Besides supporting the more established producers in the area it is also our charge to support the beginning farmers and ranchers in our area. The most popular course we offer is our beginner chicken course. In it we cover the basics of raising chickens for meat or eggs, we review best practices for healthy birds and happy neighbors, and we explore the economic realities of raising animals for profit. One of my favorite parts of the class is getting to meet all the different types of people that are interested in animal husbandry. We get a lot of people from the county but we also get a lot of traffic from New York City where there is not, as you can imagine, a lot in the way of animal husbandry classes.
This Spring I had the opportunity to meet with Keita Djime who is a visiting student from Africa. Keita’s father was a successful chicken and egg producer in Africa who was looking to expand his business and to add complementary enterprises to his operation. Specifically, he would like to start an integrated livestock fish farm. This ancient system has recently come into favor in the arid climate of Africa where protein production does not currently meet the needs of the growing local populations. Basically the farmers construct their chicken coops a meter over their fish ponds. The chickens are fed local rations, produce eggs or protein, and in the process their manure falls though the mesh floor of their coop and into the pond. This manure feeds the algae which in turn feed the carp that are living in the pond below. Throughout the development of livestock fish farms in Africa over the last decade it has faced setbacks, but with the correct ratios, the farmers do not have to provide any supplemental feed to the fish. Basically the integration is doubling the amount of protein produced while also cutting down on the overall work load since the farmers no longer have to collect and move the chicken manure.
I was impressed with Keita’s drive and it was obvious that he was eager to put his business and husbandry practices to good use on his father’s property. During our conversation we did come across some hurdles that would not be familiar to poultry farmers in our area. First and foremost there are different poultry diseases that can infect flocks in Africa. We had to sit down and do some research on not only the types of diseases but their treatments, symptoms, and prevention. It is no surprise that infrastructure can be an issue in developing areas. Roads may be inaccessible at certain times of the year, specialized trucks for transporting fish may be out of service, or certain unseen “taxes” may need to be paid prior to transport in certain areas. Another issue for Keita was theft. As he was telling me, everything that can be lifted by a human being is in danger of being stolen. Fencing in the property was not an option because of its size so we settled on working in a security guard into the budget to protect the enterprise. This conversation was enlightening to say the least and it helped me to appreciate that all farmers, no matter where they are located, face localized issues.
Keita is the perfect example of what we like to see from a beginning farmer. He has an established background in the business (not required but very helpful) and is interested in proven innovative techniques that have the ability to increase his family’s quality of life. These types of endeavors are born from the mind of creative hard working individuals and nurtured by those who support them. It may seem like this type of person is difficult to find but in reality is the base of the character of all farmers. Meeting these people is both inspirational and educational for me and I wish Keita and his family all the best in their unique production model.