Four years ago, Fina Wausi was returning home from work when her bodaboda rider said something that caught her attention.
While running an errand at a neighbour’s home, the rider had seen ‘strange birds’ roaming in the compound.
He said the birds resembled chicken, but were very different – some even scary, with feathers covering their feet and eyes.
Wausi’s interest peaked when the rider mentioned there was a flock of people going to the home daily to see the birds.
The next day, she joined other visitors at Valarie Opondo’s home in Ukunda, Kwale County, to learn about ornamental birds. Opondo had kept the birds for years, and was using her farm as an educational centre for interested farmers.
“I was surprised to learn that one mature exotic bird can sell for more than Sh30,000,” says Wausi.
After the visit, she made a decision to get into ornamental bird farming.
With Sh47,000, she bought a few species of chicks and eggs. Ms Opondo also introduced her to a social media page where ornamental bird farmers in Kenya discuss what it takes to have a successful farm.
Her first challenge came a few weeks after she brought the birds home. People in Gombato village in Ukunda where she stays started saying she is keeping djinns. They suspected she wanted supernatural spirits to get wealthier.
“The culture around here makes people believe in supernatural powers. They are not used to these kind of birds, so I was not surprised,” she says.
Hygiene is key
Some neighbours cut links with her completely. Breeds that she kept, such as the Ayam Cenami bird that is blue-black and lays black eggs scared people.
The hairy Pekin bantam whose whole body is covered in fur except the beak was not something people at the Coast were used to. Other multi-coloured birds such as appenzeller chicken and royal purple guinea fouls were animals they believed belonged to a witchdoctor’s hut.
“I knew what I was going to get from them, so I ignored them,” she says.
Her other challenge when she started was disease management. It was not easy getting veterinarians who were familiar with the treatment of ornamental birds.
“So many of them died, and I almost gave up,” she says.
Dr Moses Olum, a veterinary doctor in Nairobi, says most people who try out ornamental bird farming get losses because even though the birds have the same anatomy as poultry, they need extra care.
“Hygiene is very important. You should also never mix different ages of birds in the same cage,” he says.
Ms Wausi says she has a private veterinarian who has been helping her to manage her animals. She has also made the Internet her go to place when she wants to source for different species, or learn more about their feeding and breeding.
Through experience, she has also learnt that unlike poultry, some of the ornamental birds such as guinea fowls can be extremely shy and must be separated from other birds to thrive.
Madam Opondo who introduced her to exotic bird farming says another challenge that bird keepers face is coping with the difficult period where the birds try to adjust to the different climate. “We buy the eggs from people who import for us. Some of them are from Europe, so when they hatch, it takes a while before they adapt,” she says.
Social media marketing
Despite the challenges, they are raking in profits from diving into a little-known sector. She laughs and says the only ‘supernatural gain’ the birds have given her is profits through the sales she makes from eggs, chicks and grown birds.
She prides herself in selling pure breeds by keeping the bird cages separate to limit chances of cross breeding that would bring forth low quality or sterile birds.
Some of the breeds she keeps include: austrolop, araucana, kuchi, palm turkey, rosecomb, khaki Campbell and white-faced duck. On a good month, she can sell more than 30 full grown birds and hundreds of chicks. Her customer base is main cities in Nairobi and Mombasa. Most people buy the birds for food, or to keep them as pets.
She also receives a lot of researchers and students who go to her farm to learn about different species of birds.
Kenya Wildlife Service communications officer Paul Udoto advises that those who want get into exotic birds must visit their nearest office for advice on permit requirements.
“They must fill forms and officers will have to go to their farms to inspect the premises before they are allowed,” he says.
Wausi’s future plan is to establish a bird park that hosts all species in the world.
She advises people interested in ornamental bird farming to do research and use social media to network with other farmers. “Social media helps. It is where I get most of my clients,” she says.