Chickens on traditional free-range poultry farm [iStockphoto]

The poultry sector has been growing for the last 10 years thanks to the growth of the urban population and a middle class with disposable income and an increase in demand for cheap animal protein.

Despite this rapid growth, our poultry industry still cannot compete with other big producers in South Africa, Egypt, Morrocco, Nigeria, and Zambia not to mention global players in US, Asia, and Europe. Why? Ours is still a large backyard-keeping system.

Statistics show that 80 per cent of the total poultry population are indigenous birds kept in a free-range system, which accounts for 44 million birds. The rest consist of five million hybrid broilers, six million pullets reared for the egg market and one million slow-growing improved ‘Kienyeji’ birds kept for dual-purpose production of meat and eggs.

Though there are some early adopters of the latest technologies, the majority of our farmers need to warm up to the use of advanced technologies, if they want to multiply their profits. I will share some valuable tips and tricks.

  1. Feed millers need to embrace technology

Some of the main challenges feed millers face when looking into the adoption of new milling technologies are centred on a lack of finances and human capital. There is a need to embrace processing technology and stop relying on manual labour.

Farmers need to start using our range of co-products, by-products and surplus raw materials from primary agricultural production, food industry and industrial sources.

Our feed millers must also invest in research in animal nutrition and conduct their own feeding and animal husbandry trials.

In addition, they should proactively inform consumers and dialogue with regulatory authorities on a variety of issues affecting the supply of safe and affordable foods of animal origins and be ready to be audited based on the CODEX Alimentarius code of practice on good animal feeding.

  1. Advanced incubation facilities

Artificial incubation is not a new phenomenon in the poultry industry. History shows that the Chinese and Egyptians were the early pioneers in this field some 3,000 years ago. There are less than 10 advanced state-of-the-art hatchery operations in Kenya, each equipped with egg storage and preparation facilities, setting (incubation) and hatching rooms, washing or clean-up room, chick processing and dispatch room.

There are however incubators littered in major cities processing chicks, ducklings, goslings, guinea Keats, turkey poults and peafowls in unregistered, uninspected and unlicensed facilities. The latest development is in the adoption of single-stage incubation technology, where all eggs are set in one incubator for the first 18 days and then transferred into a hatcher to complete the rest of the days to hatch.

  1. Improving production and productivity

The first task and priority in the industry are to prevent and control epidemic diseases at the farm levels through the adoption of minimum health standards programmes. Disease outbreak is one of the big concerns for farmers. But this need not be if one takes time to understand what it takes to keep a commercial flock healthy.

There is a great opportunity to reap maximum benefits from disease-free poultry production. Choose a location that is far away from other poultry facilities like slaughterhouses. Also avoid mixing species like ostrich, turkey and ducks in one space. To keep diseases at bay, other interventions include vaccination, pest and rodent control measures, cleaning and disinfection and strict biosecurity.

  1. Knowledge and Training

As an industry, we need to enhance the level of training and development of new poultry farmers and re-alignment of old farmers to embrace new technologies and precision farming methods. To achieve all the benefits of great genetic potential and consistent flock production, it is important that the flock supervisor or farm owner has good know-how on flock husbandry and a good grasp on flock management programmes.

  1. Digitization

Digital farming tools are gaining traction in agriculture and are providing opportunities for poultry businesses to solve myriad data-gathering challenges. However, there are still constraints in terms of poor internet connectivity, low IT knowledge and high cost of initial setup.

[Dr Messo is head vet at Kenchic]