Kienyeji chicken

Dual purpose rural hybrid chicks were effectively introduced into the market about 15 years ago and are quite popular among rural farmers. There characteristics traits of varied colours, improved growth rates compared to indigenous breeds, rounded conformation, disease resistance, tastier meat and more prolific egg laying capacity give them advantage over the other breeds. There exceptional performance under free range conditions with males maturing at 8-10 weeks weighing 1.6 to 1.8kg live weight and females coming into egg production at 21 weeks is adequate to satisfy the egg and meat needs of families. The most common breeds include Kenbro, Sasso, Kuroiler, Rainbow Rooster and the Kari improved Kienyeji birds reared and sold by well established producers within the East African market.

These breeds are mainly disease-resistant and easy to manage with limited resources to improve and sustain livelihood for our rural farmers compared with high-yielding commercial broilers or layers. Despite the growth in this sector, farmers are experiencing various challenges that I will address today.

dilution of genetic potential

There is a more demanding consumer market towards better production performance. This has led to a need for a continuous properly structured and efficient selection programme. Chickens are selected based on several heritable traits, such as viability (liveability), live weight, feed conversion, skeletal strength, body conformation, egg production, peak egg production persistency, temperament etc. In-breeding is a practice of mating breeds of the same genetic line. It is common in poultry production sector, but it has some undesirable outcomes. It is essential to maintain genetic purity to protect these birds from poor performance due to in-breeding. Farmers can easily be duped into buying chicks of unknown lines and those being masqueraded as improved dual-purpose hybrids. The undesirable consequences of in-breeding are dwarfism, low livability or viability, poor uniformity, low production, poor fertility and hatchability, poor feed efficiencies, and more deformities. It is important that farmers only buy chicks of known lineage with proven predictable performances. Do not accept chicks sold to you from middlemen of no known abode, offices or farms or hatcheries.

High feed cost and poor-quality grains

Feed accounts for up to 70 per cent of poultry production costs in Kenya. This is between 80 and 100 per cent higher than in Brazil, Ukraine, or the USA. Maize, the main raw material for feed production is going for Sh4,200 per 90kg and scarcity of maize and soya is hurting the sector. Soya is retailing at Sh120 per kilo. This makes the prices of commercial diets exorbitant to most farmers. For example a layer mash retails at Sh51 per kg, broiler starter goes for Sh70 per kilo.

The prices of both grains and their by-products in feed milling sector has risen by about 40 per cent making the cost to farmers more unbearable. Even when compared to territories closer to home, Kenya's cost of production remains high, and leaves the sector dangerously exposed at current rates of import duty.

Inability to access markets

Failure to carry out a market survey before venturing into the trade, has made many farmers ran into huge losses. Some 80 per cent of the chickens are consumed in urban cities. Farmers who have no access to the cities find it difficult to sell their products in the rural village centres. Chicken being a diet for the income earning population a solid demand of the products is critical. To secure a market, get to know the peak sales periods for eggs or poultry meat for your target regions and then try to work backwards to link it to production period. Peak demands coincide with celebrations festivities like Easter, Christmas, Ramathan and school holidays.

To survive the harsh competition, make full use of the power of network groups and social media to your advantage. In this age of mobile technology, there are numerous platforms available for marketing products. Bank on good quality product, price affordably (Kenyan products are relatively more expensive due to high cost of production) and differentiate your product through innovation and value addition.

[The writer is Head Vet at Kenchic]