Back in the 90s, Doris Muthomi got a chance to visit Kabarak Girls High School, for an educational tour. She was then a student at Materi Women Training Institute in Tharaka Nithi County. As part of the tour, Muthomi and her team also toured the school’s poultry farm.
“I was really amazed how they were doing modern poultry keeping with technology. They had these automated drinkers from which the chicken’s got water and hygiene was of high standard. I vowed to have such a farm someday. I also borrowed a lot of lessons from the farm,” Ms Muthomi says.
Years later, after finishing school, instead of searching for a white-collar job, Muthomi started keeping poultry at the family farm in Gitimbine, Meru County. That was in 2002.
She got her first stock from a local farmer, and suffered a setback when they all died due to unknown disease. Together with her husband Justus Muthomi, she picked up the pieces and started afresh.
With saving from her previous job in a bakery and a local hotel, she bought her new stock.
She has faced many odds
Slowly she increased the birds to the current 500 birds. But she has faced numerous challenges before she stabilised.
“I faced many challenges. Along the way, I had to change suppliers of feeds many times, because poor feeds affected the health of the mature and the young birds. There was a time I lost 200 birds at once, after an infection, and I was demoralised,” she recalls.
She also faced backlash from neighbours who said she was a nuisance. “There was one time someone killed chickens and threw the insides in my compound. I ignored them.”
She invested in better coops and minimised their movement. She also embarked on a strict bio-security measure.
“To keep diseases at bay, I followed the vaccination programme strictly and made sure I bought feeds from trusted dealers, that way I sealed all loopholes for deaths,” Muthomi says.
After overcoming those hurdles, her business has stabilised and now she sells nine crates of eggs daily at the local market in Gitimbine and 25 crates to a neighbouring secondary school every week.
She sells a crate at Sh350 but she charges the secondary school Sh375. With almost two decades’ experience in rearing chicken, she has several gems for newbies.
“I have the capacity to keep thousands but I chose to keep 500. I always made sure I keep a number that I can comfortably manage. My secret in successful poultry-keeping is having a number you can comfortably manage,” she says.
She also advocates for the proprietor of the business being a hands-on person.
“If you want to be successful, do the work yourself. I do all the work, with the help of my husband, because we want to do a perfect job. I make sure I disinfect the whole compound at the slightest whiff of an infection,” she says.
Investing in quality feeds is also important.
“When I started off, I used to buy substandard feeds lead to low yields. But now I learnt the hard way and I buy chick and layers mash from three manufacturers. Though they are expensive, but I am sure it is quality.”
A 70kg bag of chick mash retails at Sh3,600 while a similar bag of layers mash is Sh3,150.
She has also come up with creative ways to make work easier because she has no farmer hands.
She has installed laying boxes near the feeding and resting areas, and when a hen is ready to lay, it scales a ladder and does its business.
“They know the laying boxes and usually go up the ladder when they want to lay eggs. But there are a few hens which are lazy and just lay their eggs anywhere!”
She goes around the coops collecting the eggs and stores them in a cool dry place.
“Placing the eggs near detergents, soap or sprays is a no-no. Eggs absorb smell, that is why I keep them in a cool, dry place with no strong smell.”
To ensure the hens do not injure each other in their coops, she de-beaks them.
“Cutting off a big section of the beak ensures that they do not hurt one another during their fights. Pecking can result in injuries and even death. I cut them a week after they are hatched.”
Patience is everything in poultry business.
“The secret to success is building up the business slowly. Young people like to become rich overnight. Even if I make a Sh100 daily profit, it means I will reach my goal eventually.”
The farmer makes additional income from selling hen droppings to pig and livestock farmers.
“Chicken waste is very good food for cattle and pigs. I sell a 70kg bag of waste at Sh400. I have a farmer who would kill me if I don’t store the waste for him!” she chuckles.
She also ensures she keeps record of all her birds to monitor their progress.
“Records are very useful. For example, I know which group of hens I will sell for meat in September, 2021. I also write the amount of eggs, I have sold in cash and on credit,” she discloses.
With the income the couple has been able to educate their two children up to university while the last born is in secondary school.
They have also built a residential plot beside their house.