Chick brooding chamber slashes poultry farm costs

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