Nun by day, poultry farmer by evening
When Smart Harvest visited Sister Mary Lucina’s farm at St Teresa church in Malava, Kakamega County, she was busy feeding her poultry.
When not busy with church duties, the nun nurtures her passion for poultry farming, a venture she has done for the last seven years.
“The chicken coop is my first stop after the morning devotion prayers. In my free time in the evenings, I like to take care of my chicken. I feed the birds in the mornings and evenings and also clean the coops. Hygiene is important to keep the birds healthy,” says the nun.
Hygiene is paramount on this farm and it is evident in how Lucina, 45, can be seen in black gumboots, a white veil on the head and a brown lesso wrapped around her waist while at the farm.
While in the coop, sister Lucina engages the birds in a hearty chat.
“I think the birds understand when I communicate with them. During meal times, I ask them to take their positions and they oblige and head to the food corner,” says the nun.
But how did she start this venture?
“When I was transferred to this centre six years ago, I found six pure kienyeji chickens on the farm and decided to raise them,” she reveals.
To increase the brood, Sister Lucina gave each of the six hens 12 eggs to hatch and she ended up with 62 chicks which was her first flock. But it was not smooth sailing. “Some 10 eggs got spoilt but I was happy with the number of chicks hatched. They gave me a good head start in 2013,” says the nun.
Bird by bird, she successfully raised all the 62 chicks into mature birds the flock numbers multiplied.
When she thought that she had finally stabilised, she suffered another setback when a wild animal invaded the farm last year and killed hundreds of birds.
“The predator killed many birds including two of my favourite hens that were left with barely two days to hatch chicks. I was forced to sell the entire flock,” she recalls.
But she never gave up. She bounced back and once again bought several month old improved kienyeji chicks at Sh250 each from a supplier in Bungoma county. Her business is slowly picking with stable returns. She uses proceeds from her poultry venture to assist the community.
“This is a community project and I feel honoured to be the one doing it. Sometimes the birds form part of our pupils’ diet just to motivate them,” she says in reference to pupils from the Catholic church sponsored Isanjiro Primary School. The pupils also use the farm as a demo plot. “They come here to learn best practise like feeding, breeding, housing and marketing.”
Because the space she rears the birds is limited, she is keen on improved poultry structures for maximum yields.
She keeps the chickens in a coop measuring 14m by 35m with four partitions separating mature and young birds.
Predators at bay
The cages have been reinforced with wire mesh and chicken wire which runs around the structure and also covers the top to keep predators at bay.
The concrete floor makes it easy for sister Lucina to clean the coop. Inside the cages, there is saw dust well spread out on the floor where the birds spend the nights.
The saw dust easily absorb chicken dropping and it is replaced regularly to avert diseases.
Apart from the chickens, sister Lucina collects eggs, which are sold to the local community while the rest are hatched into chicks.
Every raw material at the chicken farm matters and the birds droppings are used on the expansive church farm as manure for the bananas, mangoes and traditional leafy vegetables.
Some of the challenges she that sometimes threaten to chock the business are diseases especially coccidiosis.
“I have lost many birds to diseases such as coccidiosis. To handle that, when I have the money, I call in a vet officer to inspect my birds and treat,” says the farmer.
Coccidiosis is one of the most common and economically important diseases of chickens worldwide. It is caused by a parasitic organism that damages the host’s intestinal system, causing loss of production, morbidity and death.
To control it, she takes bio security seriously and would not allow anybody inside the coops.
The farmer also ensures her birds get the recommended vaccines regularly.
“I don’t leave anything to chance because poultry diseases can kill in a day.”
Lucina also grapples with lack of a ready market for the birds and even eggs.
“Buyers will sometimes give ridiculous offers. We end up selling a mature birds for as little as Sh500 which makes no economic sense given that the birds feed on 50kg bag of feeds in a week making it an expensive venture...”
The fact that sister Lucina has to take care of the farm on her own also makes it hard for her to attend to the birds effectively.
“Every morning after prayers, I have to attend to the birds before doing anything else. In fact, the birds have their breakfast before I have mine.”
Funds permitting, sister Lucina plans to increase the flock numbers and employ a farm hand.