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Poultry farmers seek feed alternatives as prices soar

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As the price of maize hits an all time high, more poultry farm­ers are neg­lect­ing poultry farm­ing or re­du­cing the num­ber of poultry they keep to cush­ion them­selves from the high cost since maize grain is a key in­gredi­ent in feed man­u­fac­tur­ing.

However farm­ers adam­ant to re­main in poultry farm­ing even with the bit­ing times have found res­pite in al­tern­at­ive chicken feeds that are not only prov­ing cost ef­fect­ive but also nu­tri­tious to the poultry. From tra­di­tional crops that are re­garded as nu­tri­tious to hu­mans like am­ar­anth, mil­let and sorghum to worms farm­ers are re­cord­ing re­duced costs amount­ing upto 40 per­cent through these al­tern­at­ive feeds. 

Re­search­ers have also thrown their weight be­hind the al­tern­at­ive feeds de­bate ar­guing that the feeds allow for little or no com­pet­i­tion with hu­mans in terms of con­sump­tion like maize does. Maize is the prin­cipal en­ergy sup­plier in poultry feeds, but al­most all pro­duc­tion is used for human con­sump­tion.

De­mand for maize for human con­sump­tion has so far out­stripped sup­ply which makes maize very scarce for poultry feed. This scarcity has led to an in­crease in prices of com­mer­cial feeds, which then has the cu­mu­lat­ive ef­fect of farm­ers halv­ing or­ders for day-old chicks hurt­ing fu­ture pro­spects of poultry farm­ing. The end product is a spiral in product cost due low pro­duc­tion and high feed prices.

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The amount of maize re­quired for human con­sump­tion is es­tim­ated to be 3 mil­lion met­ric tons. Cur­rently, Kenya does not pro­duce enough maize and about 10 per­cent of the re­quire­ment is met through im­port­a­tion. In­ad­equate sup­ply of maize af­fects feed pro­duc­tion in terms of quant­ity and qual­ity. Kenya is de­fi­cient in oil seed cakes/meals that are im­port­ant as pro­tein sources in chicken feeds.

A re­cent ana­lysis of the feed in­dustry shows that there is con­sid­er­able im­port­a­tion of wheat milling by-products from Uganda. In ad­equate sup­ply of the key in­puts in an­imal feeds, puts the man­u­fac­turer in a dif­fi­cult po­s­i­tion. This has there­fore birthed talk of al­tern­at­ives for feed­ing chicken.

Re­search­ers are already look­ing at non­con­ven­tional sources such as pi­geon peas, leaf meals, and ag­ri­cul­tural by-products for pro­tein sup­ple­ments. A re­cent re­search by the Bridgenet Africa on al­tern­at­ive feeds re­por­ted that bul­rush mil­let ap­peared to be a good re­place­ment for maize due to its higher pro­tein con­tri­bu­tion, and that it could be im­proved fur­ther with lys­ine sup­ple­ment­a­tion.

The re­search also found out that raw pi­geon peas were a suit­able source of pro­tein at levels up to 15 per­cent in chick­en­feed ra­tions. The re­port fur­ther noted that Bul­rush mil­let and pi­geon peas com­bined were able to re­place up to 40 per­cent of the con­ven­tional en­ergy and pro­tein sources in poultry feed­stuffs. The bul­rush mil­let which with­stands hot tem­per­at­ures is a com­mon live­stock feed among poultry farm­ers in the semi arid Mbooni area of Ukam­bani, with the farm­ers re­port­ing a turn­around in sav­ings through these al­tern­at­ive feeds that they only grind manu­ally and feed to their chicken.

The same farm­ers are also using cas­sava as an al­tern­at­ive feed due to its sur­plus pro­duc­tion for human con­sump­tion. However they first dry it to rid it off cy­an­ide, the toxic pro­du­cing fungus. This model of in­tro­du­cing cas­sava is being cham­pioned by Bridgenet an NGO as­sist­ing farm­ers in Poultry keep­ing which has bor­rowed the model from European coun­tries like Hol­land and UK who have im­por­ted cas­sava from South East Asia for use in poultry and pig feeds. “It is pos­sible to change all this cry about ex­pens­ive chicken feed, if you look around and see for ex­ample how much cas­sava is rot­ting in the farms due to over­sup­ply. That cas­sava has been proven to be nu­tri­tious feed for chicken, and is read­ily avail­able,” says Dorothy Mwende a pro­gramme of­ficer with Bridgenet.

Mary Gikuni an agro­proneur from Limuru area ven­tured into farm­ing fod­der shrubs that have been known to in­crease milk pro­duc­tion in cattle by 20 per­cent. She later learnt from sci­ent­ists that the same fod­der shrubs known as Cali­andra are very ef­fect­ive in feed­ing chicken once they are cut into small quant­it­ies and even mixed with feeds that may be low in pro­tein.

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The shrubs which are easier to grow, matur­ing in about 12 months, after which they can be reg­u­larly pruned and fed to live­stock for up to 20 years have been known to harden the shells of the egg and im­prove the qual­ity of the egg yolk. Mrs Gikuni who couldn’t keep up with the rising cost of chicken feed re­cord­ing tre­mend­ous losses, got a break when a fel­low farmer in­tro­duced her to the fod­der shrubs.

Within one year of spir­ited ef­fort she man­aged to har­vest her first leaves, which she mixed with feeds of lower qual­ity, with the fod­der shrubs provid­ing the min­er­als and the pro­teins. From an ini­tial in­vest­ment of around Ksh 2,000 in buy­ing and tend­ing to the cali­andra seed­lings, Mrs Gikuni now earns between Ksh6,000- Ksh 10,000 a month after ex­penses. She is among the few sup­plier of chicken products in schools and ho­tels in Limuru area. “I al­ways tell my cus­tom­ers to com­pare my eggs with those of chicken that has fed on com­mer­cial feeds. The dif­fer­ence is glar­ing. The egg shell is harder and the egg york more yel­low,” she says.

However ex­perts are warn­ing that farm­ers should be wary of the kind of feed they in­tend to give their poultry and should dis­cuss it with the veter­in­ary of­ficers or ex­perts in feeds be­cause some of the al­tern­at­ive feeds might be pois­on­ous or might af­fect the qual­ity of the end product.  “Al­tern­at­ive feed in­gredi­ents need proper qual­ity con­trol from the out­set to define the nu­tri­ent con­tent for a par­tic­u­lar source,” says Dr Mwikali a con­sult­ing an­imal sci­ent­ist.

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