Today I want to take stock of my run in poultry business and talk to anyone who wants to get into this trade. For lack of a better name, let’s just call this a ‘State of the Union address to the poultry nation’.
My poultry adventure began as a hobby about five years ago. I started with 30 hens and three cockerels of the indigenous variety, which I bought from a neighbour. That was probably my first mistake.
It is not that the birds were sick, but, for two years, I could barely rear chicks beyond two months and they kept dying despite vaccinating them on time.
Mortality at two months was as high as 80 per cent. One farmer told me that my birds had been bewitched by an envious neighbour who didn’t want me to succeed.
Of course, I didn’t buy into that witchcraft theory. I suspected uncontrolled in-breeding where year-in, year out (and probably for generations), the same cocks were used for breeding and, as a result, I ended up with weaker breeds that were susceptible to diseases and of poor productivity.
I finally had my breakthrough in October 2014. After waiting for about a year, my order of 100 day-old chicks from Kalro came.
Five months later, the hens started laying eggs and the cocks weighed above 2kg. The mortality at six months was about 12 per cent, and certainly not from diseases.
PRODUCTIVITY IN ANIMALS
I was sure at this point that I could control poultry diseases and improve egg and meat production. I also started formulating my own feeds and this lowered the cost by about 30 per cent for a 70kg bag.
When I looked at the four determinants of productivity in animals—genetics, disease control, feed quality and feed conversion efficiency— I realised I was ready to commercialise my poultry business.
The next obvious thing was to develop a marketing and branding strategy. The plan was to ensure that my products were on leading supermarket shelves in six months.
For progress, I registered a company called Kienyeji Kenya and came up with a slogan to match: “fresh and flavoured by nature”.
Four weeks ago, I received a Kenya Bureau of Standards mark meaning I can now supply my products to supermarkets.
However, this certification had been six months in the queue and as fate would have it, my egg production has fallen drastically. It is certain I can’t meet the demand if a supermarket asks me to supply.
From a high egg hatch rate that ranged between 50 to 70 per cent, I am now getting a low of five per cent from a batch of 200 hens that are barely one-and-a-half years into their laying cycle.
I can’t figure what the problem is because deworming the hens has not helped.
My dream of being a major supplier to supermarket, therefore, is now on the ice.
EXPECT MANY DISAPPOINTMENTS
Earlier in the year, I disposed all the mature cocks but disaster struck when I brought in the new batch of about 300 chicks.
I have lost 171 out of the 300 chicks in three weeks.
Three days ago, Dr Mugachia of Gardenvet Nairobi visited my farm and conducted a complete and systematic review. I am waiting for his report to see what changes I need to make to bring the venture back to profitability.
The bottom line is that if you want to get into poultry farming, expect many disappointments, however right you do things.
Then there are the incessant calls to vets who will sometimes give conflicting advice, unreliable marketing channels and unpredictable egg production and workers.
For now, take this as a warning, not a threat, there is no quick money to make in poultry.
I have come to learn that agri-preneurship calls for perseverance, resilience and a tough mind.
It also requires taking calculated risks although these must be balanced with rewards. I have learnt to focus on the goal and ignore the distractions.