How couple is turning old tyres into reliable source of income

Mr John Ndung'u with his wife Esther Waithera
Mr John Ndung'u with his wife Esther Waithera at their workshop in Ol Kalou town. PHOTO | WAIKWA MAINA | NMG 

When a tyre wears out, it marks the beginning of a journey for Mr John Ndung'u and his wife Esther Waithera.

The couple collects old tyres and with just a pairs of pliers and a knife they build chicken cages.

This is the job they have been waking up to execute every day in the last 20 years.

With proceeds from the venture, they have been able to feed and educate their children who have also been offering a helping hand during weekends and public holidays.

Waithera says that each of the children makes between two and three cages over the weekend.


“Our children have come to love the job, they join us during their free time. It is part of their fun,” says Waithira.

A short distance from where the couple is stationed, dozens of cages of different sizes and design tailored for chicks aged one day to a month are displayed.

Each of the cages can comfortably hold between 30 and 50 chicks.

A pickup arrives during the interview and the entire stock of cages is sold and loaded. The couple is still left with tens of streaming customers to contend with.

“The cages are on high demand. We have a long list of customers waiting. The biggest challenge is not the market, but to supply demand," notes Waithira.

Unfortunately, many jobless people are unwilling to learn the trade and get employed at the workshop, laments Waithera.

After his secondary education, Ndung'u worked as a casual in construction sites before joining his father who was selling second-hand clothes in Kakamega. He later started a similar business in the same town but it collapsed seven years later due to stiff competition. The father of three shifted to Engashura in Nakuru County where he met his future wife. Together they did casual jobs in the farms. But the jobs were hardly available, and the newly married couple could hardly put a meal on the table and had challenges paying the rent.

When the going got tougher, Ndung’u recalled of rat traps he had seen in Kakamega and thought of how to make them bigger for poultry farming.

“My neighbours were in constant fights over chicken trespassing in the neighbourhood due to limited space in urban areas, or chicks’ disappearance,” says Ndung’u.

He got a tyre and tried to cut, thread and model a cage, but it wasn’t an easy task.

“It took us two days to cut the tire, my husband was giving up, but I recalled his passion when we were discussing the idea,” recalls Ms Waithira.

She convinced her husband and they made the first cage which they sold to a neighbour at Sh500, a double amount of what they both earned doing casual jobs.

With time, they perfected their art, attracting more customers. They resolved to train a young man to help them meet the rising demand.

“When the trainee quit we learnt our lesson and decided to charge Sh15,000 for new trainees," says Ms Waithira.

In 2008 the couple move to Ol Kalou in search of a better market for their goods. The couple could then make between five and eight cages daily, each selling at Sh550 and Sh850 depending on size and model.

“It’s a rewarding business but most people shun it because it is dirty. But we are happy, we live a comfortable life, our three children are in best schools,” said Mr Ndung’u.

She says the biggest challenge is high competition for old tires with buyers coming as far as Ugandan.

Before competition for raw materials became stiff, the couple used to collect the tires in the streets and garages at no cost, but is now forced to buy them at between Sh20 and Sh50. “They have caused an acute shortage of the tires. They buy in huge quantities and we have to allow them to leave the country before we can get our supplies. We source the tires from as far as Machakos and Nakuru counties,” says Mr Ndung’u.

His wife is proud of the job despite people looking it as a man’s job.

“My friends thought it very abnormal of me to engage in the trade. They discouraged me claiming it’s a man’s job. But I am happy with it,” says Ms Waithira.

To expand the business, the family plans to buy a piece of land in Ol Kalou town, where they will construct a bigger workshop, shifting base from the rented premises.