Strategies to cope during low feeds season

 Some of the chicken reared by Mwangaza Women Group in Kapseret, Uasin Gishu County tends to improved Kienyeji Chicken breeds procured to them by the county government under the Inua Mama na Kuku initiative.  PHOTOS BY MICHAEL OLLINGA 24.02.2016

If the weather experts’ prediction of La Nina is anything to go by, then it is the optimum time for all livestock farmers to re-strategise in order to cope well during this looming feed shortage season.

Poultry farmers are no exception to the impending perennial challenge. In any scenario of food scarcity anywhere on earth, humans become priority and animals take second place.

Humans and animals compete for the same scarce feed resources. Maize for instance is a major source of starch for humans and animals.

Today, I will address how poultry farmers can deal with such situations and still continue to be in business.

Buy feed ingredients in bulk

This way, you will also avoid getting exploited by feed companies who hike prices at the slightest provocation. This works well for farmers who formulate their own feeds as it ensures availability of feeds until the dry spell is over.

It is usually advisable not to formulate feeds that will last for more than a month but during periods of scarcity, the rules can be bent since desperate times call for desperate measures.

Storage of feeds

One salient factor would be the storage conditions. Dry and rodent-free storage conditions are paramount for disease control.

Formulating your own feeds is a less costly, and affordable alternative and the farmer gets more value for their money.

More feed can therefore be purchased to be used in the dry season.

Chance feed ingredients

A second coping strategy would be change of feed resource/ingredient depending on the availability and cost. For instance, soybean meal can be substituted with fishmeal, meat or bone meal as a source of protein depending on availability.

Low-tannin sorghum can substitute maize as a source of energy. Sorghum grows well in low rainfall areas and in drought-prone areas. In such La Nina weather condition, sorghum would do well and would be available in plenty.

Utilise waste well

Use of food/ crop waste as well as scavenging are alternative options especially in Kienyeji poultry farming. The KARI (now Karlo) improved kienyeji chicken does well with crop waste as well as scavenging.

This would include greens and food leftovers around the home.

Controlled scavenging

Scavenging should however be controlled to avoid predation as well as contracting diseases from other birds.

Other coping mechanisms would involve minimising feed wastage as well as reducing the size of the flock especially in broiler flocks until after the dry spell is over.

The La Nina phenomenon can cause temperatures to rise and high temperatures adversely affect poultry performance as they cause heat stress which would results in poor growth rate and decreased egg production.

Egg size as well as egg shell quality would also get compromised.

Manage heat stress

“Heat stress” occurs if birds have difficulty in achieving a balance between body heat production and body heat loss.

Chicken normally change their behaviour as they try to re-establish the heat balance. This can be presented by panting (birds do not sweat but do pant), moving away from other birds, lifting wings, reduced feed intake and increase in water consumption.

Most of the birds will opt to rest and by so doing they minimise heat generated by activity. Heat stress also has an effect on the immunity of the bird.

Research has shown that immuno-supression occurs in cases of heat stress. This means that chances of encountering opportunistic infections are high.

Control temperature in chick house

It is therefore paramount to control the temperature inside the chicken house. The design of the poultry house is one of the factors that is key in temperature control.

Chicken houses should be built in an east to west orientation. That means that the long axis of the house should run from east to west, similar to sun’s path. This ensures that sun rays do not shine directly into the poultry house.

Good ventilation plays a major role as well in getting rid of the hot and humid air in the shed.

The long walls of the poultry house should be constructed with wire mesh covering approximately the top five feet of the wall.

This allows for easy flow of fresh and cool air in and out of the shed.

Extra spacing of birds should also be considered depending on the breed.

Vitamins and amino-acids should be provided to boost the immunity of the birds.

Most of the preparations are added to their drinking water and therefore easy to administer. Water should always be provided “ad lib” in plenty and always available. Number of drinkers can be increased during this period.

The writer is a veterinary surgeon from University of Nairobi. He runs the Kuku Nature Farm in Naivasha which trains farmers on kuku kienyeji rearing