Poultry side hustle flourishes on own-made egg incubators

Benard Onyango sorting out hatched improved Kienyeji chicks

Benard Onyango sorting out hatched improved Kienyeji chicks from his fabricated incubator at his farm in Kisumu County.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Ojina | Nation Media Group

Sometime in 2017, Bernard Onyango, a poultry farmer in Okore, Riat, Kisumu County, was shopping for a 512-egg capacity incubator for his farm.

He visited several outlets in the town and found the average price to be Sh100,000, which was way beyond his reach.

But after sampling a variety of the gadgets and seeing demos on how they work, Onyango, who holds a diploma in mechanical engineering, realised he can fabricate his own. He embarked on the journey.

To make an incubator, he bought boards, an egg turner, a heater, a mortar, thermostat, humidity controller, thermometer and hygrometer from shops in Nairobi. The components cost him Sh45,000.

Fixing and testing

It took three days of fixing the gadgets and testing the machine for efficiency to end up with a functional unit.

"I did several trials to perfect it and at the end it worked. I transferred the eggs into the incubator and waited for 21 days to see the outcome," says the farmer.

The farmer made two more incubators, what made him to start and run a hatchery through which he produces up to 3,000 chickens at a go.

“This poultry business is my side hustle because I am employed at Kisumu Water and Sanitation Company (Kiwasco) where I do maintenance work,” he says.

Kienyeji chickens

Apart from the hatching business, where he sells day-old chicks at Sh80 each, Onyango also fabricates the incubators for sale on order and keeps some 500 Kienyeji chickens for meat and eggs.

“The smallest incubator I make has a 64-egg capacity and goes for Sh13,000. Then there is 528-egg capacity that goes for Sh60,000, 1,056-egg capacity Sh95,000 and 1,320 egg capacity at Sh120,000 while the largest holds 5,000 eggs and goes for Sh250,000.”

The farmer says he sells three to 10 incubators in a good month.

For the hatchery business, he sources fertilised eggs – 500 to 1,000 – every week at Sh750 per tray from some five farmers he works with.

"I have contracted them. They supplement what I produce on the farm. You can’t buy eggs from random farmers because some can supply you with bad products."

Reduce inbreeding

For good chicks, he notes the farmers must reduce cases of inbreeding and observe the hen to rooster ratio, which should be 1:7.

Dr Denis Mujibi, a senior researcher in animal science and the CEO of Usomi Agriculture Limited, says before investing in a hatchery business, one must look at the economic viability of the venture.

“Sourcing quality fertilised eggs is key in sustaining the business. Do your calculations in terms of the cost of eggs, electricity bills and capital flow to know whether you are making profit or loss.”

He adds that there should be a system to check the quality of eggs being supplied for hatching.

"Most small-scale hatcheries don't have a sustainable source of eggs. Get marked eggs that are less than 10 days old, so that you don't buy rotten ones," says Dr Mujibi.


One of the best ways of checking quality of eggs for hatching is candling, which involves illuminating light.

Candling helps to ensure the interior of the egg is free of blood spots, cracks and other defects.

Using a candler, a farmer can also know which eggs are fertile, which will hatch into chicks or tell if a fertilised egg has stopped developing.

The candling process works by illuminating the interior of an egg with a bright light to see what is inside the shell. While there are specific gadgets for the job, to candle eggs at home, find a bright source of light with an opening smaller than the diameter of the eggs you intend to candle.

You can take a very bright flashlight and cover the opening with a piece of cardboard with a hole of an inch diameter at the centre or use a three-inch empty tissue paper tube and a flash light.

Set up the candling equipment in a dark room for good results then select an egg and hold it above the light. Place the larger end of the egg directly against the light. Hold the egg near the top, between your thumb and the forefinger.

Tilt the egg slightly to one side and rotate until you get the best view. Mark each egg you candle with a number and take notes of your findings. You may come across some eggs with blood rings of well-defined red circle. Others may have blood spots or blood streaks inside the egg. However, these dark patches can be difficult to distinguish from an egg with healthy embryo at this early stage.

Eggs with deformities

Discard eggs with deformities as they can begin to rot and eventually burst, contaminating the rest of the eggs with bacteria and create very bad smell.

However, it is not advisable to candle an egg after day 16 or 17. At this point, the eggs have mostly developed and they should be left alone for the last few days before hatching. They should not be turned from day 18.

Dr Mujibi explains that hygienic handling of eggs before they are incubated is very important if they are to hatch.

 "The egg shells have micro pores thus viruses can easily infect the embryo. You need to check the environment in which the contracted farmers are keeping their parent stock," he says.

He advises farmers to keep the incubator temperatures at 37.8 degrees Celsius and humidity at 55 to 65 per cent for the first 18 days.

On day 19 to 21, humidity should be stepped up to 80 per cent and temperature at 37.5 degrees Celsius.

Sorts healthy from weak ones

Once the chicks hatch, Onyango says he sorts healthy from weak ones and then administers Mareks vaccine.

The chicks are given chick mash and water mixed with vitamins.

Other vaccines offered are gumboro, Newcastle and fowl pox.

"For brooding process, I prefer using electric bulbs which produce even heat unlike the charcoal jiko heat which fluctuates with time," says the farmer, who sells each day-old chick at Sh75.

In a good week the farmer whose business is named Ben Poultry sells between 300 and 500 chicks depending on demand from farmers.

 His biggest challenge, however, is lack of consistency in quality of eggs fertilised and high cost raw materials for making feeds.

"I have learnt to formulate my own feeds from maize bran, cotton and sunflower after I got training in Uganda.”

In the next five years, the farmer plans to expand his farm to produce 10000 chicks on a weekly basis.


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