A growing demand for ornamental birds in Kenya, especially among the middle class, has given poultry farmers new business opportunities. The birds, which used to be a preserve of the rich and were kept by a few farmers, have become the newest sensation in many homes, with the small farmer scrambling to keep them to satisfy demand. The ornamental birds being kept include crested cranes, parrots, peacocks, Egyptian geese, royal pan turkey, white turkey, fantail pigeon, Sinnamon-tail pigeon, silkish bantam chicken, Americana hens and spa fowls. Some of the farmers are importing the birds to rear, but a good number of them are getting breeding stocks from their colleagues, with a chick going for as much as Ksh 1,034 (US$10).
Peter Mulinda, a farmer in Utawala, on the outskirts of Nairobi, is among small poultry keepers who have embraced the bird business. Mulinda keeps 70 ornamental birds, including the Egyptian goose, Australian cockatiel and budgerigar. He has built on his farm three poultry houses, which he has portioned into various cubicles. “Ornamental birds are good, because unlike chicken which you need several to break even and the market is saturated; with them, two or three are enough to give you return on investment,” he said. He noted that the birds do not need regular vaccination, consume the same feeds as chickens and do not require a huge space for rearing.
"Ornamental birds Farming in Kenya is very lucrative : it has a very high return on investment."
However, it is the money in the business that has made the former chicken farmer relish ornamental birds. Mulinda sells a pair of parrots at Ksh 6,201 (US$60) and a crested crane goes at 62,019 (US$600). Turkeys, on the other hand, go for Ksh 6,201 each while a duck at Ksh 1,550 (US$15) and a mature peacock for up Ksh 72, 354 (US$700). He sells a turkey’s egg at Ksh 155 (US$1.5) each and a day old turkey chick at Ksh 517 (US$5). “Most of my customers are middle-income households in Utawala and the neighboring estates. These are people who have bought land and built their own homes. They use the birds to beautify their compounds,” he said.
Mulinda knows at least three other small farmers in the neighborhood who also keep the birds for sale. “Business is good. Ornamental birds are far much better than ordinary chickens when it comes to profit. The fact that they do not have any special needs yet fetch much more makes business sense,” said Stephen Njenga, a farmer in Kitengela. Like Utawala, Kitengela is mainly inhabited by people who bought land and built owns houses that include maisonettes and bungalows therefore have their own compounds. Others on the other hand have taken mortgages to buy homes, hence have space to keep such birds, which ordinarily would not be reared in a rented houses, especially flats. The trade has spread outside Nairobi, with farmer John Mwebesa taking on them in Bungoma. The farmer keeps turkeys, guinea fowls and ducks, the common ones besides budgies and love birds.
“I sell the last two mainly in Nairobi because people in the rural areas do not know much about them. However, they like peacocks, guinea fowls and geese,” he said, adding that the birds retail at between Ksh 15,502 (US$150) and Ksh 36,173 (US$350) each. Maryann Atieno, a medical doctor and a resident of Rongai on the outskirts of Nairobi, said she keeps geese, love birds and turkeys not only for ornamental purposes but also for security. “Geese protect the home against strangers and predators because of their clamorous voices. Nothing can calm the birds in case they see things like snakes, dogs and non-members of the family walking into the home,” said Atieno. In addition, they help to control weeds and trim grass in the compound keeping it neat.
“Their agile necks enable them to pull grass even in placed where a lawn mower, a slasher or a hoe cannot reach, which is a good thing,” she said, noting however the challenge is that the birds are expensive especially in Nairobi. To keep the birds for commercial purposes, one must acquire a licence at Ksh 1,550 from the Kenya Wildlife Service, whose officers also visit the farm to inspect the structures where they would live. The government agency has noted the increased demand for licences as more people seek to reap from the birds. Bernard Moina, an agricultural officer in western Kenya, noted ornamental birds have caught on. “After building a home and planting beautiful trees, nothing else remains other than keeping the ornamental birds like turkeys, geese and guinea fowls. For farmers, it makes great business sense to keep the birds because some go for up to 600 dollars (Ksh 62,019) ,” he said.
ORNAMENTAL BIRD FARMER STORY - KENYA
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.
ORNAMENTAL FARMER - KENYA (How it's Done)
A farmer in Ukunda, Mombasa County is rearing over 229 different ornamental birds such as guinea fowls on a partial free range system. Valerine Achieng spends approximately Sh15, 000 per month on feeds against Sh30, 000 she would be spending over the same period if she caged the birds all time earning her Sh80,000 to Sh100,000 annually. She cages the birds but occasionally lets them out in intervals throughout the day to avoid interbreeding. This allows them to feed more by themselves and find some greens.
“I do not spend a lot of money feeding these birds because from time to time they fend for themselves ensuring that they do not mix up. I normally feed them on pellets, ordinary chicken mash and kitchen remains before allowing them to look for some grasshoppers and vegetation from the surrounding,” said Achieng. She rears fifteen brahmas, six araucanas, seven australorps, seven chabos, three seremas, eleven speckle sussexs, wyandottes, rhode island red, kuchi, pekin bantam, dutch bantam, polish bantam, guinea fowl, Rowen, guinea fowl and turkeys among other birds. She sells a pair of Brahma at Sh10,000, a pair of Araucana at Sh6,000, a pair of Chabo at Sh8,000, a pair of Serema at Sh8,000, Speckle Sussex Sh5,000 and Wyandotte Sh5,000.
Ornamental birds are mostly reared for beauty rather than eggs and meat. They are also small in size hence they need small amount of feeds to sustain. Bantams for example consume between 60g and 80g per day while a laying chicken requires between 120g and 150g of feeds per day. Lucy Ngugi chose to rear bantams on partial free range within her quarter acre farm. “The bantams require less space, therefore, more economical to rear. The space of one chicken is fit for two bantams. They can be raised in poultry house or on free-range. Their life is simple,” said the Kiambu County farmer, who lives along Thika Road. “They also take only four to five months to mature although they face a longer dry spell laying 150 eggs a year as compared to chicken which lay 250 eggs over the same period.”
Regardless of their size, Ngugi sells a-five-month-aged pair of the birds at Sh6, 000 while the eggs fetch Sh50 on the minimum. Other ornamental birds such as brahma goes for Sh10,000, araucana Sh6,000, chabo Sh8,000, serema Sh8,000, speckle sussex Sh5,000 and wyandotte Sh5,000 in the current market in Kenya. This is higher than the price of indigenous chicken which retails between Sh800 and Sh1500 depending on the weight and age. Another farmer, Kimani Njahu, rears wild ornamental birds in his Makongeni home in Thika sub-county. Within his 40m by 70m plot of farm he rears crested cranes, parrots and peacocks which he bought from a friend living in Nairobi’s Utawala.
“With a capital of Sh74,000 I bought a pair of each of these birds from a friend in Nairobi. I further used Sh10, 000 to build a poultry house where I shelter the birds,” said Njahu. “I always let them out later in the day to walk around and feed more by themselves. This is also an opportunity to attract buyers who walk around admiring them.” Unlike chicken, the ornamental ones do not need regular vaccination and consume less feed, this make them more profitable.
Antony Maina, a mushroom specialist trained at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, says mushrooms are rich in protein and low in fat and cholesterol content. “Button mushroom can also be grown using simple agricultural waste like the water hyacinth that grows in Lake Victoria as research shows that it is a self-thriving plant. But caution needs to be taken against introducing external factors during the early stages of development such as heat, pressure and light.” He adds that the room should be kept dump at all times by spraying water in the atmosphere so that heat does not destroy the crop before maturity.
A pair of parrots goes for Sh6, 000, he sells a mature crested crane at Sh60, 000, turkey at Sh6, 000 each, four-month old crane birds at Sh45, 000 and a duck at Sh1, 500. “To rear the birds, one needs a permit from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) which costs Sh1, 500 and is renewed annually,” said Njahu.
"INAWEZEKANA - GO FOR IT. "
This article is intended for education and informational purposes only ; to see to it that the Kenyan Population is enlightened and informed.