Peter Irungu, 32, is a poultry farmer and an avid user of Mkulima Young facebook page. We caught with him online as he was selling ducks. He has a rich assortment of over 50 ornamental birds at his Utawala farm and about 100 at his other farm in Murang’a. Since 2011, Irungu’s bread basket has been bantam chicken, carlifornian ducks, turkey and guinea fowls.
He prides himself a fervent bird lover. In addition to his commercial birds, he rears budgies (very colourful but aggressive parrots), doves and quails. The birds’ cage on his compound is best described as a bird sanctuary.
The cage is built to simulate a natural setting complete with twigs for the birds to perch on and nests. Guinea fowls, ducks and chicken co-habit effortlessly at this little sanctuary. Perhaps the only reminder that the birds are in a domestic cage is the music that they listen to. Irungu says that the music is used to sooth and relax them.
Irungu seems to have luckily stumbled upon his ornamental birds’ fortune. He was an indigenous chicken farmer at first. He reared kienyeji layers; a venture that came with lots of challenges for him. First, he had to wait too long for the chicken to mature. Free range indigenous chicken take up to 7 months to mature. Secondly, they were feeding too much. The final blow was their dismal laying habits.
Weighing his returns against investment, Irungu decided to clear his stock of 300 chicken. The devout bird lover was not ready to give up on poultry farming yet, even after his disappointment with chicken. He sought an alternative and settled for ducks. He started off with six ducks and grew to 36 in a 5-6 months. Lady luck then started smiling at him. Once the fortunes started flowing, he knows no scarcity.
Be your first customer
“I cannot imagine selling that I cannot consume,” says Irungu. The young mkulima believes in the mantra that as a farmer you should be your first customer. Though he started rearing ducks for commercial purposes, he had neither eaten duck meat nor eggs.
As such, before selling them he prepared one for his family. They were immediately taken by the sweet aroma and the alluring taste of duck meat. His wife was hooked to the delicacy. To Irungu, this gave him the confidence to market his ducks to his neighbours.
Each duck fetched 300 shillings. This was a price that the farmer had settled on considering the demand and cost of rearing them. Unknown to him, this was 500 shillings less than the market rate.
Markets require networks
When visiting a market in Ngong, Irungu discovered that live ducks were going for 800 shillings each, while slaughtered ones were going for 1000 bob. The market in Ngong became more than a trade centre for him. He visited the market to learn what rare birds were on demand and their going rate.
He discovered that a mature goose fetches up to 4,000 shillings. A mature turkey goes for 5, 000 while a full grown bantam chicken can fetch up to 6,000 shillings depending on how beautiful and colourful it is. He often expands his assortment of birds depending on his liking for the bird and he grows the numbers if it has a high market value.
Ornamental bird farmers are very few in Kenya. Consumers of these exotic birds are even fewer. Penetrating the market can be daunting. Reaching out to every farmer with exploits similar to his is how Irungu keeps abreast with market information. Such visits give him ideas on what fetches more: the bird, the eggs or the chicks.
Networking online and offline is pertinent for Irungu’s business. He spends an average of two hours online everyday researching, networking and marketing. He markets his products through the Mkulima Young Facebook page. He is also a member of online bird communities.
He advises any young farmer interested in getting into ornamental bird keep to do enough research, network and have a mentor. Though it is a high returns venture it requires a lot of information and the right networks to thrive.
Irungu once grappled with a huge loss of turkey chicks. After reaching out to his friends in Nakuru and Kitale he learnt that he was not feeding them properly. He learnt that he should feed his turkey with a lavish breakfast of boiled eggs and milk every four to three days a week.
By Nyambura Maina