Her Chicken Gave Her Strength to Fly

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The petite bird, a cinnamon-chested bee-eater, had remained perched on the Elgon Teak tree’s lower branch. It had been there for days. Not normal for a bird. Because birds belong to the sky. God gave them wings to soar high, in the company of a sweet breeze that belongs only to them and the few airplanes that intrude their space.

One morning, God in His wisdom decided to cut the branch that the petite bird had embraced as its home. As the bird was gazing up at the majestic Elgon Teak’s upper branches, it felt a tremor in the branch, then a violent jolt as the branch broke loose and tumbled to the ground.

Ah! The bird exclaimed. What’s happening?! It flapped its wings and flew into the musky forest atmosphere. As the branch hit the moist ground with a thud, the bird flew higher with a whir. Ah! It exclaimed again.

My wings had disappeared into my comfort zone! The bird thought, happy that it was now back into the skies where it belonged.

Liz - Mama Joshua to her neighbors in Tala, or Nashibe to her siblings and parents - had remained perched on a branch for many years. A Hotel Management graduate of Utalii College, she had worked in some of Kenya’s top hotels for more than a decade. Then a little virus in Wuhan found its way to Kenya and to all the four corners of the globe. This little virus halted travel and grounded planes, bringing Liz’s five-star hotel to its knees.

Go home until we call you. The hotel’s management told all staff, Liz among them.

So she went to her adopted home of  Tala, where her husband Mike and her together with their three kids have been living in their farm for almost one year. Unaccustomed to sleeping past 5AM and spending weekdays at home, she had too much time on her hands. She dove into Netflix and swam there for hours. Then one cold morning, a few days into this forced leave, she told herself that, ‘mama didn’t raise me to spend my days doing nothing.’

Although they still had plenty of space in their one-acre compound, she didn’t want to do crop farming because two months earlier in January, the soil had dumped her. That had hurt. In January 2020, urged on by a brand new year, she had decided to follow her husband’s farming footsteps. Although he is not a full-time farmer, the soil fills his heart with joy unspeakable. In fact, one might argue that the half-acre garden in their compound gives him as much ecstasy as the bedroom.

I will buy kales seedlings and plant them. Liz had decided back in January. She went to Kenol in Muranga and bought five-thousand shillings worth of seedlings. The following day, the seedlings had found a home, next to some African Leafy Vegetables that her husband had planted a month earlier. 

The kale seedlings were green and lush. For two nights in a row, she dreamt that they would flourish and fetch her good money. But the rain had other ideas. Although it was January, the rains descended on most of Kenya with fury. It washed away her kale.

Nope. Crop farming is not my cup of tea. Liz sighed.

Should I buy a dairy cow?

For years, this had been a dream of hers. A friesian cow that would live in a corner of the compound, in its own well-stocked shed. Every morning and evening, it would gift them with dozens of liters of milk.

Oh my! She would exclaim as she closed her eyes and imagined the ocean of milk that would be hers to loll and roll in.

Nope. The friesian cow was out of question. It would take too long to give her a return on investments. Besides there wasn’t a reliable place in Tala to sell massive amounts of milk.

Crop farming? Nope. Friesian cow? Nope. What then?

IMG 20200726 WA0008Mr. JacksonSometimes, the answer is right under your nose. For Liz, the answer was Jackson and Sofia. Her husband had bought this cockerel and hen on December 7th 2019. She remembers this day because it was the first birthday of her precious nephew Adde Ochami.

Poultry farming! Liz’s famous brown eyes had lit up. She would do poultry farming.   

Within a week, Mzee Muoki their neighbor had a constructed a poultry shed for her. It became the new home for Jackson and Sofia, the two kienyeji (indigenous) birds that had previously slept in the kitchen.

Now that the two birds had a vastly bigger home, Liz decided that they needed company and bought Angela, a third kienyeji hen. Liz swears that the day Angela strutted into the new poultry shed for the first time, Jackson had completely ignored Sofia. Men!

The three birds were soon joined by two-month old chicks that she bought from neighbors. Thirty in total.

Then death began plucking those chicks, one by one. Just like that, they would drop dead. Only half of them survived. That’s when she decided to start buying one-day old chicks as opposed to two-month old chicks. At two months, they probably came with all manner of diseases.

But where could she get hardy one-day chicks that could face life with grit and determination? How could she ensure that they were pure kienyeji breeds? So many questions!

But for several weeks, these questions were overshadowed by an all-consuming question - would she be laid off by her employer. That Five-Star hotel that she had worked in for five years.

The answer to that big question came via a phone call from Human Resource.

“We are sorry Liz,” the HR lady had said, “you are among those who will be let go.”

Although she had been expecting this, it stung like a bee on steroids. After all, 5 years of her life - that would be 60 months, 240 weeks - had been invested into this glitzy, world-class hotel at Upper Hill. She had spent almost twice as many hours with her colleagues than her husband and her own kids Joshua, Aby and Gabriel. Those colleagues in her department plus many others in other departments, were like family. Her second family. And now, that family had been torn asunder by corona virus.

Actually, there was another way to look at it. She realized that God had broken the branch that she had been perching on. Just like the petite bird on the Elgon Teak tree, she could now fly. Which is exactly what she is doing now.

Jackson, Sofia and Angela are still pecking away their days at her farm. Together with them are 150 other hens, and counting. Many of them are from the sasso breed. It is a duo purpose breed which can be used for both eggs and meat.

These 150+ chicken sleep in three poultry sheds like one big happy family. In the morning, they are free to roam the large compound, pecking and flirting as they wish.

IMG 20200817 WA0018A Big Happy Family

Liz now has an incubator that will be spitting out dozens of chicks every 21 days, so her poultry family is poised to grow bigger and bigger.

Her many poultry questions were initially answered through the numerous poultry Facebook groups that she joined. But these days, they are mostly answered by Warren Wabuko, a young University Student from Nakuru who guides kienyeji poultry farmers. His goal is to transform their poultry stumbles into confident strides.

Despite his tender age, Warren is an experienced and passionate expert poultry farmer who has tapped into digital platforms to galvanize informed kienyeji poultry farming. Liz has plugged into this poultry fellowship and is not looking back.

“I want my chicks to eventually fly around the world,” Liz says, her brown eyes bristling with determination, “I want to eventually sell thousands of my chicken to a global market.”

Jackson cackles in agreement then runs after Sofia.

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