• Competition in the chicken market leads to malpractices that could harm your health
• Staff at Kenchic, which occupies 75% of the market, say their process is aboveboard
Whenever you are out to buy chicken meat in the supermarkets or any store, be as keen on the brand as you are on the price.
With health concerns on the radar, before you spend your money on chicken meat, experts advise considering the brand on offer. This would help answer the question of how the egg was cared for, how the chick was nursed and the environment where it was bred.
It also answers the question of the healthcare and welfare accorded to the bird, how it was slaughtered and eventually, how the meat was handled to the store shelves where you meet it.
Many large-scale farmers of broiler chicken are suspected of feeding them with excess hormone boosters to quicken their growth.
A tour of the Kenchic production processes by the Star found that unlike unbranded chicken meat on offer in most outlets, including in the streets, the company invests a great deal in ensuring the production environment is healthy and the welfare and the rights of the birds are observed.
Kenchic occupies around 70 to 75 per cent of the chicken market in the country.
Anton Scheeper, the company’s plant manager for its Thika factory, said the company has contracted farmers who serve as its breeder and who are legally obligated to follow its standard operating procedures (SOPs) in their breeding.
FARM TO FORK PROGRAMME
The company has a programme it calls farm-to-fork, through which it tracks the birds from the moment the eggs are laid, marks it and tracks it to its hatching and monitoring the bird until it is slaughtered and dispatched.
Also, the company has an inflexible regime for monitoring the birth of the chicks, their rearing and eventually their landing on the knife-edge and packaging to the shelves.
It prepares the vaccine schedule, feeding programme and any related instructions and has the farmers follow it to the letter.
We don’t use any additives. No prophylactic antibiotics. No boosters shots unless when needed to treat a diseaseAnton Scheeper
Scheeper said the company follows meticulous procedures that involve auditing the farmers to ensure they keep with the requirements of animal welfare, vaccine and treatment schedules as well as the chick tracking system.
The farmers who breach the contracts and engage in shortcuts are edged out of the arrangement, he said.
The Thika factory processes up to 30,000 chicks per week. Truckloads of the chicks are received at the intake section of the factory, a room with blue lights fluorescent bulbs to calm the birds. Each truck carries 3,400 chicken.
In an all-automated process, the birds are then put into a revolving machine system, through which they are electrically stunned to kill off the pain in the slaughtering process, followed by decapitating and de-feathering in boiling water.
The now upside-down hanging headless and de-feathered chicks in their thousands then move to a section where a machine extracts their internal organs before moving them to where their legs are cut.
The company does customer-specific sorting of the final products, which are then branded as ordered by the customers.
Leading retail outlet brands, including supermarkets and other eateries, put orders with them for specific sorted parts, which are dispatched at the tail-end of the processes, depending on the timing of the demand.
So does the company inject hormones and ARV drugs into their chicken to make maturing and gaining of weight faster? Scheeper denies this.
“I can tell you that I can eat every chicken harvested from all our farms without any hesitation. Our chicks are not just given the right medication, they are also ethically raised in a manner that upholds their rights and welfare,” he said.
Scheeper said at the farms, the chicks are not caged and that they are allowed to roam freely as a way not to subject them to stress. They also put structure to allow the birds to patch and also provide them with toys to peck.
“The birds are not crammed in one space and the harvested birds are slaughtered within 12 hours,” he said.
“We don’t use any additives. No prophylactic antibiotics. No boosters shots unless when needed to treat a disease,” Scheeper added.
The company’s lead veterinarian Watson Messo Odwako confirmed this.
HYGIENE, QUALITY CHECK
Hygiene at the farms and processing farms is heightened, Scheeper says, explaining that the company maintains a fully equipped modern laboratory in Industrial Area, where constant sample analysis to monitor the bacterial load is monitored.
Quality manager at the laboratory Pamela Kinya said they take swabs from the surface at the processing plants, on the sample meat and eggs surfaces as well as from the breading farms and analyse to ensure health standards.
“We also take swabs from the birds for the analysis to ensure our operating environment is not just healthy for the birds but also to ascertain that the products we offer to the customers meet the standards,” she said.
The lab, which the Star toured, is certified by the South African Accreditation System (SANAs). Kanyi said the facility was to receive conclusive accreditation by the Kenyan system in a month’s time.
Kanyi said at the lab, they investigate the sample of every packed product due for dispatch to the market for antibiotic residues. The analysis, she said, is to ensure no residue of antibiotics is in the meat.
The company also breeds layers for its eggs and live chicken business. It sells little chicks to farmers who may want to rear them independently.
But still, David Opepo, the hatchery manager at the company, says, it takes great care to ensure biosafety and offers training to them to ensure proper husbandry practices.
In this arm, he said, the company collects the eggs from its farms, isolating and marking them as they are placed in incubation machines. To ensure the cold chain is broken, he says, the eggs are maintained at a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius. The eggs are incubated for 21 days, where they are kept in the setters for 18 days and three in the hatchery.
Vaccination starts on the one-day-old chicks, during which de-beaking is also done by exposing the birds to infrared lights.
“The company has set up the hatchery separate from the breeding farms to ensure tightened biosecurity,” Opepo said.
The farms produce 1.3 million eggs per week, but one million get hatched into chicks weekly.
Head veterinarian Odwako said the company offers free lab and technical support services to the farmers who buy the chicks from Kenchic.
“The services [we offer the customers for free] include flock health check, swab collection from the farm to ensure proper hygiene, telephone services, water testing and vaccination services, among other consultancies,” he said.