Kenyan poultry keepers are flocking to Jinja town, Uganda to buy a novel, portable chicken rearing cage that helps them distribute food rations equally among chicken and reduces egg breakages as the eggs roll to a collection centre. Chicken farmers say they have saved over 20 eggs from breakage in a month in a 60-chicken rearing cage, while reducing feed waste by up to 15 per cent through the distribution of equal rations.
The cage is also drawing pastoralists from as far as Pokot, who have traditionally shied away from poultry keeping due to the inability to move around with chicken as they search for pasture.
Developed by Jinja based Butenga Chick Farmers in partnership with an Israeli company, the stainless steel cage is fitted with feeding and drinking troughs and a laying box. The cage, the size of an ordinary sitting room table, can accommodate up to 108 birds and is subdivided into units, with each single unit taking three birds.
Pushed by exorbitant electricity costs and soaring charcoal prices used to brood their chicks, a group of vanguard farmers in Uasin Gishu area of Rift Valley province have devised a modest but cost effective way of keeping chicks warm at night by making use of the heat produced while cooking. A chamber commonly referred to among the Kalenjin as Chepkube, where food is kept after cooking to keep it warm, fired their imagination on how they can trap the heat from the chamber. According to the poultry keepers, the jiko emits a lot of heat during cooking, which goes to waste even as they struggled to look for ways to prevent their chicks from dying. One farmer, for example, lost 12 chicks in a week during the cold season when he couldn’t get appropriate heat to keep the chicks warm throughout the night when the cold became unbearable. “I had no electricity and the cost of charcoal kept rising. I couldn’t keep up with it. I would only use a tin lamp to try to keep them warm, but they would all crowd around the lamp and the weak ones would be elbowed out and eventually died of cold,” said Kiprono, who on average would spend Sh1,000 a week in charcoal to keep the chicks warm. Add that to the cost of feeds, of up to Sh2500 in a week, and Kiprono’s savings ended up drained. Dorothy Chebet, another poultry farmer actively involved in the chicken brooder project, relives the desperate moments she went through to keep her chicks warm. She would heat water and put it in bottles then place them in baskets together with the chicks to keep them warm. “It was chaotic and not even a guarantee that they would get the warmth they needed, since the water would not stay warm for the whole night. The first thing I did when I woke up was to go straight to check whether the chicks were OK,” she said. Together with other poultry farmers who belong to a farmer organization they started exchanging ideas on how to tap into the wasted heat from cooking, which led to the birth of the brooding chamber. The frame of the chamber is made of wooden and metal bars that form the cooking area. Iron sheets on the upper part help to trap the heat and transmit it to the lower section because of their ability to conduct heat. Bricks are used for the walls and roofing done with mud used as mortar to hold the bricks together. When cooking, the heat emitted is trapped in between the roof and the floor of the brooder. This heat is retained and saved for later use. If a farmer cooks three times in a day, the heat produced is enough to keep the chicks warm the whole night. On the wall where the jiko is built, a hole is made through, so that when there is sunshine, the farmer allows the chicks to go out through it. The opening is covered at night in order to preserve the heat. On the outer side of the wall, there is a resting area for the chicks commonly referred to as a trapezium, made up of wood and wire mesh with a door at the top. The trapezium protects the chicks from predators. The brooders have taken off at speed, across churches, homes and even educational institutions, costing users almost nothing to make and greatly reducing the cost of buying charcoal or using electric heaters to keep the chicks warm. Now, the innovation tried and tested in Uasin Gishu has opened an opportunity to be replicated countrywide as more poultry farmers choke under the twin burden of escalating feed prices, which have more than doubled in the last two years, and the high cost of electricity and charcoal. A recent study by the Ministry of Livestock showed that 60 per cent of poultry keepers, both free range and commercial, identified the cost of maintaining their chicks as the most difficult part of the poultry business. Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
A local agricultural innovator has developed a kit poultry farmers can use to check which eggs are fertile and to assess their progress when in an incubator waiting to hatch.
Through the kit, dubbed the candling box, farmers know which hens lay infertile eggs that spoil and can’t hatch, so that they can cull them.According to the inventor Geoffrey Kago, he is currently selling around 50 of the Candlers a month compared to 10 this time last year.
He came up with the Candler concept after realizing the challenges in his own poultry farming in selecting which types of eggs to put into the incubator and which to leave out.
The Candler helps “assess the defects in an egg and check its progress, like nutrition,” said Kago. The Candler is rectangular in shape and slightly bigger than a brick and has a hole on one side designed to fit the pointed side of the egg.
Inside it is hollow but for a lighting fixture. To check the egg’s condition, the farmers places the egg’s pointed side in the hole and lights the Candler in a dark room. If the farmer notices the air sac in the less pointed side is sagging and big, then it’s a sign the egg has been left too long and has become dehydrated.
Thus it can’t be placed in an incubator to hatch, as it has lost 15 per cent of the water in it. Ideally, according to Kago, to select an egg for hatching it must be fewer than 7 days old. “As the egg ages, the bigger the air space,” he said. Where the farmer sees two yolks in one egg, it is also unsuitable for incubation.
Kago also advises farmers to check the outward physical appearance of eggs and ensure that they are of uniform colour and size for that particular bird breed. Eggs with blotches, wrinkles, bumps or multiple
colours may not hatch if incubated, as it’s a sign of deficient nutrients in the hen that laid the eggs.
Besides checking the egg before it’s placed in the incubator, the Candler helps farmers to gauge the progress of eggs waiting to hatch in the incubator. Through it a farmer is able to isolate spoilt eggs
and forecast around how many hatchlings he is likely to get.
By checking the eggs progress, the farmer can also know which of his hens are laying fertile eggs, as well as knowing which cocks are old and inactive with the hens. That way, farmers can cull knowledgeably for slaughter or selling and retain their most productive chickens.
Kago advises poultry farmers that prior to checking the eggs in the incubator they wash their hands to avoid contaminating eggs. When an egg is progressing to hatch, the Candler shows a consistent
formation of a network of blood veins in from day 10 to day 18 a silhouette chick image is visible. “It’s the growth of an embryo,” said Kago.
From his base along Nairobi Nakuru highway at Gitaru, he sells a Candler with its own lighting system for Sh1000 and one without for Sh500. The one without a light sees farmers utilize an ordinary torch
to examine their eggs.
He says the demand for his Candlers is being propelled by the demand for new innovative egg incubators that he also invented and sells.The Candler can be used to examine eggs for ducks, turkeys and guinea fowls, as well as chickens.
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
“What this means, and which is why it has competitive advantage over the other cages where chicken are placed together, is the fact that each chicken can feed freely and there is no scramble for feed. The chicken farmer also gets to know the food rations and better manage the feed,” said Chris Magezi of Butenga Chick Farmers.
Traditional cages that house the birds together in one area have caused feed to be scattered as the chickens scramble for a share, leaving some birds going without the feed and leading to cannibalism.
The cage, which is best suited for layers, also has a collection centre where the eggs roll after being laid, which keeps them clean and free from breakage.
“It's a huge relief for me. I have struggled so much with egg breakages when the chicken either steps on them, making them dirty, or pecking them, making them unsellable. For cleaning the eggs, I have to hire more people to clean them before being sold. But I can count a Sh5,000 profit since I acquired the portable cage,” said Wenfa Kinge, a poultry farmer who has bought three cages.
The cages, which cost approximately Sh68,000, are, however, only suitable for birds that are eight weeks and beyond.
“The initial price may seem high, but if you do the maths and consider how many renovations you have to do in terms of replacing broken wood or poor floor with the traditional cages and the egg and feed loss, you will see you have saved a lot,” said Magezi.
Ado Lempaa, a pastoralist now using the new cage, agrees with Magezi. “I have always feared rearing chicken, first of all because of how involving it is putting up housing structures and then how cumbersome it is to put them together, but when a friend told me about it I liked the idea right away. I sold a couple of my cows and added from my savings to buy it,” said Lempaa, who is now the only large scale chicken farmer in Pokot.
Rearing some 200 chicken in his two cages, his produce has become sought after in Pokot and neighbouring towns, where eggs are often scarce in the face of limited chicken rearing. He sells each egg at Sh20, double the market price in Nairobi and other towns in Kenya.
For more information on the portable chicken cages contact
Butenga Farmers Chick Star
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