“Let’s be honest, poultry business was terrible last year. I have felt the heat,” that is an honest confession from Mr Brian Guto, a veteran poultry keeper from Nakuru County. Years back, Guto says chicken rearing was lucrative business, not any more. Back then, he says eggs used to fetch good prices and one was able to earn a decent living from selling eggs.
With cheap imports from neighbouring countries and the ever rising cost of feeds, business is unsustainable, he says.
“I think of dropping chicken rearing because it has no profit. I spend more money on feeds but I have nowhere to sell the eggs. If I get a market, the prices are very low,” says Guto.
Shelf prices for an egg ranges between Sh9 and Sh11, prices that are too low if you factor in cost of production. Gitu has 1,200 layers and 1,020 growers on his farm in Kerma village in Njoro Sub County.
Owing to harsh economic times, the farmer is disposing off mature birds at between Sh500 and Sh800.
“Once I sell off all the birds, I will think of an alternative farming venture to inject my cash in. For now, I just want a breather,” Guto says.
But it has not always been this gloomy as Guto a medical doctor, who begun chicken keeping in 2017, recalls. He started with 1,500 and slowly increased the stock to about 2,500 birds.
“Business was good. There were days I would receive a long list of orders for eggs from individuals and hotels that I could not even meet. But now getting even an order of five trays is a problem,” says the dejected farmer.
The farmer collects about 300 eggs every day, selling at between Sh10 and Sh13. However, it takes days to get a market, an issue that affects farm operations.
According to Guto, an eggs should sell at about Sh15 for farmers to make profit.
Feeding is the main challenge. For instance, layers feed on one and half bags of layers’ mash while growers feed on a bag of growers mash daily.
Feeding in chicken
A bag of layers and growers mash at the local vet is Sh2,300 to Sh2,500, excluding transport costs.
“Feeding is vital for layers, because if they are not given adequate feeds they do not lay eggs. Despite being high feeders, the cost of feeds is too high because of the taxes,” says the physician.
At night, the birds are given adequate clean drinking water, which is an added cost.
Other than being expensive, the quality of feeds in the market is also wanting.
“At times, we buy feeds that do not have crude protein yet they are included in the ingredients on the seal. This is a big loss to farmers because the birds take longer to grow and mature,” he observes.
To maintain quality of feeds, he says, the government should conduct regular inspection of feeds by doing random sampling. Vaccination he adds, is also costly, though it is a biosecurity measure that helps curb infections like Newcastle disease.
“I conduct vaccination regularly especially during the cold weather and deworming,” says the farmer.
Cannibalism is another challenge facing layers but it can be prevented through debeaking which is done at 4-6 weeks of age.
Though poultry feeding is facing serious setbacks, given the current high demand for chicken products, it is still a viable economic venture.
For those interested, other than the market, they need to hack the feeds issue first. A livestock production expert Paul Njage says feeding contributes to 70 per cent of production costs.
He says aspiring chicken farmers should know market requirements, running costs and expected revenue before venturing out.
“Market study is important in chicken rearing, and it helps to know the variety of chicken for quality and quantity yields. It is unfortunate that majority venture into chicken keeping, without knowledge on basic things,” says the expert.
For higher production, he advises farmers to observe high standards of hygiene, conduct regular vaccination, deworming and best feeding practices.