While other people look at doves and pigeons as lad’s pets, a Rift Valley farmer is tapping into the growing market for the flowery birds to make tens of thousands per month close to 20 years after starting small.
Dennis Chege makes between Sh90,000 and Sh120,000 a month from his two farms in Eldoret and Nakuru, with the churches being some of his mains customers buying pairs of doves for various function like weddings.
Whilst other farmers sell a pair of doves at more than Sh1,000, Chege asks for Sh600 for every pair.
“Many people look down upon these birds and dismiss them as boyish business. I also despised them at the start, in 1998. But the call orders I have been receiving in the past years have shown that this is not a boyish venture, but a cool agribusiness that maybe better than other poultry like chickens,” he said.
And he says despite rearing more than 1,000 birds, he is not able to meet the demand, which he says keeps rising day by day. They are ornamental birds too in the homes.
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When Jesus was being baptised by John the Baptist at River Jordan, the Bible says, a dove came down from heaven. The dove landed on Jesus.
During sacrifices in the Old Testament, the doves were also used as part of the items required for the offering to be accepted. For instance in the case of Abraham’s sacrifices, the birds were not cut into halves as other animals.
They were to be witnesses of the covenant between God and Abraham. This is part of the history that makes the dove to be an outstanding bird in the Christian worship.
He added that that the humility, innocence, peace, and beauty the birds connote is driving the use of the birds in weddings and other related functions. Besides churches, children and elderly homes too are also clients.
“Catholic Church weddings and other social events are graced by these humble birds. Sometimes am asked to supply up to 400 birds, but I do not have the capacity to do so. In such cases, I call on my farming networks to help. The market is rich, the supply is poor,” he said.
He considers this agribusiness less demanding and cheap in the long run when compared to chicken.
With a bird laying two eggs, it takes only 18 days to hatch squabs. Within five and half months, the squabs are mature to lay eggs again. After one week, the female again lays eggs, and the cycle continues.
He regularly vaccinates them against Newcastle disease, which he says, is one of the most dangerous infection that can quickly wipe the cote.
Chege, who also works as a closed circuit television operator in Eldoret, says kitchen remains form part of the meals for the birds.
But he also spends Sh7,500 on grade II flour, which he cooks into ugali for the birds in a month.
Wheat and rice and other small supplementary feeds keep his brood full for a month.
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“I feed them in the morning and early afternoon. I also water them and that completes a day,” Chege says.
Although meat from the birds is not common, he says few other agribusiness people are showing interest in popularising this product.
What one needs to start this business is just a small cage and feed. For small starters, the birds can be fed on kitchen remains and hunt down insects when left free, he says.
Pigeons cost the same but their demand for religious function remains limited as the dove remains a distinct one.
Photo by Laban Robert.