• The unit is designed and equipped to develop high yielding, fast-maturing, easy to maintain and disease resistant indigenous chicken varieties
• The poultry sub-sector has the potential to transform the country’s economy and improve the well-being of wananchi
A modern breeding and multiplication unit for indigenous chicken is now operational at Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organisation in Naivasha.
The 2,000 bird unit is a collaboration of Kalro and the European Union and is located at the parastatal's Non-Ruminant Research Centre.
Its construction started two years ago and was jointly funded by the government under the Climate Smart Agricultural Productivity Project (CS APP) and the EU through the AgriFI Kenya Challenge Fund Programme.
Kalro’s Non-Ruminant Institute director David Miano said the unit is designed and equipped to develop high yielding, fast-maturing, easy to maintain and disease resistant indigenous chicken varieties. The chicken can lay 220-280 eggs in a year – double the yield capacity of ordinary indigenous chicken.
“Through CS APP and AgriFI Kenya Challenge Fund Programme, Kalro has distributed about 1.5 million day-old chicks. More than 700,000 farmers have been trained on basic disease control and management mechanisms and best practices in poultry farming.
The poultry sub-sector has the potential to transform Kenya’s economy and improve the well-being of Kenyans. Agriculture contributes 26 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product directly and 27 per cent indirectly. Thirty per cent of this comes from the poultry sub-sector.
“This is a big contribution to Kenya’s GDP,” Miano said.
The country has an estimated 31 million birds. Out of these, 75 per cent indigenous chicken, 22 per cent broilers and layers and one per cent breeding stock.
The traditional chicken, Miano said, is mostly kept in rural areas while layers and broilers are mainly reared in the urban areas.
The multiplication unit targets to yield varieties that start laying eggs five months after being hatched and produce an average meat weight of 1.5kg. At only five months a cock weighs at least 2kg. Productivity of eggs by the improved Kalro indigenous hen lasts an average of five years, dropping gradually to 10-15 eggs per year.
EU ambassador Simon Mordue noted that towards achieving the Big Four Agenda on Food Security, policymakers at the national and county government levels should appreciate the opportunities available in the indigenous poultry industry.
“The two levels of government need to come up with strategies that will address challenges stifling the industry which include the high prices of feed, unstructured chicken and chicken products markets, lack of value addition, long-maturity duration of indigenous breeds and poor information dissemination to smallholder farmers,” he said.
“A more sustainable strategy will be to invest in research and development that will address low productivity occasioned by poor genotype, poor feed conversion inefficiency, diseases and low adoption of modern management practices,” Mordue said.
Nakuru County Executive Committee Member (CECM) for Agriculture Immaculate Njuthe Maina said that traditional indigenous chicken produces about 55 and 47 per cent of the total meat and eggs.
Maina said improved indigenous chicken have advantages over traditional ones because the former has undergone intensive selective breeding by Kalro in collaboration with other primary breeders to ensure optimum performance in terms of increased egg production and higher cold dressed weight.
“The county government has set aside over Sh10 million to support farmers with indigenous chicken. This indigenous chicken breeding and multiplication unit has been unveiled at a time the country is witnessing high market prices for indigenous chicken products,” she said.
The free-range breeds being developed at the Non-Ruminant Centre require no special care and can be fed just like other indigenous chicken, hence the low cost of production. The chicken has the capability to endure diverse climatic conditions and is highly tolerant to common chicken diseases like new castle,” Maina said.
Statistics from the National Farmers Information System (NFIS) indicate that an egg from indigenous chicken retails for Sh25-30 compared to those from hybrid layers which trade for Sh12-15 per egg. A 3kg indigenous chicken, according to NFIS retails at Sh600-Sh800 with the price likely to be higher in major cities.
Maina conceded that the high cost of commercial feeds and low hatchability of eggs at farm level were major constraints in the adoption of the improved indigenous chicken.
“Commercialisng the indigenous chicken sector has had several challenges among them frequent disease outbreaks, poor access to improved breeding stock, inadequate management skills, knowledge and information leading to poor productivity and loss of market opportunities.
Nearly all rural and peri-urban households keep small flocks of indigenous chicken, mostly owned and managed by women and children. Simple changes in the management of indigenous chicken can significantly improve production and the living conditions of many rural families in terms of enhanced nutrition and income generation through the sale of surplus chickens or eggs. Improved indigenous chicken production is, therefore, a low-cost and important aspect of enhancing food and nutritional security,” she said.
The Agriculture executive said the county will collaborate with primary breeders of improved indigenous chicken varieties in setting up a database of multipliers, that is, investors who obtain day-old chicks from primary breeders and multiply improved birds through private hatcheries for sale to producers in order to control the quality of breeds.
This, she said, will guarantee that farmers who rear birds for sale only obtain flocks that are of proven performance.
At the same time, Maina revealed that the devolved unit had trained and linked extension officers with poultry farmers as it continues to work out marketing channels for live birds and poultry products to avert exploitation by brokers.
“Improved technology in indigenous chicken breeding and multiplication and wider focus on optimisation of indigenous poultry breed will shorten production cycles for farmers and enable them enjoy quick returns.
“We are streamlining market channels to eventually ensure cheaper feeds, shorter production period, and shorter supply chain and a guaranteed market. With good management, this improved indigenous breed is the best for farmers given its resilient nature," Maina said.
Meanwhile, depending on what the farmer wants, the bird can be managed to produce eggs or meat. When managed as a broiler with commercial feeds, it can achieve 1.5 kg in seven weeks, or after three weeks of brooding it can be managed on free range with minimal supplementary feeding and be ready for consumption or sale after 10 to 14 weeks, Miano added.