Chicken farming mistakes: Neema Mugambi runs her poultry farm, Villa Kuku, at Thome estate, in Nairobi.

She keeps the birds in a 15m by 40m run in her compound and raises chicks in her house, where the incubator is. She has over 500 mature birds.

“I began poultry farming last December, with about 1,000 eggs,” says Mugambi.

“Then, I was only armed with hope. I knew nothing about poultry. My first mistake was buying eggs from a dealer and incubating them, clinging on to hope.”

After 21 anxious days, Mugambi suffered a setback. Of the 1,000 eggs she had incubated, only 300 hatched in a 5,280-egg capacity incubator that she bought at Sh100,000. She had planned to sell chicks.

Apparently, not all the eggs she had purchased had been fertilised. She had no idea how to check if an egg is fertilised using a candler. She raised the 300 chicks to maturity and luckily sold them to farmers.

Not to relent, the farmer who was then keeping the birds in a free room in her house, started the cycle again. This time she bought 600 day-old chicks at Sh100 each. But as fate would have it, nearly all of her flock died a few months later of what a vet said was lack of vaccination.

Chicks ought to be vaccinated against New Castle, Gumboro, and fowl typhoid, among other diseases.

LABELLED EGGS

However, Mugambi had no idea, and she did not bother to ask. The heart-breaking false starts that saw her lose her savings, however, did not kill the farmer’s spirit.

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In March, when her chicks were old enough, the mother of two, who had now become wiser, leased a plot in Thome where she put up a poultry run.

Today, she has over 500 birds, and more than 1,000 chicks of the Kenbrow and Kuroiler breeds aged between three days and two weeks which she sells.

Of the 500 birds, 400 are layers of Kenbrow and Kuroiler breeds, and 100 cockerels of Kari Kienyeji and Kuroiler breeds.

The farmer keeps both the layers and the cockerels for meat and eggs. A vet officer visits the farm after every two weeks.

She sells the cockerels for Sh1,000 as they mature. “At first, I was not selling my cockerels because they enabled me to have as many chicks as I want,” says Mugambi. She also did it to ensure she has quality for hatching.

She sells day-old chicks at Sh100, a week-old at Sh150 and a month old at Sh250. Mugambi has so far sold over 1,000 chicks to local farmers. She currently produces 800 chicks weekly and is struggling to find a market.

Animal experts note not any egg can be incubated.

Dr Mary Muchunguh, a livestock expert, says an egg for incubation should have a blunt side and a markedly sharper pointed end.

“Farmers should ensure that eggs are labelled by date of production and stored in a well-aerated place,” she says.

Labelling comes in handy during egg selection.

The recommended egg age for incubation should not exceed 10 days because hatchability rate drops drastically after a week and by the third week, it is at zero per cent.

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“Do not attempt to clean your eggs with a dump cloth as this clogs the egg pores and removes the natural coating making eggs prone to infections,” the livestock expert cautions.

When chicks begin to hatch, they should not be assisted out of the shell as it can cripple or infect them.

Once the eggs hatch, Mugambi transfers the chicks into a room in her house where she keeps the birds inside cardboard brooders fitted with bulbs.

“Besides the dry feeds, I also feed the birds on vegetables, which I harvest from a farm I leased in Kiambu,” she says.

She has planted spinach, sukuma wiki (collard greens) and managu (black nightshade) on the one-acre farm and uses manure from her poultry farm as fertiliser.

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