POULTRY FARMING WITH A DIFFERENCE

Paul Kilelo holding a mature norfolk black male turkey.
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Youngster Paul Kilelo blazes his own path in turkey farming

By Joseph Macharia

Farming is something that crosses minds of most people as a last resort as they inch towards retirement. This is not the case with Paul Kilelo a 22-year old graduate in Athi River who ventured into turkey farming in early 2020. It all began during the Covid-19 pandemic when schools closed in compliance with guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health. Being a Bio-Medicine student at Kenya Medical Training Collage (KMTC) in Meru, Kilelo found himself at home without much to keep him busy.

It is at this point that he decided to start rearing turkeys inspired by their peculiar nature. “I wanted to keep something indoors that is unique and different from all other types of poultry farming. For me it was turkey farming,” he says. It turns out that Benjamin Franklin too was so fond of turkeys that he recommended they become a national bird of his country (USA).

Humble beginnings

Armed with nothing except a growing interest in turkeys, Kilelo secured two turkeys locally and kicked off his farming. From only two, he has grown to a flock of over 60 turkeys. Not a small number given that he has been selling turkeys for meat to local consumers as well as new farmers who want to rear them.

Currently, he keeps the Norfolk Black and White Holland which can be easily distinguished by the dominant colour of their feathers – black and white respectively. According to him the two breeds grow faster and gain weight quickly making them easy to keep and profitable. “White Holland and Norfolk Black grow very fast and gain a lot of fat so they are easier to sell,” he notes with satisfaction.

Additionally, he has been supplying eggs to buyers both for hatching and human consumption. “For consumers, one turkey egg I sell at Ksh 50, if you want for hatching one egg goes for Ksh 100,” he explains. In order to get quality eggs for hatching, Kilelo separates turkeys of desirable qualities both male and female during the entire period of laying eggs. This is intentionally done to avoid in breeding which may result in eggs not being hatched. He has set aside some turkeys purposefully for hatching. “I have kept good hens that are good mothers specifically for breeding,” he notes. The ‘good mothers’ are experienced hens that consistently hatch all their eggs and take good care of the chicks. So far he has been successful since all the hens he has set aside for breeding hatch all their eggs. It takes 28 days for a hen to hatch.

Norfolk black and white holland breeds.

Turkeys lays 10 – 15 eggs in a cycle lasting two weeks. The two breeds he keeps lay eggs in three cycles every year depending on how they are fed. If you take the least number of eggs laid – 10 multiply by 3 cycles you get 30 eggs per year. With an average market price of Ksh 50, you get Ksh 1500 per year on the bare minimum and Ksh 2250 on the higher side. Kilelo says he has not been able to meet the demand for turkey eggs.  “I have not been able to satisfy the demand for eggs because it is too high than the supply. This is because of the nutritional value of turkey eggs compared to a chicken egg,” he explains.

He feeds the birds mainly with chick mash twice a day; in the morning and in the evening an average of 100 grams per bird daily. In addition, he also supplements with ground maize, vegetables and left-overs which he buys locally.

Of the 60 turkeys he keeps, 40 are gobblers (male turkeys) and the rest – 20 are hens (female turkeys). Explaining why gobblers outnumber hens he says that males fetch higher prices in the market and also buyers prefer gobblers for meat. It takes one year for a young male (jake) to mature and reach the appropriate weight to be sold for meat. A male with above 5 Kg goes for Ksh 4000 while that exceeding 8 Kg will fetch around Ksh 6,000 – 7000. He also sells chicks to new farmers with price varying depending on their ages. A chick that is 1 – 2 months is sold at Ksh 1500 while a three-to-four month old chick goes for Ksh 2500. To differentiate between a male and a female you look at the snood or the “beard” – the red fleshy part that hangs below the mouth. Males normally are larger, heavier and have long “beards” than females.

Hurdles

Like any venture, Kilelo has been confronted with challenges. “In the beginning it was tough, but as time went by and I got more conversant with turkey farming it has become easier,” he says.  At the start, after hens hatched some chicks got sick and he did not know how to treat them. As a result they died. Some of the diseases that attacked his chicks are Coccidiosis, Newcastle, Diarrhea and Arthritis. With lapse of time he has learnt how to vaccinate the turkeys at different stages.

High cost of feeds has been a major challenge owing to the current hike in prices of fuel and maize. To counter this, Kilelo has opted for cheaper vegetables which are easily available and beneficial to the turkeys.

Turkey egg.

Requirements

Turkey keeping is not a complicated affair. You need a simple structure that can house the birds. “The structure should be spacious, well-ventilated and facing away from the wind to prevent your birds contracting Arthritis,” Kilelo elaborates adding that the structures need to be fitted with perches since turkeys like other birds like to perch above the ground when sleeping. Saw dust is needed to be spread evenly on the floor to keep the house warm and prevent cold.

Feeding troughs and water bowls need to be above the ground since turkeys are relatively tall birds reaching up to four feet high. You may accomplish this by hanging the troughs and bowls with a wire from the roof. Another reason for this is to prevent Coccidiosis in your flock. With this in place you can start with only two birds as Kilelo advices: “Start with two, don’t start with a lot of turkeys because it might be a lot to handle. Preferably, start with two different breeds then hatch them.”

To prevent diseases administer vaccines regularly. “Go to the agro-vet, they offer a vaccination schedule that will guide you. Hatched chicks should be given chicken starter soluble which is mixed with drinking water,” he explains. To build immunity of the chicks put a drop of paraffin in the drinking water. Alternatively, if you cannot access the soluble, you may mix Aloe Vera with drinking water. Vaccines should be given after every two weeks till they reach 3 months. The turkeys should be fed with chicken mash and plenty of clean water daily. At eight months young hens (jennies) have the capacity to lay eggs and hatch.

Once the hen lays eggs and wants to hatch, separate it to prevent others from breaking the eggs. The secret to successful turkey farming, according to Kilelo, is to keep the health of the birds in top-notch condition as well doing more research on better ways to rear the birds.

Kilelo feeding his birds.

Why turkeys?

When prompted to choose between rearing turkeys and chickens, straight without blinking he picks turkeys. “Since I’ve kept both, I can tell you for a fact that turkeys are profitable compared to chickens. Furthermore, the competition for turkey farming is very low,” he asserts.

Unlike dogs turkeys can be kept for security while you enjoy their nutritious eggs and healthy white meat. Turkeys are hostile and are known to attack strangers or people they suspect of ill motives especially at night. Victims of turkey attacks have learnt the hard way not to dare look the bird direct in the eye.

Management wise, turkeys are not labour intensive. You can feed them in the morning and the evening. You don’t need a lot of supervision. Their houses need to be cleaned once a week with saw dust replaced after two weeks. Moreover, turkeys are hardy and resilient to harsh conditions and diseases since their ‘ancestors’ used to live in the wild before they were domesticated.

“Another great thing also about turkeys is that they can co-exist with chicken. However, they cannot hatch chicken eggs because their eggs are different,” Kilelo notes. This is an advantage to a poultry farmer who wants the best of both worlds of turkey and chicken farming.

Debunking the myths

There is a pervasive myth that you cannot slaughter turkeys normally, that you are supposed to slaughter when they are standing. “You can slaughter normally just like chicken, in fact the process is similar,” Kilelo calmly shatters the myth.

The other myth goes that turkeys with grayish or whitish beards are poisonous. According to the myth you are only required to slaughter turkeys if their snoods are red. Kilelo refutes the myth explaining that when turkeys are growing older their beards often change colour.

Final word

Kilelo who likes nature walking and going to the movies plans to keep other types of animals. “My future plans are that I would like to venture into pig and goose farming,” he lights up with enthusiasm as he says. His encouragement to young people: “Youths should venture into farming because it is profitable plus you get to learn a lot. You should not be fixated on one thing, if employment does not come through try other ventures like farming.”

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