Farm of marvels sells feathers and flights

Mr. Mbaabu Muthamia has a passion for exotic agriculture, which has seen his Karen farm supply the President with soaring white pigeons, sell peacock feathers for weddings at Sh200 a piece, and even walk the Karen roadsides with Angora rabbits on leads.

At the heart of his farm of marvels lies a thriving bird business. Among his most sought after birds are peacocks, parrots, quills, guinea fowls, pheasants, partidges, pea fowls, geese, ducks, ornamental chicken and different varieties of pigeons. Most of the birds are exotics, some wild, and a few domesticated.

“I have made a name and have interacted and dined with prominent Kenyans, besides receiving dozens of trophies from President Kibaki, the patron of Agriculture Society of Kenya,’ the farmer says, holding a king pigeon.

During the promulgation of the new Constitution at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park in August 2010, white pigeons were released into the sky by President Kibaki and other Heads of State who attended the occasion.

They represented a new dawn for Kenya, adding colour and significance to the packed ceremony attended by thousands of Kenyans. They were Mr. Muthamia’s pigeons.

“My pigeons are sought after for various events and have even featured in a television advertisement for a mobile phone service provider, earning me some good money,” he says, counting three Cabinet ministers as his loyal customers.

“I was the first to exhibit guinea fowls and quills at the Nairobi International Show. Since then, I have never missed the annual event, as it is there that I meet most of my customers,” he adds.

In high demand is the quill, a tiny bird whose eggs are highly sought after for their medicinal value.

It weighs about 200 grammes on maturity, and is also sold in five-star hotels for its meat. The wild bird matures in 45 days and each egg sells for Sh19 in leading supermarkets. In a year, one bird can lay 290 eggs. Ex-layers are sold at Sh150, while the bird fetches about Sh300 on beginning to lay eggs.

Mr. Muthamia has about 600 quills and says the demand for eggs is high. “I want to breed more of these birds, because they are in high demand, as more Kenyans realise their importance.” He has also invested in a modern hatchery, as most of the birds he keeps do not sit on their eggs.

Another bird in constant demand is the peacock. There are 185 known varieties of peacocks in the world and Mr. Muthamia has 10 of those. Some of the common ones in Kenya include the blue-pied, silver-pied and black-shouldered. They are found in five-star hotels and in the homes of affluent individuals, who keep them as pets.

A peacock costs between Sh40,000 and Sh90,000 depending on the breed. The rare green peacock costs over Sh100,000. This variety does not make any noise and is thus preferred in homes.

Farmers are also cashing in on the feathers of this bird known for its pride and beauty.

One feather costs Sh200 and Mr. Muthamia has received an order to supply 200 to a forthcoming wedding. The feathers are also exported and used to make earrings.

The pheasant is another beautiful bird on Mr.Muthamia’s farm, which he imported from Britain six years ago. It is valued for its meat and was part of the delicacy served to US President Barack Obama in 2008, when he was sworn in.

Its feathers are also valued for making fishing flies. The farmer sells a pair of pheasants for Sh50,000. And now has eight of the birds.

Partridges are also famed for their delicious meat and feathers. Their feathers are exported to make fish flies, mostly in the US. They are made to resemble insects found in particular lakes.

Skins from these birds, guinea fowls and pheasants are also sold ad ornaments. They are stuffed to resemble live birds and kept in living or hotel rooms.

Some Kenyans sell the skins in overseas markets at Sh10,000 a piece.

Mr. Muthamia has been increasing his flock through importing and breeding at his Tausi Farm. He gets his eggs from the USA, Britain, Australia and Holland.

He has also excelled in breeding rabbits, with 10 different varieties on his farm, including the Angora, which is the only breed in the world whose fur can be spun into wool. With special ropes, the Angora rabbit can accompany its master on a roadside walk, like a dog ,and is a source of entertainment for children as a bunny.

“Kenyan farmers know, at most, four varieties of rabbits, but there are more than 500. For several years now, there have not been fresh imports and we have witnessed massive inbreeding. This has compromised the quality of our breeds,” he said.

“Rabbit farmers are complaining there are no markets, but the problem is that they are not keeping superior breeds. Demand for quality breeds is high, since, just recently, I had 200 of them and now have only 30, having sold the rest.” Some of the breeds on his farm weigh six kilogrammes, and he sells an eight-week-old rabbit for Sh3,000.

Mr. Muthamia is also now diversifying into arrowroots, which he says he expects to export to Arusha, where hotels have expressed huge interest, but haven't yet managed to establish good supplies.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter