Employees carry on their work of slaughtering and preparing chicken meat for customers in Chwele chicken factory in Bungoma County. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

In Kenya today, 80 per cent of chickens produced and consumed are mainly from indigenous or backyard populations, widely referred to as “kienyeji.”

The population of indigenous chickens is believed to be 40-50 million in this country. Households mainly rear the indigenous breed with little or no input apart from shelter at night.

About 95 per cent of our indigenous chickens are sold in live bird markets and more popularly along the major highways passing through urban centres.

Over the years, more farmers have kept commercial flocks for meat and eggs to satisfy the growing need for cheap sources of animal proteins.

Although more farmers are increasing their production to keep up with the demand, there is less development in terms of processing and further processing of both chicken meat and eggs.

To sustain this production for more chicken products, poultry farmers need to look at ways of creating value addition and enhancing consumers’ willingness to pay a premium over similar but undifferentiated products.

This helps in creating opportunities to market poultry products to satisfy the quality, functionality, and overall appeal of the product.

It also mitigates losses farmers go through while trying to sell traditional eggs and whole chickens to a society that is more dynamic, knowledgeable, and digitally endowed.

Value addition starts with pre-processing, which involves the withdrawal of feed eight hours before slaughter.

This activity helps in reducing faecal contamination of the chicken during processing. During this period, the chickens are only provided with water.

It is also the time to check the health and well-being of the birds to ascertain their suitability for slaughter and further processing.

Primary processing starts by slaughtering each bird and allowing two minutes to bleed, which elongates the lifespan of the meat.

This is followed by scalding using hot water to make it easy to pluck off feathers. Once the feathers are removed, the head, crop and feet are cut off.

The feet and head are cleaned and sold separately. The next process is called evisceration. This simply means opening the abdomen and removing the intestines, lungs, heart, liver, and gizzards.

The last three are called giblets and are washed and sold separately. Intestines are also separately washed and have a big market in the economy sector of the value chain.

The final part involves washing the meat in a tank doused with chlorine and then the carcass is cooled as soon as possible.

The cooling can be done through water immersion, air chilling or spray chilling. Lack of adequate refrigeration is probably the single largest obstacle to the marketing of perishable foods like poultry meat.

The meat can then be cut into various portions, including drumsticks, thighs, wings, breasts, breast halves, poultry halves, winglets, drumettes, breast quarters, leg quarters, legs (drumstick + thigh), gizzards and necks.

These can be packed and sold to supermarkets as fresh or frozen cutups. Chickens can also be further processed into ready-to-cook, marinated, chopped and formed, breaded, glazed, oven-roasted or fried and char-grilled varieties. Other products include nuggets, tenders, fillets, wings, and drumsticks.

No industry is without challenges. The main constraints in food processing in general include less preference for frozen chicken, expensive cold chain facilities, lack of organised poultry farmer groups, less demand for further processed products and low purchasing power of the middle class.

Farmers will have to wait a little longer to learn modern freezing, packaging, and transportation technologies to enable them to compete fairly with large poultry companies and supply value-added premium chicken portions to consumers.

The government, on the other hand, must assist farmers by reducing taxes on processed foods, lowering import duty on freezers and cooling equipment, offering affordable meat inspection services for good food safety norms, lowering electricity tariffs, catalysing rapid urbanisation, industrialisation and improving general income of its citizens.

[For more information contact, Dr Watson Messo Odwako at watsonmesso@yahoo.com]