Best farms in Kenya: After leaving politics, former South mugirango MP Omingo Magara ventured into dairy farming. Since then, he has been building a farming hub that can easily be quoted among the leading dairy farms in the region.
He delivers over 3,500 litres of milk twice a week to Kenya Seed, his neighbours and new referrals. he also has 78 dairy cows comprising high yielders, low yielders, in-calf heifers, and unweaned heifers housed in different sections of the unit depending on age and development stage.
From the high investment in computerised milking machines, to the high standards of hygiene practised by the farmhands; everything spells a classy dairy farming method. “Like human beings, cows are sensitive creatures. If you treat them well, they will also serve you well with volumes of milk. That is why I invested in hi-tech technology. These machines are so spot on, they cannot milk a sick cow,” he says.
To boost milk yields, he gives the cows the right feed and ensures they get the right feed comprising minerals and supplements. Technology has also played a role in boosting yields. “The use of imported milking machines and chilling tanks from Netherlands has helped improve efficiency, hygiene and reduced milking time besides cutting labour costs,” he says.
According to Omingo the machines are not only accurate but faster, help in maintaining top hygiene standards and do not interfere with the hormones that trigger milk flow. “The machines can effectively milk 10 cows within seven minutes or 40 cows an hour . The milk is then filtered before it is finally transferred into the chilling tank which has a capacity of 2,150 litres. The milk is safely stored for four days.”
Magara’s dalliance with farming began way back. “I have always loved farming since I was a child. Actually, when I was in Nduru High School, Agriculture was one of my favourite subjects.” But what really drove him to serious farming is a milk pollution incident in Ukraine in 1991. “I decided to venture into commercial milk production to help curb a similar calamity in Kenya,” says Magara. Though the venture is mammoth, he started with just three cows (five months old) in 2010. His parent breed was from the Rift Valley Institute of Technology Farm which he bought at Sh150,000 each. “The three gave me female calves and I was excited,” he says. Slowly, one calf at a time, his herd grew.
One of the biggest challenges he faces is buying animal feed. Actually in a month, he spends Sh500,000 on feed. But the good thing is that the milk yields are encouraging. With five workers (manager included) Magara gets 500 litres of milk a day from 24 cows. Climate change that has occasioned long dry spells is another hurdle.
“Feed scarcity is a problem because of the current erratic weather patterns. To get around this, I plan to start growing hay. I also make my own feeds by buying ingredients which I mix using my own posho mill. They include maize jam, cotton seed, sun flour cake, Afro toxin urea, premix, binder, yeast, high phosphorus premix and lime mixed at a concentrated ratio,” he says. Getting quality and reliable farmhands has also been an issue.
“Lack of experienced workers forces me to keep changing them. This somewhat affected business at the beginning. But now I have a good team,” he says. For farmers aspiring to be like him, he has plenty of take homes. “It is important for farmers to identify a reliable market before they start because of the perishable nature of the produce. Joining hands in groups also helps because the unit can buy milk storage equipment like coolers and they have a stronger bargaining power in the market,” he says.