At Osiligi Farm in Kajiado County, south of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, tens of indigenous cattle roamed freely in the paddocks.
At a section of the farm located in the pastoralism zone occupied by the Maasai, some hybrid dairy cows chewed the cud while others fed on silage.
But away from the cattle in a house made of wood, chickens squawked and others crowed. The chickens of the Kuroiler breed are the latest addition to the farm as the owner, a Maasai, diversifies his livestock venture amid climate change.
Initially kept by other communities, especially those living in western Kenya, the chickens are finding space on farms in Kajiado and other counties where pastoralists live as the communities seek to mitigate effects of climate change, boost food security and incomes.
In pastoralist zones like Kajiado, biting drought has seen cattle keepers over the years lose their herd due to lack of pasture.
This is besides the changing land use where houses are taking most of the spaces and increased subdivision of land, with sizes getting smaller.
“We decided to keep chickens because the hot weather in this region is favorable. The chickens are less prone to diseases thus the cost of production is lower,” Paul Sosoika, the manager of the farm said in a recent interview, adding market for eggs is also readily available.
The chickens are less than eight months old on the farm, with Sosoika noting that they are learning on job.
“We have never kept chickens before because traditionally they are not one of our livestock. We mainly keep cattle but we have to change with times. Things are not the way they used to be, especially the weather,” he said.
Dozens of families in the county have also embraced chickens, with women leading from the front.
Some 1,200 women in Orgira, Kajiado County are currently keeping indigenous chickens thanks to a program by a non-state organization.
The chickens are helping them build resilience especially in the face of erratic rains and enabling them to be food secure and get income.
“In our culture, livestock like cattle, sheep and goats are a man’s property, but chickens are now ours. We can sell eggs and the birds themselves without men asking us,” Caroline Naserian said.
The owner of 40 chickens noted that the birds give her eggs and are a source of income not only for her, but also her family.
Naserian said that the community has not only embraced chickens in terms of keeping, they are also eating, a change from cattle and goat meat they have been used to for several decades.
Peter Oduor, an animal health specialist from Egerton University, noted that chickens are the best bet in helping pastoralists mitigate effects of climate change and cope with changing times.
“They don’t require much space to keep, unlike cattle. When it comes to feeding, when kept alongside cattle, one can easily raise worms using dung and feed them,” he said.
He added that the hot weather in semi-arid regions is favorable for chickens, unlike the cold weather in highlands, which comes with diseases.
“Most farmers in the region are grappling with the consequences of erratic rains, rising temperatures and drought, which are effects of climate change. Keeping chickens is good way to help pastoralists mitigate some of these challenges,” he said. Enditem