The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute has launched a mass breeding programme of a new breed of superior indigenous chicken that lays 80 eggs more a year than foreign breeds and adapts to local climatic conditions. It is now breeding 35,000 of the chickens for sale.
With the right feed and meticulous chicken husbandry, the new super chicken is capable of producing 220-280 quality eggs a year, as opposed to around 200 a year from existing foreign breeds. However, it is the ability of the breed to survive in arid and semi arid conditions that is drawing most interest. Farmers rearing available breeds in the arid Kitui, Mwingi, and Machakos areas of Eastern Kenya have frequently suffered unexplained chicken deaths, especially when it gets too hot.
To accelerate the uptake of the new chicken, KARI has acquired a modern incubator for 35,000 eggs. A day-old chick is selling for Sh80, a four-week-old chick for Sh180, a breeding cocks for Sh800, while fertile eggs are going for Sh600 for a tray of 30 eggs. Unlike other chicken breeds in the market, it is easy to differentiate between layers and cockerels, as the hens are black in colour, while the cockerels are speckled.
The birds' quiet temperament and excellent feathering also allows it to adapt to the tough conditions, while also growing faster than ordinary birds, said KARI Senior Researcher Dr. Ann Wachira,
With 6.2kg of good quality feed over five months, the hen can attain 1.5 kg in weight. A cock that has consumed 6.8 kg of feed will weigh up to 2.1kg over the same period. To maintain optimum egg production, a hen from the breed requires 122g of feed per day.
'The birds can do well under free-range and organic farming management systems'', said Dr. Wachira.
The chicken also delivers both high quality meat and eggs, meaning that once it ages the farmer can still sell it for meat. Existing birds are either good in egg quality,and are commonly referred to as layers, or good in meat, and known as broilers.
Since the chicken was unveiled last year, demand for its meat and eggs has soared, pushing up egg and chicken meat prices. An egg from one of the new breed of chickens costs Sh20-30 in supermarkets compared to Sh12 from a foreign breed chicken. A full-grown super chicken now sells for Sh600-Sh700 compared to a foreign breed that fetches Sh400.
The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute has launched various projects meant to encourage the uptake of the free range indigenous chicken by as many rural Kenyans as possible. The project hopes to provide a low-cost source of income for rural Kenyans, in that the chickens can also source food for themselves, unlike the labour and capital intensive broiler breeds.
The same institute has also developed a new, cheaper, and convenient poultry vaccine to wipe out the Newcastle disease which is responsible for over 90 per cent of livestock deaths in Kenya, mostly of free range animals.
“With only Sh3000, a farmer now has a chance to rear about 50 indigenous chicken, which within 4-5 months can start laying eggs, with the market for indigenous eggs being bigger and better paying than the broiler market,” said Ann.
Currently there are 26m free range chickens reared in the country worth about Sh7bn in meat and eggs.
Interested poultry farmers can contact KARI Naivasha Center to get the chicks on +254 (050) 50482;
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter