But farmers are embracing a new technology that promises good returns ? rearing the layers in a cage. Peter Kioi from Nderu village, Limuru constituency, is a pioneer in this new technology. Villagers throng his farm just to marvel at this innovation.

He has two houses, and in the first one, a 1,000 hens are put into identical cages, in cubicles housing three. The cubicles are enjoined and arranged in three tiers, like floors in a storeyed building, with each tier having 72 chickens. This system gave rise to the name battery cages, due to the formation of rows and columns of the identical cages with a common wall dividing the cells, like in a battery.

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The hens crane their necks through the wires to the feeding trough as Kioi adds the feed.

?After putting the feed early morning, we rarely add,? says Kioi, ?that is one of this system?s advantage.? The feeding trough, according to its supplier based in Thika, is made of PVC, which compresses heat, and is easy to clean.The water system is unique and automated. A white PVC pipe, made to withstand chemical reactions from impurities in the water runs around the cage at each level. The hens crane their necks to a water ?nipple?, which they peck into. Water-drops drip straight to the gullet.

?The water system saves us from always feeding the chicken as it is the case with the traditional way of rearing chicken,? says Kioi.

He points to a tank, with pipes running through the roof to the poultry house and connected into water containers, which are attached at the edge of the cages. The containers have cisterns similar to the ones found in a toilet, to prevent overflow. The floor of the cage is slanted, allowing for eggs to slide at the edge where it is easy to collect.

?It is a great venture,?says the farmer. But it cost him a dime.

Setting up the structure cost Sh350,000. But it depends on the size. He has another cage, four-tiered with a capacity for 2,400 birds. It cost him Sh480,000.

?The initial cost may be high, but in the long run, one saves a lot of money and the yield is impressive,? he says.

This technology has numerous advantages.

?First, there is no wastage of water and the feeds. The eggs are clean and the rate of transmission of infection is minimal because the animals are well protected from external factors like predators.?

What about the downside? Some reports show that use of battery system has elicited complaints from animal rights activists. According to the Europe PubMed Central, an information resource for biomedical and health researchers, cages fail to provide for hen?s welfare needs. But Wakio is quick to clarify this.

?I feel the chicken have enough space to manouvre. The signs that they lay eggs shows that they areokay, ? he says.

But Othieno Joseph, a science and health communication expert says the main downside of this system is the welfare of the hen.

?In developed countries, animal rights movements are vocal, to the extent that supermarket chains and stores fear stocking eggs from battery cages.?

He urges that even though farmers in Kenya have taken it up, there has not been much of a furore.

By Kiundu Waweru, The Standard

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