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Diary of a Poultry farmer: A few lessons on formulating your own feeds

Friday July 22 2016

The grains are collected and sold in retail to small poultry and animal keepers after millers have bought them from farmers.

Sieving the chaff from grains for making chicken and animal feed. The grains are collected and sold in retail to small poultry and animal keepers after millers have bought them from farmers. FILE PHOTO | TOM OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

SUBIRI OBWOGO
By SUBIRI OBWOGO
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Many poultry farmers are in a dilemma. To escape the high cost and sometimes poor quality of feeds in the market, they opt to formulate their own feeds.

But if the emails I receive are a guide, formulating own feeds doesn’t always yield satisfactory results for many farmers. Now, I have been formulating my feeds for over a year and have some valuable lessons to share.

One reader complained that at six months, her Kari Improved Kienyeji chicken weighed a mere 1.5 kilos and the hens had not laid a single egg.

At 12 weeks, she had substituted the commercial feeds with a home-made ration containing maize germ, whole maize, omena and sunflower cake among other ingredients. She decided to go back to the commercial feeds.

My experience with pure Kari improved Kienyeji breeds is that unless they are diseased, if the feeds are of good quality, they should start laying eggs at about four and a half months and the cocks should be hitting two kilos.

Another reader complained that her kienyeji hens had not laid eggs at seven months and after slaughtering, he noticed a lot of body fat.

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I can’t blame farmers in this predicament because when I decided to start making my own feeds, I made a lot of assumptions. I thought that if only I could have access to a “feed formula”, I would know how to make feeds.

At first, I searched on the internet and found some electronic spreadsheets that automatically calculate the amounts of carbs, proteins, fat and other ingredients I needed to mix.

I proceeded to buy the raw materials, weighed, mixed and gave the chicks. Guess what? The birds took a few pecks and spent the rest of the day staring at the mash.

I was disappointed and it was then that I decided to seek advice from experts. My brother, Dr Silas Obukosia, the agricultural biotechnologist, came in handy.

BOTH A SCIENCE AND ART

This is what he told me: “Formulating feeds is both a science and an art, a lifelong journey subject to testing and experimentation. You are misguided if you think you will get it right on the first, second, third or fourth time.”

He started with the “science” bit which he called “technical knowledge” before proceeding to the “art”.

He said: “Chicken, just like humans, require a balanced diet comprising carbs, proteins, vitamins and minerals for optimum growth.” He explained that carbs provide energy while proteins are necessary for growth and tissue synthesis.

He then talked about amino acid supplements like methionine and lysine. From my medical background, this was familiar territory and I sighed with relief. What was outside my radar were things like “coccidostat” and “mycotoxin binders”.

We then went to the “art”, or what he called “Practical knowledge”. He explained to me that unlike technical knowledge, practical knowledge only exists in use and although this type of knowledge can be imparted, it cannot be taught.

He explained that there was more to feed formulation than using spreadsheets that state what to mix and in what ratio. He explained how to substitute soya with fishmeal.

He cautioned me against using more than 12 per cent sunflower in layers mash, or using wheat bran for making chick mash. I learnt that soya must be baked before use to remove the “anti-nutritional’ factors that are fatal.

The biggest lesson was that after all is said and done, there are unscrupulous dealers out there out to make money by selling chalk in the name of feed raw materials.

PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE IS IMPARTED, NOT TAUGHT

“Feed formulas assume that the raw materials meet the percentage crude protein specified in the tables,” he explained to me. If you recall, I have been a victim of fake raw materials especially soya and maize germ.

I was once sold ground maize cobs as maize germ and I did not know until I received the test results from Kalro.

Then came the weighing. I had never heard about a chicken scale that weighs to the gram. Previously, I would take the minerals to a specialised lab to weigh for me.

The mixing was the most interesting part. “Feed ingredients must be selected correctly and mixed in the right ratio and one should not solely rely on a drum mixer,” he said. He first weighed the small quantities like vitamins, minerals and amino acid supplements.

He then put these in a basin and mixed using his hands. He then added sunflower cake and soya and mixed again in the basin.

It was only after he had mixed these ingredients that he put in the drum mixer and added the other ingredients like maize germ and wheat bran. Pouring all ingredients into a drum mixer at once gives poor results.

Every time I go through these steps, I realise what he meant when he said practical knowledge is imparted not taught.

He taught me two ways of testing quality of the compounded feed products: By feeding a few birds and observing their growth and behaviour or by taking a feed sample to a reputable lab like Kalro in Naivasha.

I have just sent a sample of fishmeal from a new supplier for testing to kalro. I will be sharing the results because I am using it to feed my three-week old chicks that I expect to start laying eggs by November or December.