Francis Ondier 52 is very particular about visitors to his livestock farm. Any visitor must wash their hands and disinfect their shoes. It has not always been this way, but as a pioneer chicken for business farmer in Western Kenya he has learnt the hard way how to take care of his precious birds.
“I don’t want you to bring any diseases from other farms here,” he said. Ondier is used to having visitors from across Kenya come and see his farm. They want to learn how a small-holder farmer can raise chickens as a business. Things are going so well for the former train mechanic that he recently turned down a salary job in Nairobi.
Most families around western Kenya own a chicken or two. The few eggs produced are collected and usually fed to the children. The chicks that do survive may be sold or eventually eaten. For most families, a chicken is a source of food. For Ondier, it is money. “Few people realize this is an income generator,” he said as he pointed at a group of new chicks.
They are kept in a tiered coup on the side of a shed to keep them out of danger from hawks. Without the ability to provide artificial warmth, Ondier collects the chicks in a ventilated cardboard box to spend the night on the kitchen counter. Squeezing them in together provides the warmth they need overnight.
In the morning, he returns the birds to their rows to warm up in the morning sun. The location was picked so that the chicks can warm up as the day begins. When the chicks grow they make it to a larger coop before finally getting to go outside once they are too big for flying predators to take away. Ondier’s inspiration is Nelson Mandela. The South African leader’s quote, “It only seems impossible until it’s done,” can be found around the farm.
He knows that hardship well. When he started raising chicken for selling he did terribly. The 120 chicks that were initially born saw a mortality rate of 70 percent to 80 percent. He did not know how to protect them and keep them healthy.
Opportunity came through a training event put on by Winrock International and the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), the goal was to train farmers in chicken rearing methods so that they can put the knowledge to work and train fellow farmers. Ondier was not supposed to go. The MVP initially completely paid for farmers to attend such trainings. Community members traveled well, had food covered and stayed in nice hotels, he said. By the time Ondier was farming, the MVP only supported transportation costs.
When spots opened up due to farmers refusing to pay their own way, Oinder lept at the opportunity. He called it an easy decision.
“Why would I turn down the opportunity?” he asked rhetorically. Armed with the knowledge on how to raise chicks, he started to work by building coops. The MVP taught him how to make his own compost pile from the few cows he owns. It is then used as fertilizer for the farm which produces the wood for making the coops and storage facilities.
“I want to do everything at the doorfront,” he said. The compost also feeds the maize and vegetables that Oinder grows for feeding his animals. He uses a hybrid varity maize seed and a local one to create different feeds. Although he does not say it is his goal, Oinder’s farming methods are both organic and nearly completely self-sustaining. It is more of a sign of his entrepreneurial spirit.
When he worked on the trains in and around Nairobi, Oinder saved the metal sheets that were to be discarded with the used filters. They now act as the siding for his coops.
Raising chickens was not in Oinder’s plans. He hoped to continue working as a train mechanic, but left his job after ownership changed and it affected his work. Returning to the Yala area, he thought that it would be a good idea to put his skills to use as a car mechanic.
That idea quickly failed. People were not willing to pay for the services or expertise of a mechanic. They would rather tinker themselves or get someone to do it for free, even if it was not a solution to the problem. The only thing left for him to do was return to the farm. Oinder has big dreams for the future.
“Come back here in five years and you will find five thousand chicks,” he boasts. He is hopeful that a transformer will be installed closer to his house so that he can invest in electric warmers for the chicks. Once he has that up and running he can take on even more that his personal best of 1,950.
That was when the demand was lower. Now he says he can’t keep up with the demand. Chicks are sold in batches to people as far as central Kenya and they want more. “That is your bank,” he said looking at the few week old chicks. “That is your ATM.”
If all goes to plan, the bank of Oinder will be flush with capital soon.