Like all potential farmers, when Sellah Chemweno started her poultry project four years ago, she began with gusto.
Along the way, she experienced numerous challenges that almost broke her business spirit.
With a start-up capital of Sh50,000 she bought her first batch of 200 improved kienyeji chicken that were a month-old.
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She has gradually grown her improved kienyeji chicken farm from the initial parent stock of 200 birds to more than 2,000 with a solid market.
The Bachelor of Arts in Communications graduate from the University of Nairobi University now runs Kijiji Poultry Farm Limited at Mosoriot in Nandi County that specialises in improved kienyeji chicken.
“Initially, my interest was dairy but I realised it was capital-intensive. After researching on Google, I decided to rear and sell mature poultry,” she says.
So how did she start?
In 2017, she bought one-month-old improved kienyeji chicken in Eldoret. Each of the 200 birds cost Sh250.
“A month later, I went for another 200 birds, bringing the total parent stock to 400. My intention was to sell them off after five months. I was new in the venture and I relied heavily on Google for information on production and marketing,” says Chemweno.
Few months into the business, the new poultry farmer got baptism by fire.
“When the birds were mature and ready to sell, I went to the nearby market to sell them. I planned to sell each bird at minimum Sh1,000 but I was in for a rude shock when brokers offered only Sh300. That was a big loss given that I had used more cash to feed a bird in those five months. I was really demoralised. But I vowed to outsmart them,” she recalls.
Before she could breathe a sigh of relief, she faced another hurdle when she decided to maintain the improved kienyeji birds for egg production.
When she took the eggs to the market, the same brokers offered her Sh12 per egg. Tired and frustrated, she went on aggressive marketing on social media where she got slightly better offers.
As a coping strategy, a friend advised her to add value to the eggs she was producing and that is how the idea of a hatchery came to mind. By then, she was getting an average 100 eggs daily.
“I did not have background information on hatching so I used the Internet to source for information,” Chemweno recalls.
For a start, she invested Sh40,000 in a small hatching machine that can incubate 264 eggs.
Social media marketing
“In the first 21 days, I recorded a hatching rate of between 78 per cent and 85 per cent of the eggs on incubation. To avoid another encounter with brokers, I started marketing my business on Facebook and other social media platforms early enough,” says Chemweno.
Slowly, her business started to blossom with clients making orders for improved kienyeji birds at various stages – day-old, week and month-old that she sold at Sh100, Sh130 and Sh250 respectively.
Through grit, determination and hard work, now the business is significantly stable.
“We specialise in hatching Rainbow rooster improved kienyeji birds, a type that initially originated from India but is developed locally. The client base has increased calling for the need to invest in more hatching machines to meet growing demand for day-old chicks,” she says.
To boost the business, Chemweno, invested in three additional hatching machines that can incubate 4,480 eggs.
“We have the capacity of value adding eggs and producing 4,480 day-old chicks after 21 days. But at the moment, I do hatching of an average 500 to 600 eggs per week based on orders by my clients,” she says.
Her farm has maintained a parent stock of more than 450 chicken and several cocks that produce sufficient fertilised eggs for incubation.
To help with farm work, the young farmer has employed three workers who help her manage the 1,500 birds at various stages of development.
To minimise costs the poultry houses are constructed with timber and iron sheets with feeding troughs and sections for laying, position on various accessible corners.
What secrets can she share with fellow farmers?
Sellah who does poultry farming full time, says being observant is key.
“I have to be around to observe the development of birds at all stages and also to monitor them in case of any disease outbreaks. Feeding time is a great time to spot odd behaviour and symptoms,” she says.
About 90 per cent of poultry disease is diet related hence the need for a serious bio security measures, advises the farmer. To keep diseases at bay, it is mandatory for visitors to disinfect their feet before they enter into the units. Further on, housing for the birds is changed after every three days, disinfected and litter removed.
For the first eight weeks, Chemweno observes a strict vaccination programme.
According to the farm records, Mareks vaccine is administered on day one and followed by New Castle Disease (NCD) and Infectious Bronchitis (IB) on day six.
Other vaccines given are Gumboro in the first two weeks, NCD booster after four weeks, fowl pox and fowl typhoid at week six and eight respectively.
What is the biggest challenge so far?
The cost of poultry feeds, lack of specialised veterinary officers, diseases and marketing are some of the challenges she faces.
Feeds accounts for 80 per cent of the total production costs.
“I feed the birds twice in a day with supplements. It is also complemented by sukuma wiki, cabbage and nappier grass that we have planted in the farm. A day-old chick feeds on 20 grams of supplement, 30 grams daily by second week, 40 at fourth week and 130 grams at five weeks,” she notes.
Lack of skilled personnel on the ground, is a cause for concern. “We lack readily available vets whose specialty is chicken. We are forced to work with general vets whose preference is dairy. Diagnosing poultry diseases may be a challenge as most of them use Internet for diagnosis,” notes Chemweno.
Government tax has also adversely affected business operation noting that 50kgs of layers mash that recently cost Sh2,350 is now Sh2,450.
Despite the challenges, her business is doing well, and she intends to open a poultry butchery for sale of white meat.
“With a poultry butchery, we shall have an opportunity of selling slaughtered birds in kilos. This can attract Sh600 per kg. A mature bird weighs an average of 3 kgs and is sold at Sh800. After packaging them, we can make a cool Sh1,800 per bird,” she notes.
Mr Nicholas Koech, Chemweno’s husband says though fraught with challenges, poultry business promising.
He urges the government to address tax rates on poultry feeds, which eat into the profit margins of farmers.
“The production cost of an egg in Kenya is about Sh11.25. But there are traders who sell eggs sourced from Uganda at Sh10 each. Clearly the playing field is not level and Kenyan breeders cannot compete with their peers in neighbouring countries,” he points out.
Kijiji Poultry Farm Ltd plans to start formulating own feeds to cut on costs.
For those interested in the business, she says planning ahead and maintaining good records for follow-ups is a key lesson.
“Doing our math well, keeping records and practicing patience has kept us going,” she says.
She has been consistent in maintaining quality and numbers in the farm.
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