What it takes to run a thriving chicken farm from scratch

Farmers win when it comes to connecting with each other. One of the things that keeps farmers strongly connected in their social groups is the ability to learn from each other. They do this by sharing their farming experiences and the daily challenges they encounter in their ventures. Sometimes, they get satisfactory answers from among themselves.

Some questions, however, need an expert. This week, Dr Watson Messo, a poultry health specialist and veterinarian at Kenchic and our resident vet responds to 10 of the most asked questions by both experienced and beginners in poultry farming. 

1: One of my chickens has three-week old chicks and has started laying another set of eggs. Is it possible that the eggs are fertilised considering that there hasn’t been a cock around?

It’s not possible that the eggs are fertile in the absence of a cock. There are many ways to test whether or not the eggs are fertilised, but the one I recommend is shining a torch on the egg in a dark room. You should be able to see the embryo as a black mass within the egg. But this experiment can only give you results at day 18 of incubation. You can’t do it early because then you won’t see the embryo. Some people say that chickens and other species like tortoises can keep sperm alive inside them for long to use later. This is not true.

2: How does raw milk help chicken in poultry farming?

Avoid giving your chickens raw milk. Chickens are birds and are naturally green feeders. Again, it would be unnecessarily costly to give your chicken milk when they can do so well with just water and green feeds.

3:  What do I do to chicks that have been bitten by safari ants? I have managed to remove all the ants on their bodies but I can see they are in so much pain. They are Kienyeji chicks.

Simply get rid of the insects by spraying the chicks using any insecticide. The safari ants are very dangerous because they can bite children. But they are on the move, following their queen and won’t stay with your chicks for long. This is nothing to worry about.

4:  My kienyeji chicken eat nearly all the eggs. I have tried de-breaking, darkening the laying site and even giving them calcium but they won’t stop eating the eggs. Why is this and what more should I do?

Naturally, chicken do not eat their eggs. Just like humans, they can’t eat one of their own. When chicken lay eggs that have poor shell quality, the eggs break and cause “a mess” in the brooding space. Chicken love cleanliness and so, they clean the mess caused by the broken eggs by eating it away. They also know the broken egg is of no use to them.

The farmer needs to deal with two things. One is looking out for infectious diseases that may cause poor quality eggs. Secondly, look at the quality of feeds. Feeds that are low in calcium also result in poor quality egg shells. The poor quality shells could also be a result of imbalance between magnesium and calcium in the feeds. Always seek advice when you go buying feeds for your chicken. It also helps that you separate the eggs from the chicken.

5: My chicken has been sitting on eggs for 14 days and I can hear some sounds from the eggs. I think the chicks are trapped inside the eggs. Can I crash the egg shells to release them?

Be patient. Only ostriches are helped out of the egg by cracking it because the shell is very hard. But hatching for domestic foul is a natural process. If you interfere, you may cause infection to the unhatched chicks. There is also a likelihood that you didn’t count the days properly because chicks don’t hatch until about 21 days.

6: My chicks are unwell. They have a whitish diarrhea. What should I give them?

White diarrhoea in chicken is normal because that is how they pass the uric acid where humans and other species urinate. But you might need to investigate the situation if you notice any mortalities in the chicks because whitish diarrhoea is a symptom of gumboro or any other highly infectious disease in a flock.

7:  When can I start giving my kienyeji chicks growers mash?

At around the 9th week. During the first eight weeks, you give them the starter diet, which must be high in energy and protein. Then at the 9th week, you start giving them growers mash with low energy and protein. But there is no hard rule when it comes to kienyeji chicks and so, eight weeks or nine is fine. You can even start gradually at the seventh week by mixing the grower diet with the chick mash.

8: Is it normal for chicken to eat too much grass?

Naturally, chicken eat grass for gut development. So, there is no problem in that. However, if they eat too much grass, it helps that you check the amount as well as quality of their feeds. They could be starved. You could also be giving them feeds that are low in fibre. Consult with the vet if you suspect any of these two possibilities.

9: I used my kienyeji chicken to hatch kangas. I hope they all survive. So far the mother is doing a great job.

Our farmers are always experimenting. This is a good innovation in poultry because as long as the kangas have been hatched at home, they don’t know that they belong to the bush. Flight-risk ones are those picked from the bush. Chicken also have a good brooder pad and are therefore the best alternative for hatching.

10: I saw yellowish droppings with blood from my poultry. What disease is it and what is the remedy?

One thing that poultry farmers need to closely monitor is the colour of their chicken droppings. Colour is a key indicator of diseases. If colour changes from normal brown to yellow and even red, there is usually every indication of gut infections and other disorders in the chicken. It could be an indication of coccidiosis, a common, and sometimes deadly, intestinal disease caused by a parasitic organism that attaches itself to a chicken’s intestinal lining. 

The most common symptom of the disease is blood or mucus in chicken droppings because the oocyst, or the parasitic egg that causes the disease multiplies rapidly, rupturing bowel cells in chicken. Chicken droppings may also appear brownish red in colour due to the normal shedding of cells. Droppings with blood stains could also be an indication that the chicken or chicks have round worms. If the chicken peck each other, they may cause injury which shows in bloody droppings. The list is long and it can only help that you bring in a veterinarian as fast as possible.

11: I bought 100 one-day old chicks which were all supposed to be kienyeji cocks. Four turned into broilers within a month and I have been giving them chick mash. They are now at eight weeks and I have started on growers. Will they finally turn into kienyeji chicken? And how do I know that I am buying kienyeji chicks?

It is important for farmers to do due diligence before they buy chicks. Only buy from people you trust and those you can easily find when something goes wrong. They must be certified sellers with an actual physical address in case something goes wrong and you need to go back to have it resolved. Many times I have come across cases where farmers got the raw end of the deal when they bought cockerels thinking they were buying kienyeji chicks.

Unscrupulous dealers buy them at Sh5 and sell them at Sh50 to unsuspecting farmers. These are rejects and they won’t get big, however much you feed them. Even for experts, it isn’t easy to know whether a chick is male or female, kienyeji or broiler unless you know what went into the hatching process. This underscores the need to only buy from people you can trust.

12: My chickens have a lot of fleas. I don’t know whether it’s because of the rabbits I am keeping. Is it advisable to keep rabbits together with chicken?

Chicken and rabbits should never occupy the same house. Chicken belong to their own coop and shouldn’t be mixed with pigs, rabbits, dogs or any other animal species. Rabbits and chicken are prone to similar infections and when one species suffers from a disease, it is likely to pass to the other.

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