Seating outside the birds’ cage on a quarter of an acre of land near the picturesque Mount Kenya, the couple say they are growing their passion for poultry a notch higher.
They keenly and proudly watch their assortment of birds, including guinea fowls, Egyptian geese, turkeys, the tweeting crown birds (commonly known as Ugandan cranes.
They also watch over indigenous chicken variety, not leaving out the adorable and lovely doves, ducklings and the beautiful quails singing in unison.
The wooden cages covered with wire-mesh on the sides and iron sheet roofings hold the most sought-after and expensive birds on the globe, including the bantams— a highly priced special breed of chicken.
These birds are in high demand as ornamental species and cost a fortune, with prices varying from farmer to farmer. In China, they are kept for their nutritious meat.
Reports by the Ministry of Information and Public Communication say these family of chickens are the most popular ornate birds among the country’s estimated population of over 29 million chicken.
The couple acquired a Sh2,000 permit from the Kenya Wildlife Service three years ago and bought 10 guinea fowls, 400 quails, pigeons and falcon birds. Now they boast about 500 indigenous birds of different types.
“We acquired the KWS permit to rear wild birds for sale but that venture has now turned into a leisure pursuit. To rear different kinds of wild, foreign and indigenous birds all together is quite engaging and needs commitment, no one does that if they do not love it.”
“The problem with owning bantam chickens is that you keep wanting more of these fascinating small birds; but we are careful to collecting only the number we can care for,” says Mrs Macharia adding that it was during random sampling of bird types that she landed on the bantam chicken.
They also keep Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, Cochins, Jersey Giants, Orpingtons and even Ameraucana and Araucanas that lay blue or green eggs.
“The breeds we are currently rearing are Silkies with feathers that look more like fur, polish Bantams with a topknot of feather that hide the eyes and some also spot feather beards, leghorns, cornish, and frizzle,” says the entrepreneur.
The birds come in many colours but the skin is always blue-black and the comb mulberry red. We sell them when they are six months old, that is why we do not have all the breeds at the same time,” says Mrs Macharia.
The mother-of-eight adds that she learns about the birds she wants to keep from leaflets that she returns home with every time she visits local KWS offices.
At their Chorong’i farm, there is a small and a larger version of the silkie which are caged and as Ms Macharia puts it, they cannot mingle with the rest of the chicken that can be seen walking about on their feeding grounds fenced using a wire-mesh.
“They are calm birds and can sometimes be harassed by the other breeds. We also cage them because we want them to hatch pure bantams,” Mrs Macharia says.
She adds that it only takes two days to make the birds docile. After this, they can be let loose without monitoring.
Bantam chickens, however, make terrible mothers and an incubator is always recommended for hatching, which Mrs Macharia says is a big challenge for a breeder because of costs.
But silkie hens are some of the world’s best sitters as they will lie on their eggs all-year-round. Frizzles are also good sitters but the Macharias do not want to take chances and have imported an incubator worth Sh200,000 from South Africa.
The hatchlings can also be reared on small pieces of land or an open field once they start feeding.
It is from starting small, they say, that they were able to import two egg incubators together with an embedded control system hatchery.
“Just like quails, bantams generally are not so good in hatching eggs and farmer would have to buy an incubator.”
“Being a poor mother means the chicks need to be kept in a brooder to avoid deaths. Surprisingly, the silkie bantams are the best mothers in the chicken world but we still we prefer incubating their eggs,” she adds.
The incubators can hold 6,000 quail eggs or 2,000 chicken eggs,” she notes as she shows us around the hatchery room.
Mrs Macharia adds that other birds like turkey are also categorised as poor mothers and their chicks are susceptible to diseases in early stages which lowers their survival rate if not well taken care of.
The couple say frizzle bantams have curled feathers and look like “chicken with permed hair.”
They say 60 bantam eggs in an incubator can earn them between Sh30,000 and Sh600,000 per hatching.
They sell eggs ready for hatching at Sh200 each with those for guinea fowls also attracting the same price. Duck eggs for consumption are sold at Sh100 and eggs from Kenya Agricultural Research Institutes (KARI) Improved Kienyeji chicken fetch Sh40 each.
According to Mr Macharia, high end hotels and fellow farmers are their biggest customers.
The Macharias say when a common broiler chicken goes for about Sh400, a mature bantam chicken would fetch them between Sh9,000 to Sh9,500 in high end markets
Just before we got to their farm house in Chorong’i village, Mr Macharia says they had sold 10 guinea fowls and five pairs of bantams.
On a busy day, Mrs Macharia who is mostly on the farm says, they can sell at least 10 birds.