Just like her parents, Ms Rachael Mukhuna grew to love rearing chicken from an early age.
“I saw how my parents eked out a living from rearing chicken and I was impressed. I learnt many basic lessons from that experience,” says Ms Mukhuna.
So when she retired from her teaching job in 2013, chicken rearing was almost an automatic option. However, the journey has not been a walk in the park.
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“For the first five years, it was trial and error and it affected profit margins. It was not until 2018 when I started making profit,” she says.
She started with one incubator that could carry 300 eggs of the improved kienyeji breed.
“I chose to focus on improved Kienyeji birds because they mature early and are resistant to common ailments.”
She was lucky to have all her first eggs hatch except for two.
“Out of 300, I got 280 health chicks which became my parent stock that gave me a head start in poultry,” recalls the farmer.
Along the way, a few died of the common poultry diseases and she learnt the importance of vaccination.
“To avoid needless chick deaths like I experienced, I advise young and upcoming chicken farmers to master the vaccination schedule and follow it religiously. Vaccination against common ailments like New Castle and Gumboro goes along way in establishment of a healthy flock,” Mukhuna explains.
After following a strict bio-security measures consistently, the business has picked up well. To expand her revenue streams, she sells eggs and chicks. She sells day-old chicks at Sh100 while the two month old at Sh220. She sells an egg at Sh20.
She sells the mature birds at between Sh1,000 and Sh1,200.
Once the eggs have hatched after 21 days, Mukhuna, with the assistance of her farm hand Michael Mukhunyi, select the male chicks from the female ones and either sell or raise them separately.
“It is important to do this because some buyers prefer chicks of a particular sex when they visit the farm.”
Normally, buyers place orders for the chicks, eggs or mature birds in advance. “As we speak, I have an order to deliver 1,000 chicks to a buyer who has already paid for them,” she says.
She tries to follow best practises in her business to maximise on yields and run efficiently. The farmer rears her birds in well raised coops built inside a wooden structure measuring about 18 metres by 24 metres on her farm.
“I learnt that quality of the structure affects yields. A badly built structure will have poor ventilation and cause the birds to fall sick and die. Because I did not want to compromise on quality, I invested Sh200,000 to construct a well-ventilated structure where the chicken can thrive,” the farmer says. Laying boxes have been carefully constructed at the end of every coop to ensure the eggs are protected from damage.
“We have put the laying nests in strategic points and divided them into compartments to ensure three birds can lay eggs at the same time.”
On the diet and equally critical factor for high yields, the farmer feeds the birds on a diet rich in calcium for quality eggs and for the birds to have well-developed bones. To keep abreast with latest trends, she researches widely on the internet and frequently visits veteran farmers to borrow a few lessons.
Like other poultry farmers, she has experienced numerous challenges along the journey.
She says: “Formulating feeds is expensive because the required ingredients are hard to come by. One also needs skills to get the rations right.”
In a bid to cut costs, she has started planting some of the raw materials including sun flower and soy bean.
“In a day, the chicks alone consume more than 50 kgs and the mature birds demand even more feeds, it is very expensive.”
Shortage of quality vaccines is also a challenge. “Sometimes, you may not find the vaccines in the agro vets especially that for the chicks. This at times forces you to postpone the vaccination and this can be counterproductive when disease strikes,” Mukhuna says.
She has also faced disease outbreaks but early intervention saved the day. “Last year, my birds contracted a ‘strange’ disease that left at least 10 of them blind. Luckily, a vet came in good time and sorted the problem. Being always keen, I noticed the problem early enough and called the expert in good time. That early intervention is critical.”
Poultry expert Simon Wesechere says disease control is important because it contributes greatly to production costs. Dr Wesechere says Gumboro, a disease caused by virus, causes blindness in birds if they are not vaccinated as recommended.
“A farmer must administer the Gumboro vaccine during the first week when chicks have been hatched to prevent the disease which causes eyes to swell and develop some sort of growth before the birds go blind,” the vet explains.
Wesechere says the disease can easily kill the whole flock if not addressed urgently.