At Unyuani village in Kangundo, hundreds of two-day-old chicks huddle at different spots in a sizeable chicken coup. They are tucked into each other, forming an appealing white mass around a large red feeder lit into sharp scarlet by a lamp hanging about a metre above.
Some are obviously making the best of an afternoon nap after helping themselves from the numerous feeders and drinkers distributed evenly in the lit room that measures about six by five metres.
In the doorway, William Mutua, the farm owner, looks at the napping chicks, admiration all over his face. He is, however, on the lookout to avert a chick that may escape through the door and stray.
“One has to be very careful in here. If it’s not crushing the little birds in your feet, you might lose them when they escape through the doorway and come back infected from outside,” says Mutua.
Mutua says not one of the 510 chicks has been lost from the time he brought them at the chicken coup. Unlike many farmers who have distressing experiences in their initial attempt in poultry farming, his have been stories of success from the first time he gave the venture a shot last year.
He has raised five batches of more than 500 chicks and in each batch, registered up to zero per cent losses. At unfortunate occurrences, he lost one or two chicks, he says.
He tells Smart Harvest that the secret behind his exceptionally successful story is the Digital Smart Brooder, a new technology that automates chicken rearing and is capable of keeping environmental conditions optimum for growth of chicks.
The 26-year-old University of Nairobi graduate also lets us in on how he ventured into poultry farming and the inspiration behind it.
Mutua was the most dissatisfied job seeker in the company of other graduates who sat at a joint in Nairobi deliberating on where to look for employment. That was last year, a year after clearing school.
He had majored in Agricultural Economics and wanted to go into full-time poultry farming. But his hope of establishing a thriving farm dwindled with every interaction he had with distraught poultry farmers who shared their appalling experiences.
That was before he met his would be source of inspiration; a Mama Grace who has a thriving poultry farm in Githurai, Nairobi.
Mutua had heard of inspirational encounters of Mama Grace who started with a handful of chicks to become one of the most successful farmers in Nairobi and sought her counsel before venturing into poultry farming.
“My first move was to look up the best technology in poultry farming and from the internet, I learnt about Arinifu Technologies and procured a digital brooding device from them,” he says.
From the first of 408 chicks, he lost eight chicks, all the rest matured. Within the same month, he bought another batch of 408 chicks and lost only three.
In the first month, he made Sh100,000 from the two batches of chicken he sold at local restaurants where he was offered up to Sh500 for every kilo of chicken meat. He had bought each chick at Sh78.
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He admits that with the digital brooder, he has kept losses at bay.
“I have heard many sad stories of friends who lost up to 90 per cent of the chicks they bought. I am lucky because my losses are negligible. Sometimes I keep all my chicks until they mature into chicken for slaughter,” says Mutua.
Engineer George Chege from Arinifu, a Nairobi-based tech company that develops agro-based technology including the Digital Smart Brooder says chicks need special attention especially during cold seasons.
“Poultry farmers fear months of June and July because this is the time they lose a lot of chicks owing to the cold weather. They actually avoid buying chicks during this time,” says Chege.
He says the Digital Smart Brooder is an environmental control device which ensures that the conditions in the brooding space, including temperature, are kept within optimum levels.
“This way, we are assuring farmers that they can buy chicks and rear them whatever the season. With the smart brooder, we hope to reduce mortality in chicks to a bearable 10 per cent or less,” says the engineer.
He says that the system is automated, making farming easier since a poultry farmer can monitor the chicks from wherever they are and make necessary decisions.
The device, according to engineer also has features that help alleviate the burden of feeds, which most poultry farmers grapple with.
“When the heat is regulated and the chicks don’t get cold, they do not consume a lot of feeds. This saves the farmer a lot of expenditure on feeds,” says Chege.
So, how does it work?
In the small brooding space at Mutua’s farm, the Digital Smart Brooder consists of four black cables and a white one connected to a small smart box.
Chege explains that the four cables hanging closer to the chicks are temperature sensors responsible for reading temperature changes in the brooding space and also facilitating automatic temperature control in the room.
The white cable hanging a bit higher in the room, according to the technology company’s engineer is the humidity sensor responsible for measuring moisture level of the whole brooding space.
The sensors take readings throughout the brooding space and relay the data to the farmer on a small analogue computer in the smart box.
Farmers avoid disease outbreaks as well as contamination in the brooding space if they keep moisture content at optimum levels, according to the Digital Smart Brooder lead engineer.
“Humidity is the main cause of disease outbreaks in a brooder or chicken coop. It may be difficult for a person to tell the humidity in the brooder space, but with humidity sensors, the system analyses the humidity and will always alert the farmer in case the humidity goes beyond the recommended range,” says Chege.
This smart box, programmed to determine the age of the chicks, also regulates the conditions in the brooding space to meet the chicks’ requirement at that specific age.
“Simply explained, it restarts itself whenever a new batch of chicks are bought into the brooding space. All the farmer does is press a certain button on the digital box and the system starts working afresh. The chicks require different conditions at different ages,” says Chege.
Also hanging above the ground are lamps that light up the brooding space. The device is able to control the infrared lamps for heating requirements of the chicks.
The device has a smart box which is typically a small analogue computer that relays information to the farmer through Short Message Service (SMS) whenever there is a condition it cannot rectify.
In essence, the smart box has a GSM line that is connected to the farmers own line to facilitate SMS communication between the two.
To provide for insulation and therefore reduce heat loss and save on energy, card boards are placed on top of the brooding space.
Alternatively, sawdust is placed on the floor.
The innovator maintains that temperature is the most important factor in the life of growing chicks.
Unlike traditional brooding methods such as the use of charcoal stove where farmers only estimate the temperature, the digital brooder gathers actual data which is automated to fit temperature requirements.