A picture of our chicken coop which is big enough to hold a hundred or more hens.

A few weeks ago, Gladys and I attended a seminar on raising poultry for eggs and meat. It was held at Spring Park Motel in Turbo, the next town from us. The venue was packed. I estimated that over 150 farmers attended. The first take-away is that Kenyan farmers are eager for instruction in better farming techniques. The presentation was well done with a long, detailed power-point presentation on current methods of poultry keeping.

The presenter began by stating that across the border in Uganda some farmers have ten thousand chicken, hardly a small scale operation. He then asked if anyone had a thousand chicken. No one raised his/her hand. He then asked if anyone had five hundred chicken and again no one raised his/her hand. He then asked if anyone had three hundred chicken and a few people raised their hand. He then made a comment that next time he would want to do the seminar only for those who had five thousand or more chicken.

There are two kinds of chicken. First is the kienyegi or local chicken. The second are the imported exotic breeds from the United States and Europe. The kienyegi chickens are much hardier, more resistant to disease, and easier to feed. One rooster is kept for each ten to twelve hens. To raise the exotic breeds a person needs to buy the day-old chicks from a company that specializes in breeding them. They are much more difficult to care for, meaning that they need more chemicals and medicines to keep them alive. I agree with the Kenyan opinion that the kienyegi chicken are tastier and as such they command a higher price.

The presenter failed to note that there is a surplus of eggs in Kenya now, probably partly due to those big chicken farms in Uganda. Farmers should be aware that the price of eggs is low and a market for increased production is uncertain.

Some of the hens in our chicken coop with the feeder raised off the ground and wood shavings on the floor.

We keep chickens for home consumption to provide us with eggs and meat. We keep our kienyegi chickens the “natural way.” We have one rooster with our ten or so hens. When the hens lay eggs, we take some for eating and use others for hatching. When a hen wants to sit on her eggs, we let her. When the chicks hatch, the mother hen stays with them. We let her and her chicks out of the hen house to roam around our compound for about two months until the chicks become independent. We then put the older chicks under our maize store, but usually let them out for an hour or so in the later afternoon to eat grass, insects, and other delicacies known only to them. Unless they become sick, we use almost no chemicals or medicines with our chickens. We feel that our chickens lead a happy life. Our eggs and meat are always fresh-fresh (in Swahili, when you want to emphasize a word you repeat it twice).

The reason we attended the seminar was because Gladys is considering getting about fifty improved breed of kienyegi hens for egg laying. She thinks we will have no problem selling these eggs to people in Lumakanda town.

A picture from Ultravetis’s webpage of some of their products.

The problem with the seminar was that it was conducted, not by an impartial agricultural extension officer, but by a company called Ultravetis. Its webpage describes it as “a Kenyan company that supplies farmers with veterinary animal health, hygiene products services, seeds, and agrochemicals.” The seminar was about four hours long, but the last two hours or more were devoted to advertising their many products for poultry farming.

Some of the slides in the presentation showed batteries of egg laying hens like this. Note that this method of raising chickens has been banned by the European Union, the state of California, and other places because it is considered inhumane to the chickens who spend their whole working life confined like this.  Picture from SmallStarter.

One of their products, for example, was for a foot wash for people as they entered the chicken coop in order to keep infections out. I guess a farmer that had ten thousand chickens would need to worry about this. If farmers used all the chemical products that they advertised in the seminar, I think that they would be unable to make much if any profit, while the company itself would be the main profit-making beneficiary of the chicken farming. This is one of the main issues with commercial large-scale farming – it is the large corporations that supply the commercial farmers that reap the profits while the farmers themselves who take all the risks may not be making much from their efforts.

This is Ultravetis’s new building under construction in Nairobi. Ultravetis is a private company so there is no information on how profitable it is, but this building indicates that they are doing very well. Photo from Ultravetis’s webpage.

The take-away here is the importance of having the government hire and train professional extension officers to advise the small scale farmers. Leaving this training to profit-making companies emphasizes the benefits to the company over the needs of the farmers.

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