Nicetta Gatavi keenly watches as two of her Kuroiler breed cocks fight in their enclosure at her Chuka home in Tharaka Nithi County.
The 60-year-old retired teacher’s relaxed demeanour tells that rearing these high-yielding chickens is a rewarding experience.
“They have enabled me enjoy my retirement after 35 years of teaching ever since I started keeping them July last year,” says Nicetta, who has vaccinated the birds only from Newcastle Disease as they are hardy.
Kuroiler chickens have multi-coloured plumage, but the characteristic and distinctive pattern is their speckled white and grey feathers.
This speckled plumage acts as a perfect camouflage from predators, thus, ensuring its survival under the backyard production systems common in rural settings where no protection or supervision is offered.
Nicetta says she learned about the fast-maturing breed from her daughter, Carol Mugambi, who works in Uganda as an agricultural researcher.
In July last year, she received 100 three-week-old Kuroiler chicks from her daughter who transported them from the National Animal Genetic Resources Centre in Entebbe, Uganda.
Her daughter ensured that she purchased the birds from a credible and authentic source.
“I have original Kuroiler chickens. What is now being sold in the market is not even genuine breed. Farmers should be wary of this,” says Nicetta, who keeps the birds in a 15 by 12ft pen.
Her initial stock was a mixture of both layers and broilers. However, some of them died upon arrival due to the cold weather.
Over Christmas and New Year festivities, she sold some of the birds at an average of Sh1,500 each, remaining with only 40 hens and 10 cocks.
She also has another 15 kienyeji hens and four cocks housed separately from the Kuroilers.
The Kuroilers mature faster as compared to the other breeds. The hens weigh 2kg and the cocks 3kg by three months and 3.5kg and 4.5kg respectively by eight months.
They are also efficient converters of food to body masses as compared to other breeds, which take time to grow.
The Kuroiler egg is also much bigger than the others, a performance that is attributed to the bird’s genes.
The Kuroiler breed adapts well to free-range rearing and is a vicious scavenger. They love eating small plants and insects and also feed on house leftovers.
“Each bird consumes about 113g of kienyeji commercial feeds per day. I spend about Sh2,000 in two weeks to buy 70kg bag of kienyeji feeds.”
Practising the free-range system has helped her cut the cost of production.
Her pullets, she says, started laying eggs at five months and three weeks.
Another peculiar characteristic Kuroilers possess is that the breed lays the same size of eggs at all times unlike the kienyeji and hybrid layers which start with smaller eggs.
She sells kuroiler eggs at Sh25 each, with her brood laying about 30 eggs in a day, earning her Sh750. She sells the eggs to individual customers and some poultry farmers in Meru, Chuka and Embu.
Her kienyeji breed flock lays approximately 30 eggs in a week.
“I make about Sh5,250 in a week. A good number of those who buy the eggs have incubators where they hatch them for sale.”
Nicetta and her husband Meshack get more from the birds. They use droppings as manure.
Their poultry enterprise produces a wheelbarrow full of manure every four days.
“We are currently planning to buy a 96-egg automatic incubator so that we can start selling day-old chicks to meet the high demand for Kuroiler chicks in the region. The idea is to mostly sell the chicks for breeding purposes rather than rearing them for consumption,” Mwongera adds.
The couple aspires to break into large-scale Kuroiler farming in two years’ time.
However, it has not been all rosy for them. The greatest challenge she faced was the high mortality of young chicks.
They were very sensitive to the cold conditions and she required special and intensive care during this formative age.
Farmers are warned against crossing the Kuroiler breed with the local indigenous chickens as this would compromise the superior genetic qualities of the former.