Rabbits keeping has over the years been shunned especially by the grown-ups and regarded as pets for boys who just keep them for leisure purposes and most Kenyans both in urban and rural areas have often singled out poultry keeping as a preserve for retiree civil servants.
Perhaps it is because of the old time fallacy, which makes people imagine rearing domestic birds requires minimal human strength, with scores of others equating prestige to rabbit keeping.
Until few decades ago rabbit rearing was seen as a pastime activity for the affluent and youth by many in many societies across the African continent. Hence, some of misleading connections between retirement and poultry farming.
The above observation paraphrases Likuyani Sub County Education Officer, Mr. David Esemele Mwandihi, introductory sentiments as he begins walking us around his poultry and rabbit units on his 0.8 acre of land at Matunda village in Likuyani Sub County.
“When I was growing up my father, who was a teacher, kept reminding us of how valued teachers were in society because they led the way for others to follows,” states Mwandihi whose passion for poultry and rabbit farming stemmed out of the desire to change society’s perception towards retired civil servants.
The teacher-cum-farmer rabbits entered into poultry farming almost by accident somewhere in October, 2014.
“I had stopped to fuel my vehicle at one of pump stations in Soy market. While there I entered into a discussion with the lady manager who has several cages of indigenous chicken behind the station’s building,” recalls Mwandihi.
It was from that encounter that the education official nursed the appetite for poultry, coupled with his lifetime passion for rabbits.
A few days later the manager donated 16 chicks to Mwandihi, besides volunteering to train him on some basics in poultry farming.
It was within that period that he also bought two Netherlands dwarf breed of rabbits from a friend.
“And since then I have gradually become an expert in this game,” prides Mwandihi who also attributes his mastery of poultry and rabbit keeping to childhood lessons while growing up at his ancestral village in the current Vihiga County.
Within one year rabbits had already multiplied to about 40.
“However, somewhere during last year, 35 of them succumbed to a disease at one go,” recalls Mwandihi, a fan of roasted rabbit meat, admits he could have easily saved the massive deaths had he carefully followed instructions from a veterinary friend.
Mwandihi’s poultry unit is made up of simple cages, using sticks, wire mesh, saw dust, old sacks, polythene papers and iron sheets.
On one side of his permanent house, are simple runs of cages which house his poultry and rabbits.
“I didn’t want to go for the semi-intensive, deep litter, slatted or wire floor because the idea, as noted earlier on, was to enlighten the youths on simple poultry and rabbit keeping using readily available materials,” he notes, adding that the duty of taking care of the livestock is purely a family affair.
“As you can see, a small, simple house, measures 0.3 to 0.4m2 per bird, and which has thatched roof, a littered earth floor and slatted or chicken wire walls on at least three sides will provide protection from rough weather, from predators at night and offer shade in the day time,” explains Mwandihi.
According to him, the shelter should be large for ease collection of eggs and be equipped with nest boxes, feeders, drinkers and perches.
For convenience the house should be situated so that access to each of the runs can be provided with small outlet doors.
The officer finds solace from the fact that nowadays most of his evenings and free weekends are well occupied courtesy of the project.
“When my evenings and weekends are not occupied by official duties and community assignments, my birds and rabbits take centre stage,” says Mwandihi who is a teetotaler.
The officer singles out Belinda Muhadia, his daughter as the other force behind the success of the project, “Unlike my other children, Belinda has a strange passion for animals, especially rabbits, when the girl is around, I rarely bother about the status of these birds and rabbits,” he said.
The wife, Mrs. Evelyn Esemele who works as a nurse also plays a critical role on the project, especially in terms of healthcare.
With more than enough eggs for family consumption, feeding the birds and rabbits is no longer a challenge to Mwandihi who mostly relies on a balanced concoction of greens (mainly cabbages and sukuma wiki), maize flour, dagaa (omena) and sunflower to feed them.
“Both my chickens and rabbits like this kind of mixture. In fact it is a balanced died for these birds and animals,” says Mwandihi.
On an average day, Mwandihi collects a tray of eggs. Some of it is usually converted to cash that is used to purchase the above components of feeds for his birds and rabbits.
Besides cutting down on the household budget, Mwandihi says the main aim of engaging into this project was basically to enlighten the community in which he lives in on how to exploit simple methods of rearing indigenous hens and exotic rabbits.
“I am equally trying to fight the lopsided notion that poultry farming is a preserve for civil service retirees,” states Mwandihi who says he is far away from retirement age.
“In fact my desire is to use my small farm as mini demonstration point for poultry and rabbit farming,” says Mwandihi who at the moment has a total of 34 rabbits and more than 60 indigenous hens.
Strangely enough the man has not involved the livestock department in his activity, “because mine is purely meant for homegrown solutions,” emphasizes Mwandihi.
His desire is to eventually replace the current breed of rabbits with indigenous ones.
“I believe I would still be having enough energy to run around bushes hunting down indigenous rabbits. And hoping the bushes would still be around,” he quips.
Asked whether he is aware rabbit meat is on high demand in our major towns, Mwandihi feigned ignorance.
“Show me where the market is?” is his response.