A local agricultural innovator has developed a kit poultry farmers can use to check which eggs are fertile and to assess their progress when in an incubator waiting to hatch.
Through the kit, dubbed the candling box, farmers know which hens lay infertile eggs that spoil and can’t hatch, so that they can cull them.According to the inventor Geoffrey Kago, he is currently selling around 50 of the Candlers a month compared to 10 this time last year.
Kaki Village Enterprises, today valued at Sh10m, was begun in 2002 with capital of just Sh600, and the iron will of the owner to innovate in the poultry industry by rearing different poultry breeds. Since buying his first exotic hen from his mother in 1985, for Sh20, the owner of the business, 36-year-old Geoffrey Kago, has never had to rely on his parents for upkeep or even school fees.
Then, he was in Class 4 and his role model was the legendary Nelson Muguku, one of Kenya’s first poultry billionaires. That first hen was a Transylvania Naked Neck, which has no feathers on its neck. “I bought it with my own savings,” said Kago.
He chose it because it was a fast breeder. In a year he was able to breed nearly 200 chickens, which he sold locally in his Nyeri neighbourhood for Sh20 to Sh50. The rapidly expanding brood enabled Kago to save enough money to fund his high school education at Nyeri High from Forms 2 to 4. “I loved to get the sense of ownership,” said Kago, emphasizing the independence that rearing poultry at such a young age gave him.
High school was where his interest in innovation in poultry technology kicked in. Having experienced the problems traditional hatching posed, he conceptualized and developed an electric incubator. As his first innovation it won 1st place in the 1985 high school science congress at Nyeri district level and came 2nd at the nationals.
He nonetheless faced challenges, including the time a neighbour poisoned all of the expansive brood of chickens he had reared in his village. He confesses that was hard to take in, but says it spurred him forwards in pouring his energy into his poultry innovations.
In 1997, he came to the city and settled in Kiserian. To make ends meet, he worked as a casual stone mason and labourer, and then apprentice carpenter, including a 2 year stint in a funeral home where he learnt joinery. The carpentry skills he learnt equipped him with solid knowledge to make his innovations. He got so adept, he was able to make a pool table.
His last work outside of the poultry industry was working as a cigarettes hawker in Kiserian in the late 1990s to early 2000s. It was cigarette hawking that provided him with Sh600 capital to make his first commercial electric incubator.
He was spurred by the Clarion Call issued by the newly elected President Kibaki in 2002 urging the then optimistic Kenyans to use their knowledge to improve their lives. It was his light bulb moment for Kaki Village Enterprise. From the first incubator, he diversified into making Candlers, which he invented himself, for checking eggs’ fertility. He also dabbled in training farmers in the basics of rearing poultry and hatching.
Since 2002, Kago has managed to expand his poultry and innovation business into three branches. At Eldoret, he has a hatchery and also develops incubators for sales. At Laikipia, he has 5 acres where he conducts poultry farmer trainings. He also breeds other rarely bred birds like ostriches, quails, ducks and guinea fowls.
The farm also has a mini-dam he intends to use to go into fish and duck farming. “It’s also a nature centre, where I demonstrate other models of farming,” said Kago. He trains farmers at a cost of Sh2500 per head.
To be in close proximity to Nairobi he has also opened a branch of his company at Gitaru, along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway. There, he holds demonstrations of his latest projects, which include a new frontier in exotic poultry farming. At Gitaru, he has 1000 quails, 6 ostriches, 60 guinea fowl, 200 ‘Kienyeji’ exotic chickens, 30 turkeys and 10 geese on half an acre of land.
His aim in rearing birds other than hens is to show their viability as alternative sources of meat and eggs. He also views them as cheaper alternatives, arguing that guinea fowls, for instance, are grazers and quails consume a tenth of the feeds eaten by chicken. Also “they are more resistant to diseases and good sources of white meat,” said Kago.
Currently, he sells breeding guinea fowls at Sh3000 and non breeding for Sh1000. He gets over 50 enquiries a week for the birds.
To breed birds like quails, geese and ostrich he has a Kenya Wildlife License to rear them and admits he knows 1000 other farmers licensed, but no breeder is yet meeting the demand. “I encourage more farmers to diversify their poultry rearing,” said Kago.
Stakeholders who have sourced his innovations include the Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Africa Medical Research Foundation (AMREF) and NGOs involved in poverty alleviation projects.
His company is also now engaging in the production of Posho Mills, feed mixture machines that farmers can use to formulate feeds for livestock. The costs of these machines go up to Sh600, 000. Kago has now set his sights on nailing much lower cost production as his next challenge.
Kago believes Kenyans are innovative enough to create technology solutions unique to their problems, rather than getting technology from Europe and China, which is expensive and can be hard to assimilate locally. “If our athletics can do it we can too,” he said to emphasize the potential Kenyans have if they get the knowledge.
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
Livestock’s contribution to the Kenyan economy is two and a half times larger than official estimates, according to a new study based on the data collected in the 2009 national census, which has estimated livestock incomes at some Sh320bn a year with informal sales, by-products and asset values included.
The study on the Contribution of Livestock to the Kenyan Economy by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Livestock Policy Initiative (LPI), has found that the contribution of livestock to agricultural GDP is only slightly less than the Sh399bn earned from crops and horticulture, which have traditionally been believed to be the prime drivers of the agricultural sector.
Using figures from the census, the IGAD study estimated the amount of physical product generated, on average, by a given population of animals and valued this output at producer prices. By contrast, the lower, official estimates of the economic importance of livestock are based on recorded sales of livestock and livestock products.
However, because only a small portion of Kenya’s livestock production is exchanged through recorded channels, these figures undercount the size and economic significance of the livestock sector.
According to the revised estimates, milk is far and away Kenya’s most economically important livestock product, with a value of Sh257.8bn in 2009, or about 70 per cent of the total value of livestock’s contribution to the agricultural sector.
The disparity on the milk figures between the official sales and the census-based figures was particularly wide, with officially recorded milk production standing at just one twentieth of total re-estimated milk production in 2009.
The study also found much greater benefits from the livestock owned by rural dairy farmers who keep 85per cent of the livestock in Kenya, with the previously calculated benefits of milk and meat supplemented by manure for fertilising crop fields, traction for pulling ploughs, and through using livestock as a means of savings, credit and insurance.
For pastoralists, for example, the value of livestock includes the ability to get assistance from fellow pastoralists in times of need. Collective schemes for sharing risk within pastoral communities see large herd owners donating animals and less well-off pastoralists drawing support in the form of livestock received as gifts, or on loan. Recent research suggests that about 10.5 per cent of pastoral animals in Kenya are involved in livestock sharing networks of this kind. With the total capital value of pastoral livestock in Kenya valued at Sh295.2bn, the collective insurance value of pastoral herds is alone estimated at Sh31bn.
“What we have is a massively untapped investment opportunity in these regions and I am glad a few of the insurance companies and financial institutions are now seeing this. The recently launched index insurance scheme which UAP and Equity Bank are involved in is a step in the right direction,” said Dan Kithi a financial Consultant with Financial Rise East Africa.
The report comes at a time when government institutions, research centers and private institutions have heightened their commitment to increasing the productivity of livestock and encouraging more uptake.
This is translating into considerable investment in the area. Typical is the IFAD-funded Smallholder Dairy Commercialisation Programme (SDCP), which has been hailed as key in moving dairy farmers from producing milk just for consumption towards looking for markets for their milk. The programme is helping farmers build profitable small dairy enterprises that can be sustained throughout the year.
It begins by expanding and strengthening farmers’ organisations. Groups are encouraged to assess their needs and identify viable goals. Training then teaches the importance of feed, breed and zero-grazing, as well as animal health and disease awareness, business training and marketing.
Nor have these drives been confined to cattle. Recently, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute launched a project of encouraging the uptake of free range chicken by as many rural Kenyans as possible, which has recorded an impressive uptake of 60 per cent in its first year.
The project hopes to provide a source of income for rural Kenyans with the lowest costs, in that these chickens can source food for themselves, unlike the labour and capital intensive broiler breeds.
The same institute has also developed a new, cheaper, and convenient poultry vaccine to end out the Newcastle disease which is responsible for over 90 per cent of livestock deaths in Kenya, mostly of free range animals.
“With only Sh3000, a farmer has a chance to rear about50 indigenous chicken, which within 3-4 months can start laying eggs with the market for indigenous eggs being bigger and better paying than the broiler market.
This has made for turnarounds in farmers’ economic lives very fast,” said Dr. Ann Mumbi from KARI, who has been involved in the indigenious chicken rearing programme in KARI. Currently there are 26m free range chickens reared in the country worth about Sh7bn in meat and eggs.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
Poultry farmers countrywide are scaling back chicken production, driven by the soaring costs of poultry feed made principally from maize, which is now at all-time high prices. But for some, the soaring prices have forced a search for alternative feeds that scientists claim are cheaper and more nutritious for poultry, and end competition for mainstream human food.
Since the end of last year, maize prices have risen more than three-fold, triggering a 40 per cent increase in the price of chick mash, from Sh2700 for a 70kg bag to Sh3,500.
Yet maize has long been a problematic staple for the poultry industry. The amount of maize required for human consumption in Kenya is estimated at 3m tonnes. But the country produces less than that, meeting some 10 per cent of needs through imports. This sets up competition for maize in animal feeds and means Kenya is deficient in oil seed cakes and meals important as protein sources in chicken feeds.
On recent report on the feed industry showed substantial importing of wheat milling by-products from Uganda to try and replace the maize supply shortfall for feeds. But other initiatives are now seeking to find whole new sources of poultry feed.
At local levels, some farmers are resolving the problem by moving to alternative feeds made from traditional and more nutritious crops, such as amaranth, millet and sorghum, and even to worms as chicken feed. That change is cutting their feed costs by up to 40 per cent.
Meanwhile, researchers are looking at nonconventional sources, such as pigeon peas, leaf meals, and agricultural by-products for protein supplements. Recent research found bulrush millet to be a good replacement for maize due to its higher protein content, which could be improved further with lysine supplementation.
The research also found raw pigeon peas were a suitable source of protein at levels up to 15 per cent in chicken feed rations.
Bulrush millet and pigeon peas combined were able to replace up to 40 per cent of the conventional energy and protein sources in poultry feedstuffs, concluded the research.
Bulrush millet, which withstands hot temperatures, is a common livestock feed among poultry farmers in the semi-arid Mbooni area of Ukambani, with farmers reporting big savings through these feeds, which they only grind manually to feed to their chickens.
The same farmers are also using cassava as an alternative poultry feed. They first dry it to rid it of cyanide, which would otherwise poison the poultry.
But the shift is being championed by Bridgenet, an NGO assisting farmers in poultry keeping, which has borrowed the model from European countries like Holland and UK, which import cassava from South East Asia for poultry and pig feeds.
“It is possible to change all this cry about expensive chicken feed. If you look around and see for example how much cassava is rotting in the farms due to oversupply. That cassava has been proven to be nutritious feed for chicken, and is readily available,” said Dorothy Mwende, a programme officer with Bridgenet.
Nor do the alternatives end there. Mary Gikuni, an agroproneur from Limuru ventured into farming fodder shrubs that have been known to increase milk production in cattle by 20 per cent. But she later learnt from scientists that the same fodder shrubs, known as Caliandra, are very effective in feeding chicken once they are cut into small quantities and even mixed with feeds that may be low in protein.
The shrubs – which are easy to grow and mature in about 12 months after which they can be regularly pruned and fed to livestock for up to 20 years - have been shown to harden the shells of the egg and improve the quality of the egg yolk.
Mrs Gikuni, who was previously recording losses on the back of the rising cost of chicken feed, was told about the fodder shrubs by a fellow farmer. Within one year she managed to harvest her first leaves, which she mixed with feeds of lower quality, with the fodder shrubs providing the Caliandra seedlings, Mrs Gikuni now earns Sh6,000 to Sh10,000 a month after expenses. She is among the few suppliers of chicken products in schools and hotels in the Limuru area. “I always tell my customers to compare my eggs with those of chicken that has been fed on commercial feeds. The difference is glaring. The egg shell is harder and the egg york more yellow,” she said.
However experts warn that farmers should take care in the kind of feed they give their poultry and should discuss changes with the veterinary officers or experts in feeds, because some of the alternative feeds might be poisonous or might affect the quality of the end product.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
He came up with the Candler concept after realizing the challenges in his own poultry farming in selecting which types of eggs to put into the incubator and which to leave out.
The Candler helps “assess the defects in an egg and check its progress, like nutrition,” said Kago. The Candler is rectangular in shape and slightly bigger than a brick and has a hole on one side designed to fit the pointed side of the egg.
Inside it is hollow but for a lighting fixture. To check the egg’s condition, the farmers places the egg’s pointed side in the hole and lights the Candler in a dark room. If the farmer notices the air sac in the less pointed side is sagging and big, then it’s a sign the egg has been left too long and has become dehydrated.
Thus it can’t be placed in an incubator to hatch, as it has lost 15 per cent of the water in it. Ideally, according to Kago, to select an egg for hatching it must be fewer than 7 days old. “As the egg ages, the bigger the air space,” he said. Where the farmer sees two yolks in one egg, it is also unsuitable for incubation.
Kago also advises farmers to check the outward physical appearance of eggs and ensure that they are of uniform colour and size for that particular bird breed. Eggs with blotches, wrinkles, bumps or multiple
colours may not hatch if incubated, as it’s a sign of deficient nutrients in the hen that laid the eggs.
Besides checking the egg before it’s placed in the incubator, the Candler helps farmers to gauge the progress of eggs waiting to hatch in the incubator. Through it a farmer is able to isolate spoilt eggs
and forecast around how many hatchlings he is likely to get.
By checking the eggs progress, the farmer can also know which of his hens are laying fertile eggs, as well as knowing which cocks are old and inactive with the hens. That way, farmers can cull knowledgeably for slaughter or selling and retain their most productive chickens.
Kago advises poultry farmers that prior to checking the eggs in the incubator they wash their hands to avoid contaminating eggs. When an egg is progressing to hatch, the Candler shows a consistent
formation of a network of blood veins in from day 10 to day 18 a silhouette chick image is visible. “It’s the growth of an embryo,” said Kago.
From his base along Nairobi Nakuru highway at Gitaru, he sells a Candler with its own lighting system for Sh1000 and one without for Sh500. The one without a light sees farmers utilize an ordinary torch
to examine their eggs.
He says the demand for his Candlers is being propelled by the demand for new innovative egg incubators that he also invented and sells.The Candler can be used to examine eggs for ducks, turkeys and guinea fowls, as well as chickens.
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
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