Last year, losses run into millions of shillings as farmers rue the day they jumped into the quail bandwagon, lured by tales of huge profits from non-existent export markets in Asia and quail egg’s medicinal properties.

Mr Charles Kamau Ndung’u is one such quail farmer. At the height of the craze, he used to earn between Sh250,000 and Sh300,000 per month from the birds.

He had purchased an egg incubator worth Sh200,000, spent another Sh500,000 to construct bird cages and bought a stand-by generator worth Sh50,000.

One would imagine that the collapse of the quail trade would have devastated the Nakuru farmer.

Not so for Mr Kamau, he is even thriving, thanks to wild birds.

CHANGING WITH THE TIMES

When the quail investment collapsed, he turned his quarter of an acre piece of land in Teachers Estate on the outskirts of Nakuru town into a bird sanctuary, and he now keeps over 15 varieties of exotic birds.

“For me it is business as usual. I did not put all my quail  eggs in one basket. I diversified into ornamental birds,” says the accountant at the Anglican Church of Kenya in Nakuru.

Besides wild birds, he also keeps special chicken known as bantams and freazal.

His mini-sanctuary is now home to budgies, which is a family of parrots, pigeons, peacocks, cockatiels and finch, one of the tiniest birds. He also has a variety of duck including Swedish blue, pekings, muscovy (ordinary ducks) mallard, Welsh halegin, Egyptian ducks, crested cranes, and two types of guinea fowls.

“A mature male peacock  fetches me Sh120,000, while a female will go for Sh70,000. A four-month-old peacock chick costs between Sh40,000 and Sh45,000.”

“If I was to build rental houses, I would not earn that kind of money. That is the beauty of keeping ornamental birds,” he adds.

Mr Kamau further says he sells a mature pigeon at Sh10,000 each, and since they are sold in pairs, it translates to Sh20,000 for each sale.

“I have 12 pairs of pigeons, and if I were to dispose them at one go, I would pocket Sh240,000,” he says as he takes us round his compound that also is home to three dairy cows.

His popular miniature bautam are also a crucial revenue stream as one chicken goes for Sh2,000, unlike ordinary chicken which costs between Sh1,500 and Sh1,800, while a guinea fowl goes for Sh1,800. The cockatiel, whose origin is Australia, is another expensive bird that is sold at Sh20,000 per pair.

READING UP

“Besides being a profit stream for me I enjoy watching the unique behaviour of birds such as cockatiels,” he says.

To keep himself up to date on wild bird matters, Mr Kamau trawls the Internet for bird care tips and keeps buying books.

“To tame a wild bird, one must have a good background and knowledge of the bird,” he says.

He feeds the birds with ordinary chicken mash, but birds such as parrots eat a special diet of white millet mixed with white sunflower seeds.

Farmers from as far as Meru, Nyeri,  Eldoret and Kitale have been visiting his little farm for knowledge on birds. He charges them Sh300 each for the visits.

He is, however, quick to caution that those who want to keep the birds must acquire a license from the Kenya Wildlife Service. Mr Kamau’s  passion for birds has puzzled many, including his own wife.

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SECRET TO SUCCESS?

What is the secret of his success? “Hard work.

We wake up at 4am daily to feed the birds before we leave for work and in the evening we retire to bed after midnight,” says Mr Kamau.

“Unlike quail farming, keeping ornamental birds requires a great deal of patience. A peacock takes between two and three years to mature.

You can imagine feeding a bird for that long,” he says. His biggest challenge is the lack of veterinary experts on wild birds. “Some of the vets who come to treat my birds confess that they have never seen some of these birds, hence treating them is a challenge to them,” he says.

First published here