Dairy farmers in Kenya: By The Standard: After quitting teaching, a job he had done for six years, George Ngugi Karungo started rearing cows as a hobby. Today, he owns a dairy empire.
He started with a stock of 40 cows seven years ago but little did he know he will get much into the farming and expand his venture to a dairy farm with 830 dairy cows today.
The former Mukuyu Secondary School teacher is a blissful and proud man as he narrates how he has developed his Elite Dairies Limited farm where he is rearing the dairy cows and a stock of some 730 goats and sheep.
He has also kept ornamental birds including pigeons, ducks and turkeys on his farm.
Karungo said that after settling on his farm situated along the Ruiru-Githunguri road, he aspired to grow it so that he could offer employment opportunities especially to youth in the area. He has a workforce of 70.
“I felt underutilized being in class. I had to look for something else to do. And because I’m brought up in a family where we used to keep dairy cows, I tossed my coin into keeping cows, not as a business but as an activity that would occupy my time,” he said.
“Cows are so therapeutic. Rearing cows is not like any other business. When I spend time with the cows, I go home a happy man.”
In his farm, he has reared several breeds of cows including Friesian, Ayshire, Guernsey and Fleckvieh.
While noting that feed, breed and the environment which the cows are reared in are the key determinants of their production, Karungo said that he purchases feeds including silage from parts of the Rift Valley and Kirinyaga.
“We feed our cows twice a day. We ensure that they are fed on proper portions. We ensure hygiene is highly observed to avoid the risk of the cows contracting diseases,” he said.
Karungo told Mt Kenya Star that his stock has been producing 4,300 litres of milk per day noting that some cows which are best producers especially the Friesians produce up to 54 litres a day while moderate ones produce between 28-35 litres.
The director said that he expects milk production to increase to 6,000 litres a day when some of the 230 in-calves deliver. “We anticipate increasing our production to 6,000 litres or more once the cows give birth,” he said.
He said that they have been selling their milk to Naivas Supermarkets in bulk and local markets. The firm has opened eleven milk ATMs in Embakasi.
Karungo has embarked on value addition of his farm products including the production of pasteurized milk, cow yoghurt, and goat yoghurt. Last weekend, he hosted Trade and Industrialization Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya who commissioned the farm’s processing plant.
His goat and sheep breeds include German Alpine, Toggenburg, Saanen, Boer, Golden Guernsey and Dorper sheep, most purchased from South Africa and whose off springs he sell from Sh25,000.
“For heifers (in-calves), each goes for Sh250,000 to Sh300,000 depending on the breed and whether the mother was a good milk producer,” he said.
He, however, says medium scale dairy farming is financially challenging, noting that he spent first four years without a profit and he spends Sh4 million a month only on feeds.
The high cost of power has been a major quandary that has seen the farm’s profits dwindle every month. He noted that since his farm uses a lot of power in lighting and milking he has been spending over Sh300,000 on power bills every month.
“The high cost of power is the main reason why young and upcoming Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) collapse soon after establishment. The government must fulfil its promise of lowering power tariff s by 30 per cent so that the small and light industries can thrive and create job opportunities for thousands of Kenyans,” he said.
Dairy farmers in Kenya: Biogas option
Karungo is now embarking on massive biogas production that will be used to power the entire farm. He said that the system that is under construction will be able to handle seven tones of cow dung per day.
The proprietor also called on the government to ensure the cost of feeds is subsidized and to ensure that manufacturers produce quality feeds that meet the set standards.
“It’s wise for the ministry to keep the manufacturers on toes to make sure that they don’t compromise on the quality of feeds and ensure they are of high standards so that production levels of the farmers can improve,” Karungo said.
When asked on his expansion plans, Karungo said that he is looking forward to having over 1,200 dairy cows on his farm by July next year which will increase milk production to over 10,000 litres of milk per day.
He said that this will see his workforce grow to over 200 workers.
“Currently, we are breeding more because we want to increase our production. We are currently getting 28 calves per month and we usually don’t sell calves. Therefore, by July next year, we will have achieved our target of 1,200 cows,” he said.
“We will probably start selling the cows once we surpass our target,” he added.
Karungo urged youths especially graduates to shift their focus from white-collar jobs and venture into Jua Kali businesses which are the economic drivers.
“Actually, I have 27 graduates who work on our farm. Graduates must be ready to take up the Jua Kali jobs. It will all depend on how energetic and hardworking one is,” he said.
A version of this agribusiness feature on George Ngugi’s dairy farm was also published in The Standard newspaper.