides shelter that protects them from rains and dry environment in form of bedding. Depending on the system of production, a calf’s house floor can be at ground level or raised.

If at ground level, the floor should be made of easily cleanable material (like concrete). It should also be easy to drain and be bedded with insulating material like dry straws.

Raised pens should have a slatted floor. The sides can be made of concrete or wooden.

Cold weather presents a high-risk period for the occurrence of calf pneumonia. Pneumonia is the inflammation of the lungs, which can result in mortality.

Even when housed, calves can still get infected. As a matter of fact, the disease is mostly associated with housed calves.

Since this is a ‘multifactorial’ disease, practice good hygiene at calving.

Ensure enough colostrum intake after birth as well as good nutrition for growing calves.

Houses for calves should be open enough to allow for good ventilation and lighting (artificial or natural) but not for draft (strong winds).

Remember, calf housing can also bear negative consequences since pathogenic organisms can build up and thrive in the stalls.

Therefore, finding the right balance of protecting calves from the cold and not exposing them to sicknesses such as scours (diarrhoea) especially during the rains or cold weather is a must.

This demands that high level hygiene is maintained. Cleaning and sanitising the pen and feeding equipment after every use can prevent the spread of scours.

Keeping beds clean and dry during cold weather can be challenging, especially when they unintendedly sop wet.

In such a scenario, the beds should be regularly replaced and more often for group housing.

Felix Akatch Opinya, Department of Animal Science, Egerton University



I have a small grove of hass avocado trees. I would be grateful if you could provide advice on spraying sulphur when the trees are blooming. What quantities do I use and at what frequency?

An avocado tree produces one or two million flowers in a single period, though only about 200-300 fruits mature. Every flower has a single pistil with one carpel and an ovule.

Avocado cultivars are grouped into two classes on the basis of their flowering behaviour.

Class A: Flowers open in the morning for two to three hours, functioning as females with a white stigma while stamens remain closed.

The flowers close around noon and reopen the following day during the afternoon for three to four hours working as males with stigmas not functioning.

Class B: Flowers open in the afternoon as females, with stamens remaining closed. These flowers close in the evening and reopen the next morning as males.

This phenomenon is called protogyny, diurnally synchronous dichogamy — common when warm weather prevails during flowering.

Spraying flowers with sulphur will not reduce the blossom drop. You have to know that the yield of an avocado tree increases with age.

According to Oxfarm, you will incur an expense of Sh40,000 on an acre of avocado.

Year One and Two: Growth.
Year Three: 200 to 250 fruits per tree, translating to Sh240,000.
Year Five: 800 fruits per tree — about Sh900,000.
Year Six: 1,000 fruits — Sh1.08 million.
Year Seven: 1,100 fruits — Sh1.3 million.
Year Eight: 1,300 fruits — Sh1.5 million.
Year Nine: About 1,500 fruits — Sh1.8 million.
Year 10: Expect more than 1,750 fruits per tree, translating to Sh2 million.

Please note that Hass avocado trees are spaced at five by five by metres to have 150 trees per acre. Every fruit sells for roughly Sh8.

Carol Mutua, Department of Crops, Horticulture and Soils, Egerton University



I hope this email finds you well. This is to request for guidelines on vegetable farming. I have been a keen follower of Seeds of Gold from its inception.

Your advice on agribusiness is great. I look forward to a favourable response.


Dear Matthew,

Thank you for showing interest in one of the most profitable farming ventures.

When planning for a vegetable farm, you should consider several factors.

Crops: Decide which vegetables to grow. This will depend on the demand and climate. Study the market carefully and adjust production accordingly.

System: Decide which system you will use. Will it be open or protected?

Layout: After deciding on the range of crops to be grown and the systems, the layout of the land must be planned.

Here, care is needed. If the layout is bad, changing it would be costly. Remember too that roads, irrigation pipelines or buildings are involved. If sited wrongly, it would cost you an arm and a leg to move them.

Cropping plan: Work out the rotational plan to be followed and details of cropping. This should be done early enough.
Land preparation: The cost of clearing and preparing land must be considered.

Labour needs: It is very important to plan for labour, especially when manual work is needed.

Fencing and windbreaks: If fencing or wind break is needed, decide on the type and material as well as placement.

Compost area: Decide on the location of the compost area and whether you will need a compost heap or pit. A compost heap/pit is necessary to provide a place for the disposal of organic debris.

It also serves as a source of organic matter for use in the farm. It is generally located close to the nursery in an area unsuitable for crop production.

Nursery siting/area: Lightly shaded areas are preferred or you may build a lath house. Preferably, the nursery area should be at most two per cent of the total land.

You would also need to decide on the type of nursery to use. Will it be a seedbed or containerised? If seedbed, will it be raised, flat or sunken?

Irrigation and distribution method: Decide whether irrigation will be needed. If yes, carefully choose the system and water source.

Carol Mutua
Department of Crops, Horticulture and Soils, Egerton University



Your services and advice are appreciated. Please provide information on where I can get a boar goat for the purpose of breeding.


Dear Murithi
I am not sure which part of the country you reside in. However, you can contact the Dairy Goats Association of Kenya. The Saanen breed, which has a white coat, is found in Homa Bay County around Rodi Kopany.

In Meru, you can get the Toggenburg breed in Nkubu while the Alpine type can be found in Mukurweini, Nyeri County

Agriculture is devolved and the county and sub-county livestock offices have records of dairy goat farmers and their contacts. Feel free to contact them.

Dennis Kigiri,
Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University



Hello. I would like to have information on turkey and geese keeping in Kitengela, Kajiado County. Kindly link me up with a farmer in that area.

Priscar Sau

Dear Priscar,

Like we said earlier, agriculture is a devolved function and information about farmers in Kajiado can be found at the county and sub-county offices for livestock.

Dennis Kigiri,
Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University



I have a small farm and would love to grow mushrooms in a room. I with to know how it can be done and get contacts of anyone involded in such type of farming.

Juddy Shally, Busia

It is good to hear that you have set your mind on agribusiness. Mushroom farming can earn you good money. Butter nut or oyster mushroom are fairly easy to produce.

First, get your spawn and substrates. You can produce spawn using culture or buy ready-to-inoculate spawn.

Producing your own is cheaper in the long run.

Straw or wood can be used as substrate. Straws are preferred because they can be chopped up and spread on a cool surface.

Place the substrate and the spawn on two plastic bags combined 2-3 inches until the bag is half full, close the top and poke holes.

Incubate the material and the growing area at 25 degrees Centigrade. The room should not allow sunlight. Since Busia is hot, you might have to consider buying a fan. Use the dark room light.

When you start noticing tiny pin head mushrooms near the air holes, move to the next step.

High levels of humidity should be maintained in the fruiting room. Temperatures should range from 20-25 degrees Celsius.

Unlike the incubation room, light is need here for at least 12 hours a day. This will shock the mushroom to start fruiting. Again, move the bags to a cool place. Cut the bag to allow mushroom growth to take place.

For Oyster mushroom, harvest the caps when they are fully uncurled. Harvest by twisting the stem off near the growing block.

For more information, contact Victor Kyalo on 0708486882.

Jayo Manyasi Tracyline, Department of Crops, Egerton University



I am a resident of Nanyuki, Laikipia County, and I’m interested in dairy farming but don’t know where to get a manual milking machine. Please help.

A. Kinyua

Anjeline Njeri

Visit any agrovet in Nanyuki and make inquiries about firms selling such equipment. Get contacts of suppliers, call them and you will get information on prices, availability, ease of use and maintenance.

You can also ask anything else about the machines before making a decision.

Dennis Kigiri, Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University.