Kenya: Farmers turn to improved local chicken breeds (by Sawa Pius, in Kenya)

| September 23, 2013

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Edith Wambugi is no ordinary farmer. In the village of Muambani, in southern Kenya’s Machakos County, she’s known as the “chicken doctor.”

Carrying a plastic container with drugs and a syringe, Mrs. Wambugi moves from home to home vaccinating chickens. She holds down the chicken, injects it on the shoulder near the wing, and immediately puts it aside to avoid giving it a double dose. When she’s done, she moves on to another home.

In 2011, Mrs. Wambugi was trained how to raise improved local breeds of chickens. The training was part of a research project conducted by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, or KARI, in collaboration with Canada’s McGill University. Mrs. Wambugi says: “We took poultry as the number one priority, because when the crops fail, the livestock will die, but chickens will survive.”

Unlike exotic breeds, improved local chickens don’t need special food. They are bred to grow very quickly, and will weigh up to five kilograms at maturity. Their eggs are large and the chickens have very few health problems after being vaccinated.

Mrs. Wambugi vaccinates the chickens against Newcastle disease three times over a four-month period. She gives the first injection when the chicks are two weeks old. Farmers pay 10 shillings (11 US cents) each time a chicken is vaccinated. She also provides farmers with a drug which they mix in the drinking water of newly hatched chicks.

Mrs. Wambugi and her neighbours are part of a farmers’ group which raises and sells chickens. She remembers when the group sold their first chickens: “We asked each farmer who had chickens to sell, and we recorded how many chickens each person brought and how many kilograms each chicken weighed. Then we grouped them in sizes of two kilos, three kilos [and] up to five kilos.” The group looked for a buyer, sold the chickens, and gave each farmer his or her share of the earnings.

In each farmers’ group involved with the project, one member was selected as a host farmer. Joseph Wambua is one of these host farmers. The group uses his farm and home for demonstrations, where members learn good practices. When the chickens start laying eggs and the eggs hatch, each of the 22 group members receives one chicken.

Eggs from improved chickens are given to local chickens to hatch. Farmers raise the hatched chicks for later sale.

Monica Nzioka is a farmer from the village of Wote who started keeping poultry two years ago. Although she was not part of the KARI research project, she was invited to attend a one-week training program.

She says it was good luck that a researcher from McGill University invited her to attend. During the training, she was given 10 improved local chicks.

Mrs. Nzioka says that keeping chickens is far better than keeping goats and cows because chickens do not require much space. They are easy to feed because they can eat cereals or leaves of crops. She adds: “When there is no food, we get millet, mix [it] with some wild plants and maize or pigeon peas, and feed them.”

Mrs. Nzioka sold four chickens she describes as big and heavy for 1000 Kenya shillings each ($11 US).

She also learned how to vaccinate the chickens. Mrs. Nzioka says her whole village is now safe because she can vaccinate the chickens and educate other farmers.

She insists: “I want to urge mothers to put more effort into poultry, because just after three months, you can sell the chicken and keep your money. If you feel like, you can eat the chickens or the eggs.”