Dairy Farming in Rift Valley: Bahati, located in Nakuru County, is an attractive region, with its good weather and rising population making farming one of the most profitable ventures. It is here that Stephen Muthui, a lecturer at Egerton University’s School of Medicine has established a dairy farm.
Muthui, a microbiology teacher, says he went into farming because he did not want to teach what he was not practising. “I am a trained veterinarian. I teach students and farmers animal health. I found it ironical that I was telling my students the benefits of keeping animals yet I didn’t even own a single cow,” Muthui says.
Besides, Muthui says he wanted to use his knowledge to create wealth and jobs and make extra income.
His enterprise called Njiku Farm started in Salgaa in 1995, where he bought his first cow at Sh. 18,000. The farm now hosts 64 cows out of which 10 are pedigree.
From the 24 lactating cows, Njiku Farm gets an average of 500 litres of milk each day. The farm sells each litre at Sh30 to a milk processing firm.
“We want to double our production to 1,000 litres per day. With the animals we have, and with our improved feeding programme, we shall make it.”
But as he aims at 1,000 litres, the 500 litres of milk he is currently getting do not come easily.
Muthui engages in some of the best animal husbandry practices, which he teaches at the university. To begin with, the farmer feeds his dairy cows sorghum silage. “Maize silage is scarce, that is why I switched to sorghum.
But sorghum is also nutritious. It grows up to 15 feet and its head is almost half a kilogramme, loaded with seeds that contain energy and proteins,” says Muthui, adding that feeding is an area which many farmers do badly.
“You have to group your animals so that you feed them according to their needs. We feed a cow that produces an average of 20 litres of milk 20kg silage while those producing less require less concentrates. We feed them on between 10kg and 15kg of silage” he says.
“Animals are supposed to eat at least three per cent of dry matter of their body weight. This should consist of roughage and concentrates, which are rich in energy and proteins.”
The sorghum is harvested and the seeds are crushed while the stalks are chopped and cut into pieces and put in a heap and then lactic acid bacteria is added to speed up fermentation and then put in a nylon and buried four feet underground.
According to Muthui, the secret of raising healthy animals is to handle the cows just the way one would take care of a baby.
“We give babies maximum attention, which is what we should do to cows. Check their skin for diseases regularly. If you see a cow is restless, find out why and as you milk them, check out for diseases. Their feeds should also be well-prepared and their places of stay should be clean to keep at bay diseases like mastitis.”
Njiku Farm cleans the cowsheds at least twice a day to make sure the animals’ teats are not infected with the deadly mastitis and other diseases.
He advises that if a farmer has at least four lactating animals, he should use a milking machine because human hands get tired and they may not drain all milk from the udder. The farmer bought a milking machine at Sh320,000.
“I have invested on trained technical staff who are keen on noticing a disease as they handle the cows. As they milk, they put the first six to 10 drops in a strip cup and if the milk has some clots, it means the cow has mastitis.”
The second test is for sub-clinical mastitis, where the workers put 2 cubic litres of milk, add California Mastitis Test Kit (CMT) chemical and if the milk changes to deep purple, it means the cow is sick with subclinical mastitis.
The comfort of the animals is also paramount. Every cow must have its own mat for sleeping.
“When cows use mats, they process milk faster. Besides the rubber doesn’t keep bacteria which causes mastitis.”
Water is also essential at any dairy farm. Muthui has constructed a 650,000 litres water tank that ensures his farm has clean supply of water. He has employed seven workers who are trained on the basic animal husbandry and milking techniques.
“To reap maximum profits, one must invest in qualified staff. We have trained our staff on how to detect sickness or any problem an animal has and the emergency action to take,” says the father of four.
He would have given up as soon as he started were it not for his determination.
“My first cow was a crossbreed of Aysher and Friesian. I kept it for some time before adding six more,” says the lecturer, 56, as he recalls with nostalgia how he ventured into farming at his plot in Langa Langa estate in Nakuru.
However, neighbours found his cows a nuisance. “They said the moos were causing them sleepless nights while flies from the cows were invading their kitchens. Disposing the cow waste also became a problem. This forced me to buy an acre where my current farm is located. I have since increased it to 13 acres,” adds Muthui, who coined the name of his farm from three women who have influenced his life. These are his wife, elder sister and paternal grandmother, who all share the name Wanjiku.
Muthui sells a heifer at between Sh180,000 and Sh250,000. “I sell between five and eight heifers every year. This gives me good income,” says the farmer, who is in the process of insuring his animals, having lost three animals in the past.
The farm imports Friesian Holstein sexed semen from Holland at between Sh5,000 and Sh8,000 each to serve cows, which ensures that the calves born are female.
Sexed semen has high concentration of either male or female sex cells, often up to 90 per cent hence increasing the chances of getting the animal a farmer wants. Tens of people, including some from neighbouring countries, visit the farm for lessons and to buy heifers. Muthui, who is in the process of making a biogas unit, charges the farmers Sh500. Dairy Farming in Rift Valley.
Dairy Farming in Rift Valley: This story was first published by Nation Media Group’s Seeds of Gold.