As the tourism industry spiraled down, I was thinking of something to do to remain busy and relevant to the family. No one is relevant or useful in family life if you cannot put the bacon on the breakfast table. Considering that for any business to succeed, one must try as much as possible to start a business one is familiar with, or at the least, has a liking to. With my love for animals, I was thinking of keeping any of the domestic animal species that would give the family food and some income as well.
I did some talking and listening to those who have kept animals for both food and as a business. Options were many. Chicken, rabbits, geese, pigs, dogs, have been farmed the world over and has made some individuals millionaires. I was not looking for millions but surrounding myself with lovely animals that would keep me busy while we wait for the industry to recover.
After a long soul-searching, I narrowed down to three options. Rabbits for the fact that they reproduce faster, and there is a new craze for them in Chinese restaurants. They do not require a lot of money to start with, and are relatively easy to manage. Next option was the dogs for the simple reason that a dog becomes your friend immediately you acquire it. They are also prolific breeders and can build up their numbers very fast.
The only problem with this choice is that they are also heavy feeders. With several good quality dogs, it can be a challenge keeping them in healthy conditions without a lot of money. If I was to sell them, the market is shaky as buyers are very keen on pedigree. I may have to keep different breeds in order to fully serve the market. One big plus with the business of breeding dogs for sale is that the house is safe from small time thieves. My last option was chicken. There is a choice of keeping broilers, layers or keeping a hatchery to sell day-old chicks.
I went out to visit big farmers who have been in this business for long and understand the challenges well. But after each visit, what I saw did little to impress me to keep any of the animals. I was not excited by the prospect of starting such business. In the rabbit farm, I was shown different breeds that can do well in my area. To achieve maximum benefit from keeping the rabbits, science has been heavily used to interbreed the animals and introduced non-natural diets.
The rabbit is restricted to movements to save energy and transfer that into building muscles to increase weight. They become so big they can hardly move by the time of disposing them. The males must be kept away from the females and only introduced during mating time, to be dictated by the human keeper. Invariably, the rabbit does not exhibit the natural habits that it should if it was left to live naturally. This was very disappointing to me and I gave up on checking on my other two options and threw away the thought of keeping animals as a business.
We have long realised with characteristically human foresight that animals are an important economic resource. Without them, life for us would be a good deal harder. It is difficult to picture a world where animals were not bred to provide us with food, shelter, labour and other services including offering companionship. At best, the man-animal relationship that I longed for, can be achieved well for the benefit of both parties-man and animal.
As an example, we need to look no further than the shepherd with his dog and his flock. The sheep is a prolific source of meat and clothing, but it needs to be encouraged by thoughtful husbandry to provide maximum benefit. So the farmer, be he a big rancher or a peasant in the African plains, must be in tune with the natural needs of the animals. He must allow his sheep enough time and freedom to reproduce, eat and rest. He must key his demands from the animals with the cycle of nature. It is simply pathetic to force rhythms evolved over millions of years into the artificial tempos of man-made society. I could be wrong though, but those are my feelings.
Steve Kinuthia is a veteran professional safari guide and the proprietor of Bushman Adventures Limited.