I am guessing by now you are super curious about the chicks! Those beautiful bundles of fluffy joy that were hatched in an incubator and were being hand raised by human mothers? Well, here goes.
After roughly two weeks of being human mothered, fed, watered and generally doted over, we woke up one Monday morning, and one of the chicks looked ill. He/she was feeding well but seemed to have lost the power to stand. What was this? We had taken all the precautions and vaccinated the chicks on time against Newcastle disease. Surely this was not illness! My farm manager and I had a long deliberation over this and decided this looked like a vitamin deficiency, so we quickly purchased vitamin supplements rich in calcium and fed this to all the chicks.
All seemed to be going well for about an hour. And then the chicks died. One after the other. I could not believe what was happening. In 4 hours, I had no chicks. Zero. None of them survived. Remember I told you about things dying in a spectacular and disturbing manner on a farm? I felt exhausted. After all that hard work we were not going to get anything out of this litter? Are they even called a litter when they are chickens?
In hindsight, a few things went wrong. Rule number one of all poultry farming is this – if any bird looks even vaguely sad, isolate it immediately. Rule number two – have the vet on speed dial! We did none of those two things. We had left the sick chick with the others and the infection had spread. Lesson learnt. Painful lesson.
This is a farm though. Death comes with life. Or maybe death comes to pave way for life. A few days after I lost the chicks, the next brood hatched. 23 of them. This time we had our eye on them. If they even blinked wrong, we were there to isolate the sickly one. I went about this duty like Secret Agent 007 trying to stop some truly evil villain. This was how my farm manager and I caught on to one chick starting to look droopy. Immediate isolation. That one was dead within 2 hours of isolation. The rest are still here.
Guess what else came to life? My Rottweiler Max gave birth to 4 puppies! Happiness! More on those little ones later.
During the dry season in September, we set about preparing the farm for planting. And plant we did in eager anticipation of the seasonal rains scheduled for October. We had maize, beans, green grams (lentils) and pigeon peas. We had nurseries of cabbage, Sukuma Wiki (Kale), onions, coriander and bird’s eye chili. We were busy!
The rains did not show up as scheduled. Do they ever? This is tropical Africa, semi-arid Kenya. Things do not happen on schedule especially as it pertains to farming. So, we resulted in irrigation for the vegetables and the nurseries. Allow me to paint this picture for you. It had not rained for close to 5 months. Not a drop. It was tinder dry which meant, if you were irrigating your farm, you were the only source of consistent water in a 50km radius. All bugs, squirrels, birds and every conceivable living creature would be using your farm as a watering and feeding hole. It’s a constant fight to keep the bugs at bay before they destroy the entire crop.
Eventually, the rains arrived. Torrential downpours that made you stand and stare in wonder. Within a week, everything sprouted. My seeds plus all the weeds that had been hibernating in the soil. Do they hibernate? My fields looked like a golf course. All green! 90% weed! And by the way, where was my maize crop? Why was nothing germinating? Here’s what I believe happens. When maize seeds are drenched by water enough to start germinating, I believe they give off a scent. The squirrels and birds can smell this scent of new life blooming. They call their friends and they have an all-night party on my farm digging up all the maize kernels that are gearing up to sprout. And they eat them. End result? Zero maize germination! We had to re-plant the maize.
At this point, I reminded my farm manager we had a working dog on the farm called Leo. Leo is my late Spotty’s son. Dumb as a rock, but a stealth hunter, especially when it comes to squirrels and birds. Now my farm manager goes out with Leo at 5.30 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. Leo’s job is to chase away every critter that could possibly try and feed on my germinating maize.
What have I learnt? For sure, I continue to confirm my belief that farming requires an uncommon amount of grit and tenacity. Miraculously, I am still here. I have not given up. Tomorrow is a new day – and on a farm, there is no possibility of boredom!
Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones from me and my entire family!