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    CHICKS Mary Poultry farm nakuru by Laban Robert

    With the growing population and consumption of chickens globally, these birds have become a major agribusiness venture with investments ranging from a few shillings into trillions of US dollars.

    Besides free range, where farmers only cater for the night security, successful formal rearing of chickens starts from the first day after a chick has been hatched by the hen or the incubator. Vaccination is an accompaniment that ensures more than 90 per cent survival of the chicks and later hens.
    On the first day a chick must be vaccinated against mareks disease. This is a highly contagious viral disease that can kill 100 per cent chickens.
    The virus causes inflation of the brain and backbone cells leading to paralysis of the legs, wings and the neck. The eye iris turns grey, therefore, impairing sight. The feathers become rough and emaciation sets in before death.
    On the sixth day, farmers must vaccinate the chicks against new castle disease. The vaccine is applied as an eye drop.
    It is also another viral disease that had varied mortality rate that can hit 100 per cent. It attacks chickens and most poultry of all ages.
    It impairs the nervous, the reproductive and the respiratory systems. Major signs include coughing, diarrhoea, depression twisted neck, paralysis and sudden death.
    On the 14th day, the chicks have to be vaccinated against gumboro. This is another viral disease that suppresses the immunity system of chickens older than three weeks. The feathers around the neck are stained with faeces.
    Diarrhoea, anorexia, depression, rough feathers are other signs.
    The first vaccination is administered by eye drops while the second one, which is done after 21 days is through drinking water.
    Another new castle vaccine is administered after 28 days in drinking water. The vaccine is repeated after every two months.
    Fowl typhoid vaccine is administered after six weeks. Birds suffering from this disease look pale diarrhea more frequently and as a result, they are dehydrated. Other signs include bile-stained liver and enlarged spleen.
    On the same sixth week, thigh muscle fowl typhoid is administered.
    The chickens are left to grow until deworming is done on the 18th week.

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    The chicks are fed on starter diet, which is rich in proteins for the first eight weeks. Growers mash for body building is offered from the ninth to the 19th week. Layers diet is introduces after the 19th week.
    The feeds are introduced gradually to by mixing the old to the new feed for a few days to avoid stressing the chickens.
    This is the timetable of Mary Njeri, the co-owner of Mary Poultry Farm, in Nakuru. She runs the agribusiness with her husband, Dennis Chege.

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    Chickens Mary Njeri Nakuru By Laban Robert 2

    Farmers, who gradually introduce new feeds to livestock, have sustained yields during and after the transition period.

    Instant change of feed brand for whatever reason shocks livestock like chicken, which go into production recess as a result of stress.

    Nakuru County farmer Mary Njeri said poultry, especially chickens, drop eggs production almost immediately after the sudden change of the feed brand.

    The farmer, w ho has more than 600 chickens, said the digestive system is interrupted after receiving ‘foreign food’ leading to stress.

    Stress causes loss of appetite and even if there is no alternative, the chickens peck a few mouthfuls for survival.

    “Chickens suffer from stress with a sudden change of routine. If they have been feeding on a given brands since they were one day old, abrupt change sends shock waves in the system of the bird, leading to abstinence or  minimum feeding,” she said.

    Feeds are sources of protein, carbohydrates and other nutrients required for production. Any reduced consumption is reflected in suppressed production.

    Examples of chicken feeds are manufactured by Unga and Kay.  If a farmer want to stop offering her chickens Kay and move to Unga, Njeri says the feeds have to be mixed in equal ration for more than one week as part of orientation.

    An egg laying chicken consumes between 130g and 150g of feeds per day. If 50 chickens consume eight kilos of layers mash per day, four kilos have to be from Unga and Kay brands.

    Chicken can take weeks to months to adjust to the new feed, a time tat they will not be laying or will be doing so with skipping. 

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    The gradual introduction formula is also followed when weaning chicks from chick mash to growers mash and layers mash.

    Price fluctuation is one of the major reasons driving farmers into switching from one feed to the other. Others do so as a cost-cutting measure as they pursue locally made varieties.

    Njeri, who was a saloonist about five years ago, has leaned all this from the experience of handling hundreds of chickens from season to season.

    The farmer ahs more than 600 chicks and chickens at her farm at Langa Langa Estate in Nakuru town and Njoro farm-about 20kilometres away.

     Although she sells mature chickens, eggs, doves and pigeons, chicks are her main business. She uses chickens and incubation machines to hatch the chicks, which are sold at the age of one week, month, or as the farmer may request.

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    Poor timing and entry of middlemen in the supply chain are chopping off more than 40 per cent of the farmer’s earnings from snap peas despite the rise in prices for most agro-products.

    Snap peas, snow peas and French beans are among Kenya’s leading fresh produce exported to the European Union, the US and other countries.

    Although the export market is wide and paying well, Meru County farmer Julius Laban is selling snap peas to middlemen, who are paying dismally.

    The brokers transport the produce to exporters in Nairobi.

    Being a fresh product, holding it more can cause more losses, and this is pushing the farmer to dispose of the snap peas at Sh100 per kilo instead of the usual Sh250 for the same quantity.

    With sufficient rain, Laban harvests at least 800kg from a 10m by 70m plot, which he says, should ideally earn him Sh200,000 in gross income.

    Given the competition from other farmers, who flood the market, he has settled for a gross income of Sh80,000.

    “Farmers have no choice when they cannot access high-end markets on their own. They take whatever the brokers offer. The export market for most horticultural products is flourishing, but this only benefits those who never worked hard in the farm,” he said.

    Producing when every farmer is having the same crop reduces the price of the commodity as the buyers are spoilt for choice.

    READ ALSO: Towns offering double prices for fresh peas

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    The price of commodities has been on the rise and only those who relied on irrigation benefitted from the high prices.

    Snow peas take about eight weeks to mature. From the onset of the rains in March, the harvest is already booming. When the peas are in plenty, the buyers cut down on the price as the desperate farmers struggle to sell the fresh produce.

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