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Free-range style pays off for chicken farmer

By John Shilitsa
Mr. Edwin Palapala who keeps birds on free range system in his Ikolomani farm Kakamega County. [Chrispen Sechere, Standard].

There are a number of poultry rearing systems and each has its advantages and disadvantages as each farmer can attest.

Mr Jacob Libuyi, a poultry farmer in Lunyinya village in Kakamega, swears by free range system.

Free range involves rearing animals and chicken in wide open spaces where they live in nature, eating natural foods and soaking in the sunlight.

Libuyi learnt about its benefits in 2010 after attending a farming trip to the Netherlands organised by Kenya National Federation of Agriculture Producers.

“I learnt a lot on poultry farming and when I came back home I decided to give it a try,” he tells Smart Harvest.

Libuyi started keeping chicken in 2012 under the intensive system on his almost half acre farm but later switched to free-range after thieves raided his farm and made away with more than 300 birds out of 500 layers he was rearing.

Major blow

The incident dealt Libuyi a major blow and he was forced to prematurely terminate a five-year egg supply contract he had secured with a hotel in Kakamega town.

“It was a big blow but I never gave up. He picked up the pieces and started a fresh. Second time round, I was more wiser,” he says.

He has now recovered and sells his poultry products at Kipkaren market on the boundary of Nandi and Kakamega counties.

With free range system he says, his birds are safer and healthier. Additionally, it saves him of feeds costs as the birds scavenge for food around his compound. He only buys a small portion of feeds to meet the bird’s nutritional requirements.

Cheaper optiuon?

Like Lubayi, more farmers in the area are embracing free range chicken production system for varied reasons.

According to Dr George Mbakaya, an agriculture specialist, most locals prefer free range because it is less costly compared to intensive system.

“Free range system is recommended for ‘kienyeji’ (indigenous) birds which can roam freely. Farmers assume that they can just roam about feeding on whatever they land on and they will be okay. But there’s more needed for a chicken to attain good weight...,” he says.

But the good thing is that the birds are assured of high quality meat since they have access to various insects and organisms which are rich in protein and other minerals.

The birds also grow in a healthy setting which is stress free compared to caged birds. This in turn, for layers translates to better egg quality due to valuable minerals the birds feed on.

Edwin Palapala from Makhokho in Shinyalu sub-county also practices free-range system.

Apart from chicken, he has been raising ducks, turkeys, guinea fowls and geese.  

“I practice semi free-range to guarantee the safety of my birds,” he says.

But is free range the best?

Dr Mbakaya points out that locals could realise more returns if they rear their chicken through semi free-range system as opposed to purely free range.

“Apart from layers and broilers whose movement should be restrained, improved kienyeji and kienyeji birds can be allowed to roam within a fenced compound at very minimal extra cost,” he explains.

He cautions that, if allowed to roam, layers could easily drop eggs all overwhile broilers could experience difficulties moving from one place to another due to their weight.

He says farmers can gradually switch from free range to semi-free range system. 

“A farmer could start with at least two hens which will multiply as he or she slowly expands the enterprise for better returns,” says Dr Mbakaya.     

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