About a kilometre from the busy Makutano junction in Meru town, chickens cluck and a hammer mill roars from the other side of the poultry farm named Motherland.
The farm is firmly secured with a perimeter wall, a huge metal gate and CCTV cameras that monitor every activity on the business that hosts some 3,000 chickens and a livestock feed processing unit.
Hodge Mutwiri, a former tour guide, is the owner of the poultry enterprise that is now fighting for market with the big boys in the business.
He emerges from his brand new pick-up truck and welcomes the Seeds of Gold team with pleasantries.
“This is the gift from my chickens,” says Mutwiri, pointing at the vehicle as he leads us to the poultry house that hosts the Kenbro breed birds.
He started the business in 2016 soon after retirement, failed in the first months before rising up and dusting himself to soldier on.
“Initially, I was keeping chickens for subsistence and to sell to neighbours but when I turned commercial after retirement, I realised it was a different game. I set up a hatchery, bought 1,000 eggs and put them in my 1,900-egg capacity incubator. Only 128 hatched,” recalls the former Pollman’s Tours and Safaris employee.
Most of the hatched chicks still did not survive due to “poor feeds in the market”.
“I realised after testing the feeds that most manufacturers made them without amino acids to cut costs,” says Mutwiri.
Mutwiri promised to change the game, and went into feed-making business after importing various machines that include half-a-tonne mixer, a hammer mill and measuring and packaging equipment from China.
“So far I have invested Sh5 million in the entire business, part which came from my savings and the rest from my retirement package. The money went into the poultry houses, the chickens, the incubator and the feed-making machines,” says Mutwiri, who hatches chicks for sale at Sh100 for day-olds.
To get into the feed-making business, he notes that one needs trading licence from the county government as well as approval from the National Environment Management Authority. The feeds must also be certified by Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs), he offers.
He now produces chicken, dairy and pig feeds (sow and weaner), with his facility having a capacity to process about six tonnes a day.
“I worked with nutrition experts from the University of Nairobi to develop formulas for the various feeds before seeking approval from Kebs,” he says, noting he collects some 70 crates of eggs daily, selling some at Sh20 each as he hatches others.
Mutwiri sources feed ingredients like maize, cotton seed and minerals from Uganda and Tanzania, where he says they are cheaper. “I get my soya meal from Malawi, India or China. I also buy molasses from Kisumu.”
He sells the dairy, chicken and pig feeds directly to farmers, with a 50kg bag of chick mash going for Sh2,300, the same price he sells a 50kg bag of growers mash and 50kg bag of layers.
“I resolved not to sell through agro shops to avoid falling victim to counterfeits. We sell our feeds directly to farmers and through dairy consumer shops.”
On average, a chicken needs about 140 grams of feeds daily, says the farmer who trained in poultry keeping. “I use five 50kg bags of feeds daily. To break even in poultry farming, one needs to have at least 500 chickens,” he explains.
To ensure all eggs are fertilised for incubation, Mutwiri says he rears cocks and hens at a ratio of 1:7.
“Diseases are the worst enemy in poultry farming. I have a vet on call who conducts a post-mortem on any chicken that dies. Once he establishes the problem, the entire brood is treated. Most farmers err by vaccinating chicken after a disease outbreak,” he adds.
Mutwiri has hired a livestock production expert to run the farm, overseeing the other five workers to ensure maximum production and profitability.
His main challenge includes high cost of feed ingredients, with a bag of maize currently going for an average of Sh3,500 locally.
“Quality feeds must have maize, sunflower, wheat pollard and soya as well as amino acids and many other ingredients.
The high cost of these raw materials is one of the reasons poultry feeds are expensive. Some manufacturers are avoiding them to cut costs but they are hurting farmers.”
He says there is need for the government to look into the quality of animal feeds in the market besides addressing the cost of raw materials. Dr Ann Wachira, an animal nutrition expert in Meru, notes to make quality feeds, one must adhere to set standards in terms of nutrient content for every class and age of chicken.
“The quantity of feeds given to chicken will vary with breed and age. For example, a laying hen is allowed at least 100 grams of quality feed daily,” she says.
Dr Wachira advises farmers to form producer organisations where they can aggregate their produce to access high end markets.
One can choose between maize germ and whole maize as the primary source of carbohydrates.
For protein, one can go for soya meal or fishmeal.
Maize germ, wheat bran, sunflower and fishmeal (omena) are also good sources of carbs and proteins.
Maize germ (14 per cent Digestible Crude Protein — DCP) is more nutritious than whole grain maize (9 per cent DCP) and one doesn’t need to include both ingredients.
Whole maize grain, being more expensive than maize germ, competes with human food.