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The graduate poultry keeper

In Homa Bay County, located in western Kenya, poultry vaccinations provide a new lease of life for the indigenous village poultry sector. Spearheaded by the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed), vaccines have transformed traditional indigenous poultry keeping into a thriving enterprise attracting people of all ages due to the improved income it now offers.

James Guma Ojwang is a 26 year old communications and media graduate, and a full-time indigenous poultry farmer. He began rearing indigenous chickens in 2014 at his father’s home in the Wangcheng Location of Homa Bay County. Previously, Guma had worked on short-term contracts as a researcher for Population Services International, Kenya. To earn extra income, Guma decided to rear chickens, which take up little space compared to goats or cows. “The land here is not mine so rearing other animals can be challenging,” he said. Guma began with five chickens, which increased to 94 by hatching the conventional way using a hen and fertile eggs. But his early success was cut short in 2015 after losing 60 chickens to poultry diseases.

Since then, Guma now diligently vaccinates the chickens against Newcastle, Gumboro, and Marek’s diseases. He spends approximately KSh 5,000 (US $49.40) on vaccines over the course of four months’ worth of protection.

Today, Guma has 70 indigenous chickens of the improved Rainbow breed – 15 cocks and 55 hens with 135 six-week-old chicks. He rears his chickens in a metal house built of iron sheets where the chickens stay at night. Chicken mesh fencing extends around a small compound with pawpaw trees where the chickens can roam freely during the day.

According to Guma, regular vaccinations have increased his chickens’ survival and productivity. He vaccinates the chicks at one-day-old, two weeks and up to a month. And Guma enjoys the earnings – in a good month he makes KSh 12,000-15,000 (US $119-148) selling eggs when laying is at its peak. During the 2015 Christmas period and into early January 2016, Guma made KSh 80,000 (US $792) selling 140 chickens at the market. “Chickens, unlike electronics, aren’t liabilities. I earn from them and that’s why I value rearing them,” said Guma. He explains that unlike most youths who spend their money on buying the latest technological gadgets like phones, he would rather have a long-term outlook and invest his money on poultry with guaranteed income returns.

The positive economic impact of rearing chickens means Guma has chosen not to look for other jobs. Instead he sees his poultry enterprise as a viable source of income to provide start-up funding to enable him to expand. In the long-term, Guma plans to supply organic markets with indigenous chickens. “I aim to rear chickens in an organic way to target consumers in that niche market,” said Guma.

The motorcycle-taxi driver turned poultry keeper

Within the same county in Kubuya East Sub-Location, 25 year old Kelvin Odhiambo, a motorcycle-taxi operator (boda boda), also agrees his future has been improved by indigenous chicken rearing. He began rearing chickens in February 2016 after transporting chicken feed to a client’s home and admiring the flock. Odhiambo bought 100 day-old chicks from Kukuchic Breeding Farm in Rakwaro, his hometown, and credits timely vaccinations to all of them surviving to five months old. “I have vaccinated the chicks about five times so far since February,” he said.

Odhiambo consistently vaccinates his chickens against Gumboro, Newcastle Disease and Fowl Typhoid. He also understands how important hygiene is. Before anyone enters the chicken shed, they must wipe their feet in a disinfectant to avoid spreading possible infections. Since he started rearing chickens four months ago, vaccinations and medicines have cost him about KSh 4,000 (US $39). Once the chickens are five to six months old, he will start collecting eggs and sell them locally. Odhiambo aspires to rear 1,000 chickens and quit working as a boda boda operator, which he hopes will happen soon.

Odhiambo rears his chickens in a metallic shed with an adjacent chicken-mesh area. The shed, which cost him KSh 70,000 (US $693) to build including feeders/drinkers, surrounds a small compound with a tree where chickens freely roam during the day. Drinkers with water and feed hang from the tree. Odhiambo feeds the chicken at 8am and 1pm each day. “I value rearing chickens more than cows because in a few months I will get the eggs, but cows take about three years before getting anything from them,” he said.

The pastor turned poultry keeper

For 40 year old Newton Onyango Atela, pastor and father of five, improved indigenous chicken rearing economically sustains a home he runs for 187 disadvantaged children. Survival (and vaccination) of his 1,500-2,000 chickens matters, especially after he lost three-quarters of his 700 chickens to diseases preventable by vaccination in 2014. The chickens are reared free range and roam in a chicken mesh-enclosed compound. There are also iron sheet sheds where chickens stay at night, and the mud huts are used for brooding.

To ensure the chickens don’t succumb to Newcastle, Gumboro or Fowl Typhoid diseases, Onyango vaccinates them every two to three weeks up to eight weeks old. Medication and vaccines cost him up to KSh 15,000 (US $149) every four to six weeks. Hygiene practices are also maintained in the sheds, which have reduced disease outbreaks. “We are very serious on vaccines but we give medicine only when there is a disease,” said Onyango. That has reduced deaths to 2%, which mostly occur in the brooder.

Revenue at Onyango’s 12 hectare farm is generated by bulk sales of chickens to individual buyers or institutions such as colleges. During good months – such as festive periods – chicken sales are worth up to KSh 200,000 (US $1,980) and in bad months are worth about KSh 100,000 (US $990). Buyers also purchase chicks from the farm aged from one day old to over three weeks old. But eggs from the 350-360 layers are for the children in the home. Onyango has treasured chickens since he began rearing them two years ago; at times they have gotten him out of financial difficulties. “I have satisfaction having them. It’s something golden to me,” he says.

The tailor turned poultry keeper

Onyango’s view is shared by 54 year old Hellen Atieno Rudolph who values her flock of 28 improved indigenous chickens above any other possession. She has been a tailor in her hometown of Kakwaro for 20 years and as a tradition, kept local indigenous chicken. Still she never imagined the chickens would out-earn her tailoring business.

That changed in 2014 when, after training by the NGO, Technoserve, in her village, Atieno switched to rearing improved indigenous Rainbow breed chickens. She learned the importance of vaccinating her chickens against diseases like Gumboro, Newcastle Disease and Fowl Pox. Today, with 0.4 hectares, the widowed mother of three earns about KSh 1,200-1,500 (US $12-15) per month from selling a single chicken.

Atieno currently collects five eggs a day and locally sells one egg for KSh 10 (US $0.10). “In a week I can alter and repair one or two dresses but the chickens bring in a lot more than tailoring,” she says. Atieno vaccinates her chickens every three weeks until they are eight weeks old. On her piece of land she also grows groundnuts, maize, millet and vegetables on a subsistence basis. “Most of the food I eat I get from my farm. I don’t rely on buying from the local markets,” says Atieno.

According to a report by the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis, Kenya has about 31.4 million indigenous chickens being reared by farmers in rural areas. Indigenous chickens account for 84.1% of all poultry reared in the country.

Photos and story by James Karuga, WRENmedia correspondent

Produced by WRENmedia for GALVmed