Kenya’s poultry farming has long been a significant portion of its agricultural economy with chicken being the dominant category.
Poultry farming in Kenya is an income earner for more than 80 per cent of rural households and accounts for 1.7 per cent of the total GDP.
According to recent agricultural statistics, poultry production contributes a notable portion of the agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with a steady increase of 4 per cent per annum.
While chicken farming remains the primary bird reared in this sector, a new agricultural revolution is taking flight, curving its place in the market – turkey farming.
Turkey rearing has seen impressive growth, owing to the changing consumer preferences, and increasing demand for diverse meat options, making everyone keen to know more about the secret.
Traditionally reared as an ornamental bird usually on a small scale, the increasing market shift for turkey has seen people abandoning offices to delve into turkey farming.
As the largest domesticated bird, turkeys grow faster, are more adaptable to feeding, and have a higher dressed weight, features that greatly set it apart from other birds.
In Kenya, the heritage breed of turkeys is the most popular with species such as Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, Narragansett, Standard Bronze, Auburn, Midget White and Slate.
Among these species, the most reared are the Standard Bronze, Black and White turkeys which weigh up to 16Kgs for cocks while the female goes up to 8 kilograms.
From chalk to feathers
Allan Adika, a farmer in Migori County has defied all the odds to venture into turkey farming, a rare case in an area where most farmers opt for small-scale indigenous livestock rearing.
Allan, who is a farmer from the minority community in Suna East Sub County says that he started the rearing turkey in 2014 with only two cocks as ornamental birds.
Later in 2015, he bought other two hens which he struggled to feed because of a lack of knowledge which led to the death of most of them.
Allan’s urge to delve fully into turkey rearing took an abrupt flight in 2020 following the Covid-19 pandemic shakeup which affected income activities, with most employees working from home.
Though he did not have full knowledge of turkey rearing practice, Allan overcome his worries the day he came across one, Ben Osunga on Facebook, a farmer who has been into this for a long.
With an increased passion to become a full-time farmer, the former BOM secondary school teacher quit the chalkboard and became Ben’s student where he honed all the skills.
“With the guidance of Ben, for the first time, I took care of all the seven chicks to maturity and that is when the success story began,” he explains.
Allan says that at the start, he had a market challenge as most people preferred chicken. However, with the rapid change in preferences, the demand has increased.
According to the farmer, a mature male turkey goes up to seven thousand while a female one goes up to five thousand.
With more demand than supply at times, Allan regrets having ventured into this business late as he remembers a time when a customer wanted eight turkeys at a go but he had only two.
He says that most of his customers are from Nairobi, especially hotels with some local hotels and people buying the turkey for consumption which happens more during the Christmas holidays.
Turkey rearing however profitable, Allan says that activity in hand with its fair share of challenges.
Despite turkey’s faster adaptability to the environment, sometimes feeding the birds becomes a challenge due to the high prices of feeds as well as the diseases.
“My vision is to rear as many turkeys as possible but considering the high food prices, I have to limit the number to a sustainable one,” said Allan.
Currently, Allan has 15 mature turkeys, and he uses 50kgs of feeds per month to maintain the birds. This, he says, is in combination with other greens that he uses to supplement the feeds for the turkey.
Ben says that 50Kgs of the feed costs Shs2, 800 while cabbage leaves he buys at Shs400, a situation he says is expensive.
According to Ben who is a pioneer in the sector, turkey, like any other bird, requires a raised ground, readily available water and a high standard of cleanliness.
“One has to always maintain a high level of hygiene because turkey’s productivity goes hand in hand with that,” said Ben Osunga, Allan’s mentor.
With the venture into turkey farming, Allan hopes to reverse the narrative of keeping turkey for prestige. His dream is to become one of the best turkey farmers while also mentoring others.
Like Allan, Charles Menya, a resident of Nyasare in Migori advises farmers to embrace the new phenomenon as there are readily available mentors.
The farmers now plead for support from the county government and other support groups to sponsor turkey-rearing groups as well as organise training sessions to boost their skills.
“I request the County government to realize this lucrative Agro-business idea that is at its early stages, mentor it and solicit for us support from development partners,” said Menya.
However, their call to the youth is to embrace the self-employment opportunity in the poultry rearing activity that will ensure self-empowerment.