Why don’t you tell us how we can improve what we have (indigenous) rather than telling us to adopt modern production technologies, exotic animals and drugs? This is a question many farmers ask agricultural extension professionals. Of course there is a tendency to emphasize on introduction and adoption of “exotic” technologies.
This modernisation approach; tends to ignore indigenous knowledge which nonetheless offers an apt point for integration that can increase technology and innovations adoption likelihood.
In this approach; modern technologies are deemed superior to traditional/conventional technologies and farmers are encouraged to adopt them for increased productivity; which is a fact, but it is not true that we cannot improve our indigenous techniques to increase productivity in the same breadth.
Recently there are efforts to mix this modern approach with indigenous approaches so as to yield an integrated approach that doesn’t admonish agricultural practices of rural folks when training them on how to better their productivity through modern approaches.
It is in this breadth that today we discuss how to make the most from indigenous or kienyeji chicken.
Indigenous chicken are common in most homesteads not only in Kenya but across Africa. They are kept for eggs, meat, income generation and a symbol of social status. Most farmers are contented with a few eggs, small number of chicks and sporadic monetary gains from their indigenous stock of birds.
Kienyeji chicken enterprises are known for low input and low output; due to many losses from diseases, predation or in summary poor management.
But a lot more can be gained from indigenous chicken just through simple improved husbandry practices.
There are a variety of indigenous chicken in Kenya with characteristic tastier eggs and meat, disease tolerance and ability to survive in harsh climatic conditions. The market demand for kienyeji chicken is ever present; you are probably aware that indigenous chicken eggs cost more by up to Sh5 compared to their exotic counterparts.
With just a little improvement or modification of your kienyeji chicken enterprise you can start small and step by step transform the project into a mega kuku empire.
Here are smart strategies:
Synchronised egg laying
To start off you need a set of ten laying hens (preferably of almost the same ages) and one cock which is the recommended female male ratio. Remember to change this cock annually to avoid inbreeding which can result undesirable genetic traits in subsequent generations. Why it is preferred to have all hens of the same age is to synchronise laying; get more eggs for surrogate hatching and brooding and therefore produce many birds in a batch; because you want to commercialize your kienyeji chicken production.
You need a simple house either where they are sheltered from rain, sun or night, a watering can and feeding troughs. In the shelter provide laying nests (make them a bit dark) and perches for the birds to roost. You can choose to cut costs by letting them scavenge for food but let this be in your compound so that you can exercise control in breeding, reduce instances where they can pick diseases from neighbouring homesteads and to protect them from.
To actualise these you can have a small house that has a large field (enclosure) where birds can scavenge but with supplementation. These enclosed scavenging fields can be cheaply constructed using locally available materials like reeds, bamboo or used corrugated iron sheets. For the laying nests you can use carton boxes, worn-out car tyres or you can even mold them from clay.
Maximising Eggs and chicks Production
We have already established our basic indigenous chicken farm and what we need to do next is to maximise egg laying, hatching and thereafter the survival rate of our chicks. Since our hen are of the same age with good nutrition; they will probably come into lay at almost same time and you will have many eggs. Indigenous hens can start laying eggs as early as three months or as late as five months depending on how they are well or poorly fed and will lay between eight and 15 eggs in a season.
This forms our first point of intervention; carefully collect the eggs, wipe if they have any dirt and using a pencil write the date of lay and store them in a well-ventilated place with the broad part of the egg facing up to enhance viability.
We are doing this so that we can have few chickens hatching the eggs while we have more laying. When a hen starts to hatch the eggs provide her with as many eggs as she can sit on; the rule here is to ensure that all the eggs are completely covered by the bird therefore the number of eggs a hen can hatch will be determined by her body size a reason why ducks are used as they are relatively bigger.
Ducks can sit on 30 to 35 eggs are used as surrogates to hatch chicken eggs and this can be done consecutively for up to three times by simply replacing the hatched chicks with new eggs. As you develop further and the number of your birds increases this function can easily be taken over by an artificial hatching machine.
When the eggs hatch; once again collect all the chicks and put them in a brooder isolated from their mothers so that they can go back to laying eggs; you also have another option of using one hen to do the brooding as the others go back to laying. Preventing chicken from hatching and brooding lowers they interlay period from three months to only three weeks hence more eggs and chicks per hen per year.
Chicks in the brooder
This consists of a small circular or square enclosure with a source of warmth for the young chicks that haven’t grown feathers to keep off the cold. The source of warmth can be a kerosene lamp, jiko or an infrared lamp. The source should be well protected so that they don’t burn the chicks. At day one maintain the brooder temperature at 320 degrees centigrade and then reduce by 40 degrees centigrade every week until the third week when the chicks have grown enough feathers and can survive at room temperature. The pattern of distribution in the brooder will assist you in adjusting temperature; when chicks congregate around the source it tells you temperatures are low; when they are far from the source it is too hot and when well distributed throughout the brooder that is the right temperature. The floor of the brooder should be covered with at least 1 cm of wood shavings to conserve heat and absorb any wetness. The brooder should be well ventilated and feed and water should be provided at all the times. The water in the brooder should be changed twice a day. The holding capacity of a brooder is largely determined by the source of warmth and size of the brooder. The recommended stocking rate is 50 chicks per square metre; kerosene lamb will take up to 50 chicks, a jiko will take up to 400 chicks depending on the size while infra red lamp will take up to 250 chicks. A hen with a good mothering ability can also be used instead of a brooder; a hen can brood up to 60 chicks. This maximisation of the mothering ability is dependent synchronization of birds coming into lay and simultaneous hatching.