Some of the chickens squawk, others fly from where they had perched to rest when they see Felix Ochieng opening the door of the coop, a white bucket in his right hand.
In a typical case of classical conditioning, once the birds see the white bucket, they know their food has come.
Ochieng and his agribusiness partner Daisy Otuoma keep tens of kienyeji chickens, layers and broilers in Mamboleo, Kisumu County.
Theirs is a story of hope and audacity to dream big as they seek to create a thriving social enterprise.
While the layers are kept in cages, the kienyeji birds and broilers are under the deep litter system.
“We have between 1,500 and 2,000 birds. This farm is our holding ground where we keep mainly birds sourced for farmers temporarily before sale. We also brood kienyeji chicks for farmers,” says the economics and sociology graduate of Egerton University.
While he had a passion for chicken farming, he fully plunged into the business after losing a job at an NGO that he had landed soon after graduating in 2014.
“It was a contract job where I did data entry but once it ended, I thought why not employ myself,” recalls the 30-year-old, noting he started his business and later met Daisy at a poultry workshop in Kisumu in 2017.
They realised they can combine efforts by using their knowledge, Ochieng as an economist and poultry farmer and Daisy as a marketer, having studied commerce and specialising in marketing. She graduated in 2013.
Together, they raised some Sh350,000 and birthed Impact Poultry Kenya, which is now a registered poultry company.
“We are slightly over two years old now and have diversified from keeping our own poultry, brooding chicks for farmers to linking them to markets and offering husbandry services,” says Daisy, adding that they train farmers on current trends in chicken production by offering them extension services, vaccination programmes and quality inputs to use.
Ochieng notes that farmers book for vaccines, feeds and chicks every Tuesday and collect them on Fridays.
On the rest of the days, extension officers visit farmers to ensure they are doing things the right way.
“For every farmer who books feeds or chicks, our extension team visits them every Wednesday. The chicks we sell to farmers are sourced from certified licensed hatcheries. Our farmers keep broilers, layers, improved kienyeji and the road runner breeds.”
Once the chickens mature, the firm buys them from farmers, dresses them and supplies to about 20 hotels and catering service providers in Homa Bay, Kakamega and Migori.
“For broilers, we pick the birds after about 35 to 40 days, kienyeji birds from three months while the road runners, which are the traditional free-range birds, from 13 months,” says Ochieng.
The duo has employed 10 workers and works with some 150 farmers, 100 of who are keeping broilers, while the rest keep the other breeds. The workers comprise the extension team, delivery crew, a book-keeper and marketers.
According to their model, every contracted farmer is entitled to two free farm visits.
However, if there is an emergency on the farm, they do not charge for transport and give them drugs and vaccines at an affordable rate.
But farmers who are not working under Impact have to foot the transport cost and pay for drugs.
“The number of farmers is still not enough because demand is high. We sell between 1,200 and 1,500 birds every week,” says Daisy. “Sometimes we go as far as Eldoret or Thika to get chickens to sell in Kisumu. It is a big challenge since we buy from people we have not contracted.”
For them to contract a farmer, he or she must have a farm in Kisumu County for easier delivery of services.
“They must also be able to rear 200 chicks and above to make it easier for us to offer extension services, which comprise three farm visits. We vet the farms first to ascertain that they meet our standards and recommend adjustments if they don’t,” says Ochieng, adding that they advise farmers to join groups for ease in dealing with them.
They also insist on one having up-to-date farm records.
“When a farmer sells all the 100 broilers to us at Sh400 each, he makes Sh40,000 and if you minus the expenses, he makes a profit of about Sh11,200. The beauty of chicken production is in numbers. The more the birds, the more the profits,” says Ochieng.
They sell dressed broilers weighing 1.1 to 1.2 kilos at Sh450 each, dressed improved kienyeji weighing 800g to 1kg goes for Sh700.
The duo says they act as super agents for hatcheries, which enables them to earn more cash.
“We make our money from the chicken products we sell to farmers. We buy day-old chicks at Sh65 and sell at Sh75. We also make some money from feeds because we distribute them directly from millers, making between Sh100 and Sh200 per bag of feeds,” Ochieng says.
But it is not all a smooth ride, with the farmer noting that storage of chicks and vaccines before distribution sometimes brings challenges since they do not have enough facilities.
From their database, more than 60 per cent of the farmers they are working with are aged above 60 years, a majority farming after retirement.
“The youth need to understand that chicken production pays and is a good investment. Farming should also be reinforced in schools to change the youth’s mind set,” says Daisy, noting they are coming up with a project targeting women in informal settlements.
Prof Mathew Dida of Maseno University's Department of Agriculture notes such a business model is a win-win for the company and the farmers.
“They could also partner with the county government to deal with the storage challenge. The county can provide them with storage facilities for the chickens,” says Prof Dida.
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Effects of Covid-19 on the business
1. General demand for chickens from hotels and households has declined.
2. This is because a good number of people have lost their sources of income.
3. Hatcheries have reduced production due to the disease, so they struggle to get chicks.
4. With less demand for chickens, the business has been struggling with debts, which reduced the cash flow.
5. This means their expenses are eating into their capital, since all the money made from sales is used on rent, power bills, retention of staff and vets.