Bird Flu: A Tale Of Two Poultry Farmers
Around his mouth region, from his close shaven chin, filaments of white and black hairs have begun to sprout. But the growth is only visible to a keen observer. In a matter of weeks, hair will grow taller on that smooth region of his face again, and they will once again be cleared out under a few strokes of sharp razor, just the way his poultry was cleared out, not by Avian Influenza (AI), he insisted, but by a sundry of life-threatening infections that kill thousands of domestic birds in recent time at Okinni Village, Egbedore Local Government Area of Osun State, and sent many poultry farmers out of business for good.
Dr. Towoju’s story reads like a paradox. Here is a veterinary medical surgeon who had been practicing poultry farming for more than 20 years and had helped nurse the birds of other farmers, yet when death-dealing diseases struck, his gifted hands could not rescue his poultry from the grip of death. Years of learning the science of animal care frittered away without a fuss. But such is the business of poultry farming in Nigeria, he stated matter-of-factly. When tragedy strikes in the poultry farm, the best of vet doctors could be left befuddled.
Back in the 80s, his poultry, Sterling Vet Care Farm accommodated 10, 000 layers. “Today, as you can see, it is an empty farm.” Towoju would tell you that raising chickens is a slaving job that could test the patience of Florence Nightingale. “Each day, you wake up hoping that virus or some bacteria don’t find way to your farm, or that some troublesome ants don’t beat your security system and invade where your poultry are kept, or that the weather is neither too hot nor too cold to challenge the survival of your kept birds. At the peak of dry season especially, birds die in droves.” Heat stroke is a disease common when weather starts getting hotter.
Other troubles of a poultry farmer include proliferation of fake animal drugs and low quality of parent stocks. Towoju said it is pretty hard these days to get original drugs to administer on ailing birds. “In fact, many farmers lost their chickens to fake drugs that are sold everywhere these days. And if your parents stocks are not healthy enough from the point of collection, then they begin to develop all manner of problems, and finally they die.”
This is the running battle that the vet doctor has been fighting since 1986 when he began poultry farming in commercial quantity. And this, of course, is one of the trials of life that cuts deep inscription on the weather-beaten face of Dr. Alaba Towoju, a 1983 graduate of veterinary medicine, University of Ibadan.
If Towoju’s story reads like the account of fabled Ms. Nightingale in the midst of the dead, the story of Mrs. Aderanti Adediran, a backyard poultry farmer is a test of determination by a single mother eking out a living with three children on the paltry proceeds of poultry production. And the recent outbreak of AI sent the family income even further on downward slope.
In many states across the federation, 2006 was the year of eat-egg- and-risk-a-deadly- infection; eat- chicken-and-get- a-flu media publicity. In Osun State, the news was taken as gospel. Everybody believed the message with the faith of the Pentecostalist. And that doomsday campaign hit the finances of Mrs. Adediran’s family real bad. As if that experience wasn’t crippling enough, the following year brought more cruel tragedy. She lost her husband. Yet, survive she must with her brood. And that is why she is stuck with the business of raising chickens, AI or other worse pandemics, regardless.
According to her, poultry business is an unruly horse that throws its owner off the saddle at will. But for the brave heart, the only way to go is up on the back of the recalcitrant beast. She said the challenges of raising chickens at commercial level have driven many out of business. “But I stayed because there is nothing else to live on.”
The ex-typist at Osun State Broadcasting Station (OSBC) recollected that 2006 was indeed a trying time for many poultry farmers in Osun State, adding that it may not be totally true that there was no AI in Osun State as members of the public were told to believe then “because many birds died within that period, and they were hurriedly buried so as not to affect the sales of poultry.” She said she lost 600 chickens out of her 700 stocks. Yet she would not admit that she lost them to AI.
“I really cannot say I lost my own poultry to AI because I only came back home to find out that my four dogs had broken into the pen and I met about 600 chickens lying dead with their feathers scattered all over the place. The dogs did not even eat any.” Even though, she concluded her fowls fell victim to the feral foursome, she admitted that she had lost some to different infections (viral or bacterial) from time to time.
So how did she survive the loss? “It was quite tough for me then because I lost my husband too not long after the noise of AI. But as a Christian, I had to put myself together and face the challenge of raising my kids alone.” Her children are Taiwo and Kehinde Adediran (11) and Idowu Adediran (6).
The pestilence of the past would not deter Mrs. Adediran. Rather, it makes her a more shrewd business person. Now she has not only increased the number of her birds to 250 or thereabout, she also evolved a new survival strategy, something which, for the want of a suitable name, may be called Trinity approach to livestock farming. Now, the mother of three combines poultry farming with pig and snail farming. “AI experience taught me to diversify because, that time, farmers were not only losing their birds, customers were not even buying any poultry products.”
With government assistance, her farm could one day be as big as that of Tuns Farms or Olu Farms, two of the largest poultries in Osogbo, Osun State, she said. And if pandemics, like AI are permanently kept at bay as the Federal Government, the Food and Agricultural Organisation and other development partners are trying to do, Mrs. Adediram may not have to lose as much as N12million which Olu Farms claimed to have lost during AI outbreak.
Right now, the widow of late Mr. Adediran has only one goal: keeping her birds well alive, believing that when her poultry does well, her family would not go broke; and that way she will be able to feed and nest her three children and send them to good schools. “I owe that to my late husband,” she appeared to be saying.
Dr. Towoju is also set to start afresh. “By the end of October, I should have this poultry re-built and start something little,” he said in a voice tinged with echo of determination. Assuredly, the resilience of Dr. Towoju is not in doubt. What is in doubt is how he will be able to win the war against proliferation of fake drugs, poorly hatched day-old chicks supplied as parent stocks, unfavourable loan policy of commercial banks and a series of other challenges that weary the strength of the most resourceful poultry farmers faster than age.
Sadly enough, the story of these two resilient bird rearers is the story of many other poultry farmers in Osun State, the state that flaunts the sobriquet State of the Living Spring like the Salvation Army flag.