From a distance, one can get mixed reactions on spotting the winged beauty hovering up and down in the compound, a beauty that is a wealth-making machine for an elderly couple in Nyeri.
Birds of all colours, sizes, body structure and melodic tunes invites a visitor to the farm, which residents have come to nickname the 'birds’ world'.
This is Stephen Macharia's quarter acre farm in Nyeri township, who rears and breeds hundreds of ornamental birds for commercial purposes.
On a rainy day, the farmer earns up to Sh40,000 from the venture, selling birds and eggs. On a good day he earns Sh100,000 from the birds.
By looking at their faces, it’s obvious that the 65-year-old man and his wife Teresa Macharia, 60, live a comfortable life, that not many retirees of their age and even younger employees cannot afford.
They are a jovial couple that makes it appear that they are newlyweds in a honeymoon holiday in a bird’s sanctuary.
“We began the venture in 2008. That’s when we got a license from Kenya Wildlife Services. We had conducted a research that proved that the costs of rearing meat and egg chicken was prohibitive which reduced profits margin. Many farmers are going for broilers and layers, making competition very stiff, that’s why we decided to take a risk and go for ornamental birds. We do not regret the decision,” says Macharia, whose compound is decorated by a collection of birds from all over the world.
“We spend a lot of time in research, studying different types of birds in the world, their behavior and how they breed. We have identified a good number of other types of birds that we do not have here, and we intend to get and breed them here. We won’t rest until we have almost all types of birds in the world,” Macharia adds.
The birds and their eggs fetch better markets than breeds traditionally kept by local farmers.
For example, an egg from kienyenji chicken retails at between Sh15 and Sh20, while those from some of the birds they rear sell at Sh200 each.
“A chicken sells at between Sh500 and Sh1,000, while we sell some of our breeds such as bantam at Sh4,000 each. The cost of production for the layers and other chicken is far much higher compared to that of ornamental birds,” Teresa adds.
Teresa adds that after getting the KWS license, they first bought guinea fowls, quails, pigeons and falcon birds.
Today, they are proud owners of hundreds of birds of various types housed in a quarter acre piece of land.
Other species of birds in the farm include the Egyptian geese, silkies, marans, bantams such as pekin bantams and booted bantams, crown birds, Turkeys, a variety of indigenous chicken and many others.
Bantam is a small variety of poultry which has increasingly become popular as pets due to their small size and more varied exotic colours and feather patterns than other chicken.
Some of the ornamental birds are small in size compared to local types, but Macharia says the breeds are the most sought after and expensive breeds in the world.
A week-old bantam chick sells at Sh1,000, compared to other types of chicks that retail at between Sh100 and Sh150 when they are a week old.
"Birds like Egyptian geese sell at Sh7,000 each and Sh9,000 for a vulturine guinea fowl. However, some birds can even fetch Sh20,000 each depending on their type and availability,” she says.
Macharia says most of their customers are from outside Nyeri county, some visiting from as far as Kisumu, Mombasa and Eldoret.
“Ornamental birds are easy to manage and feed. A good number of them feed on insects, plants and scattered grains in the compound,” he says.
According to Teresa, the minimum she earns from sale of eggs from ornamental birds is Sh1,200.
"Some buyers place orders for chicks through phone. In case of such orders, we advise them to collect the chicks when they are about one week to one month old instead of when they are a day old, this is to ensure high survival rate,” Teresa said.
The couple has invested in four modern incubators, whose capacity is a total of over 6,000 eggs and a 5,000 capacity hatchery.
“Most of the breeds we rear are hardy, meaning that can survive under very strenuous conditions. They easily adapt to different weather and climate factors, and are also disease-tolerant,” Macharia said.