Caleb Karuga, Wendy Farms - Riding the wave with indigenous chicken
Caleb Karuga is the CEO and Founder of Wendy Farms, a Nairobi-based breeder and seller of indigenous chicken. He also rears dairy animals and grows vegetables.
Caleb Karuga has one thing he would like all of us to do: stop practising agriculture and venture into AGRIBUSINESS.
Our first meeting with Caleb happened to be on a Sunday afternoon, and as I and a colleague waited for Caleb to join us at the Java restaurant at the Galleria Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, I kept asking myself the kind of farmer Caleb was – considering the venue he had chosen to meet us.
Caleb seems to be out to debunk the myth that farming is a boring occupation practised by old, retired chaps on their pension who cannot afford the luxury of having coffee in a high end restaurant like Java. That is until Caleb joined us and we all asked ourselves where we had met this familiar face.
For Caleb is not only a young farmer but is also a former TV personality with K24 television in Kenya.
But one thing we all gathered by the time the cups of chocolate and coffee were over was the deep belief that Caleb has on farming – and how infectious he is with his agribusiness ‘word’. You probably need to have your moment with Caleb to know what I mean.
Caleb is a firm believer in the involvement of youth, considering that he is only 33 years old, and has coined the hash tag #UkulimaSioUshamba, which means loosely translates to “Farming is Cool“ in Kiswahili to encourage young people to start farming, and consider it as a worthwhile venture like any other business.
About Wendy Farms
Caleb runs the business enterprise Wendy Farms. The farm is involved in the breeding and selling of day-old indigenous chicken, or ‘kienyeji’ as they are known in the Kiswahili language in Kenya. The farm breeds the Kuroiler and KARI improved varieties of chicken, and has a few ornamental chickens.
It is also involved in the rearing of dairy cows and has recently started a vegetables production unit that has taken off well. The farm also provides training for farmers and those with interest in taking farming as a business.
Wendy Farm is located at Thogoto, near Kikuyu town some 25 km from Nairobi. Another farm is located near Limuru town about 40 km from Nairobi.
Caleb believes in the power of smart farming, and perhaps the enterprise that has brought to him fame (and a bit of fortune) is the breeding of day-old-chicks for sale in the region.
He reckons that the rearing of kienyeji chicken is really a no-brainer considering the high demand for the kitchen in Kenya and the region.
“Kienyeji chicken is a huge delicacy in our society, with demand surpassing supply most of the time. This demand has to be met, and that’s is the opportunity I saw as I started this business”, he comments.
“Whenever you visit your rural home, your grandmother has been giving you kienyeji chicken, what I call a seed, with the hope that you multiply the seed by growing and multiplying, which sadly you have been eating. Every time you break a kienyeji egg you are also wasting the seed. That is a big problem.
People want to eat healthy, hence continue to eat a lot of the kienyeji chicken they are given by their grandmothers. I realised that was a problem with our culture somehow and decided to do something about it”, he says. He believes that food habits and culture have a strong influence in the kind of agribusiness enterprise that can be practised at every locality, and cautions would-be farmers to choose business ideas that have local demand in order to succeed.
“The importance of kienyeji chicken is engrained in our local cultures, and we place chicken in high regard as a delicacy that is served to the most respected visitors”, he adds “Kenyans want to eat healthy and are prepared to pay a premium for it, they just wouldn’t want to take their time and rear the chicken on their own.
That’s the business opportunity I identified. I asked myself why rear broilers and layers, when I can rear kienyeji that has more demand, I only need to be patient. I decided to go large scale with kienyeji, and I have something to show for it”
Failures act as lessons
But Caleb is careful to stress that kienyeji chicken rearing is as complicated as that for the layers and broilers. “I have lost over 1,500 birds in since I started. I have actually stopped counting the number I have lost over the years”, he laments.
Most of the birds have been lost due to poor feed quality. “Feed quality is poor especially that for the kienyeji chicken. Kienyeji feed has been relegated to the periphery of the industry due to the way these chickens are viewed by the feed millers. As farmers, we haven’t reached a critical mass to ensure the feed quality can be assured.
I wouldn’t advise farmers to make their own feed either, as I had a case where I lost many birds when I tried to make my own”. He advices farmers to stick to well-known brands to forestall any loss due to feed quality.
The lack of relevant information about husbandry, disease management and feeding of kienyeji chicken has also been a hindrance to Caleb, especially when the farm started out due to lack of information that is specific to kienyeji chicken. Though information was widely available for broilers and layers, it was difficult to use this information on kienyeji chicken.
However, after several failed attempts and some visits to KARI, he was able to identify the right breed and get guidance on feeding and disease management that have been of great help to his farm. Currently, the farm sources the chickens from Uganda or at KARI in Nairobi. It mainly sells one-day old chicks to farmers who would want to venture into chicken farming. These are hatched by the farm using a 6,000 capacity hatchery.
He advises that it’s important to reach out for relevant local information by talking to other farmers and local vets and to counter check what is found online for local relevance.
Caleb has tried his hands on raising pigs and goats as well, ventures that also had their challenges and failures.
Training for farmers
To help spread the kienyeji chicken concept capacity and build promote farming as a business, Wendy Farms provides monthly training at its Kikuyu farm.
“My training ensures that those with interest in buying chicken have a chance to go through a real life experience at the farm. I train them more for the mistakes I have made or I have seen other farmers make. And give them shock treatment.
Out of a class of 50, we end up getting probably 2-3 farmers joining the business, since am able to show them that it’s not a bed of roses. Once these 2-3 adoptees become successful, they rub off others, who join the business. Am happy that we have changed the lives of many through these training sessions.”
Vegetables can make good money too
“If I had known how much money there is in vegetables growing, I would be very far”, Caleb says as we talk about his new vegetables venture.
The venture, started this year, has provided Caleb with an opportunity to increase cash flow that has improved the farm’s profitability. He insists that the vegetables business came out of the blues for him, through a chance encounter with a lady who informed him of the good pickings from vegetable growing. He currently grows spinach and kales (Sukuma wiki in Kiswahili) under drip irrigation that he sells in local markets regularly.
Future is bright
For Caleb and Wendy Farms, the future can only be bright. He is looking forward to have integrated farms where dairy, chicken, fish and vegetable growing can be done in a sustainable way, reducing wastes and increasing profits without affecting the environment.
Caleb also plans to open a third branch in Msambweni, Kwale County in the coast region of Kenya to take advantage of the huge market in the coastal region where vegetables are in short supply. “I would like to experience farming in the coast myself. I know people say it’s hard to do farming there, but the opportunity there is too big to let pass. If I fail, I will say at least I tried”, is his parting shot.
ABOUT WENDY FARMS
Products: Chicken, dairy and vegetables farming
Contact Person: Caleb Karuga
Tel: +254 728 926966
Facebook: Wendy Farms