I keep 3,000 kukus on my plot in a slum

Ms Mary Njeri during the interview at her poultry farm at Rhonda, Nakuru. (Photo: Suleiman Mbatiah/Standard)

Rhonda — an informal settlement in Nakuru town — is a typical slum. Rickety timber and mud-thatched houses are neatly squeezed next to each other and dark alley with running dirty water connects the humble structures.

Here hustlers of all kinds — from masons, to salonists, to mama nguo, to cobblers to hawkers and boda boda riders mingle with ease in this small space that is home to more than 20,000 people according to Nakuru County stats.

Walking through these sorry-state alleys, one wonders what farming good can come out of this congested space?

Welcome to Mary Njeri’s farm, tucked deep inside the slum, where she has set up an extraordinary farming unit christened — Mary Poultry Farm. On this small plot where she has rented a number of structures sitting on less than an eighth of an acre, she keeps more than 3,000 birds in different stages of development. Smart Harvest counted them.

Every corner matters

The farmer keeps pure kienyeji (500), improved Kalro variety (500) Rainbow rooster (700) Kuroilers (500) and 700 layers.

“People often ask me. “You mean you run a farm in a slum?” And I confidently tell them “Yes, I capitalise on every small space here. I use every resource with wisdom,” she says as she takes us on a tour of the fascinating farm.

Though the project is massive, she started small.

“I began with only three chicken. I used to keep them inside my single-roomed house,” Njeri shares.

The 29-year-old was once a hairdresser but quit to venture into agribusiness.

“Before I quit my salon job, I used to keep a few chicken which I would sell to my neighbours. When I realised I was making more from the small poultry side hustle, I resigned.”

That was in 2013. Now four years on, she has every reason to smile.

“Much as people think I am doing well. The truth is it has not been easy,” she says.

There is one season she lost more than 200 birds to Newcastle disease.

“I had bought fake vaccines from the local vets. To avoid such mishaps in future, I started attending training and doing research online,” Njeri points out.

As the flock increased, she constructed a temporary structure of 100 birds using timber and wire mesh. She factored in key specifications to ensure the structures had proper ventilation. For feeding troughs, she improvised used buckets. In the course of her journey, she realised natural brooding method did not make business sense.

“Some eggs failed to hatch causing huge losses.”

Aggressive marketing

She used her Sh80,000 from the sale of eggs to buy an incubator that could hold 528 eggs.

To perfect her hatching skills, she enrolled services of a vet and also did extensive research online.

Njeri now sells eggs, mature birds and week old birds to farmers in Nakuru and its environs. She says most of her clients are institutions and hotels.

To secure new clients, she says she does aggressive marketing on social media platforms.

“I am always on either Facebook or Whatsapp marketing my produce and seeking new clients. That’s explains my wide market reach,” she offers.

And how does she do the hatching?

She places the eggs in an incubator for 21 days and monitors the humidity and temperature. The farmer owns a brooder at the farm that produces approximately 3,000 chicks every week. She sells chicks between Sh100 and Sh115.

Given that she has been at it for a while, she has tonnes of advice for upcoming farmers.

“Farming is a good venture but farmers should conduct market search to avoid incurring losses,” she says.

For better production, proper housing is key, she says.

Though constrained on space, she has tactfully partitioned the chicken house. The cages are fitted with wire mesh for proper ventilation. Each cage also has resting frames for the birds.

“Chicken house should have proper ventilation and should be kept clean and dry at all times to keep off flies that attract diseases,” she says.

She also encourages proper feeding of chicken and adequate supply of water for better yields.

Every day, she collects between 20 and 25 crates of eggs selling each crate at Sh290 to an established market in Mombasa.

To attain desirable weight, the birds are fed on different feeds depending on their stages of growth that is chicks, growers and layers. The meal is supplemented by green lefty vegetables including Sukuma wiki that she grows on her farm.

Record keeping

“Layers require correct feeding ratio, excessive feeding is not encouraged because it causes bloating. Feeding is done once a day followed by a drink of water.”

Record keeping she says is key to monitor is the business is making loss or profit.

“While taking records, a farmer can easily identify unproductive bird and isolate from others and also diseases can easily to detected,” she adds.

Currently, she trains upcoming farmers at Sh2,000 per every farmer.

“Though I am not a professional, I have extensive knowledge on poultry thanks to the numerous training and seminars I have attended. I also consult closely with a vet,” Njeri says.

Having been in the business for a while, she says, the main challenge in poultry production is infestation of Newcastle disease.

Vaccination is the answer to this, she shares. Cannibalism is also another challenge facing layers. The problem can be sorted through debeaking, which should be done when the bird is between four and six weeks.

Isolation of the cannibal birds is also recommended. Other control methods include increasing feed rich in iron and calcium, reducing group size and adding litter on the floor to keep the birds busy.

And do her neighbours see the kuku’s business as a nuisance?

“Noooo… they appreciate what I do. And by the way, they are my number one clients for the eggs and meat.”

A to Z of growing big and healthy onions

High import bill poses threat