Dairy Farming Mistakes: When Retired lieutenant colonel Cheptoo Kimosop decided to retire from his job as pilot, he had one thing on his mind that he wanted to pursue: dairy farming.
Already, the ex-pilot had enjoyed a colourful career that saw him fly former presidents Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki. He had risen through the ranks after joining the army as cadet in 1982.
“I had given my best years in the service and I just wanted to settle into quiet farming life. “But I was surprised that respected airlines wanted to hire me, again. I turned down those big offers because I knew my time in the air was long gone. I wanted a new phase in my life,” he says at his expansive Lawan Farm near Sabatia Forest, Baringo County.
Diving from the skies into dairy farming, has been a roller coaster journey of sorts, marked with turbulence, storms but he is now cruising. “There was even a time I made a Sh.500,000 loss. I will come to that later,” the farmer opens up. Since he had no background in farming, when he was starting off back then, he enrolled for various livestock breeding training courses.
“Some of the courses were very practical. I was ‘interned’ at well established dairy farms to get a first-hand feel on tending to livestock from feeding to breeding. It was from this farms that I got the confidence that this can be done successfully and in a professional way,” Kimosop remembers. Ready to roll, he bought six cows worth Sh.700,000 and created a perfect cow shed on his four acre farm.
“During those formative years, I did everything by myself. I cleaned the cow pens, fed the animals, milked them. It was tiring but I enjoyed every bit,” says the father of four who has now employed several farmhands to manage the dairy enterprise. As expected, before the project reached the cruising stage, storms hit the ship one after another.
“Commercial feed was one nightmare. To produce plenty of quality milk, dairy cows need plenty of nutritious feed. So these cows were consuming so much, it was crazy,” he says. And the problem was even compounded by the drought, he recalls: “There was also an acute shortage of green fodder due to the failed rains that had led to drought which lasted for months. The cost of green fodder went over the roof. With that reality, I had to feed the cows on less than the expected daily amount of feed and the impact of this was a significant dip in the milk production. Profits also went south,” he says.
It was during this trying period that he suffered a Sh.500,000 loss. “Six of cows died and one of them was a high yielding cows. The daily milk yield dropped from 200 litres per day to 50 litres. That was bad news. A dairy farmer can relate to the pain I felt. I almost called it quits, but I stay put as the storms calmed down,” he says with a tone of sadness. Rising up from the ashes, he used his savings and bought more cows bringing the total to seven.
Once bitten twice shy, they say, and having learnt from his mistakes, he decided to start making his own feeds. Therefore, he sought the help of experts and set up a hydroponics unit where he grows green fodder in a controlled environment.
“I noticed that one of the major causes of the low production was feeds. The animals were not getting quality fodder. I, thus, subdivided my four acres into plots to create paddocks. I planted sugarcane, napier grass on two pieces and the rest lucerne,” narrates the pilot. Assured of good feeds, the farmer moved to improve the cow breeds using artificial insemination (AI).
“Initially we would depend on freelance livestock officers, who used to do the work from as low as Sh1,000. But I learned that this compromised on the quality. I approached a private AI services provider and that’s how I end up with quality cows,” he explains. At the same time, to boost his animals milk output, he embraces a unique technology — effective microorganism (EM) bacteria.
Here animal feeds are stored in tube silage using black polythene where crushed sugarcane and sorghum are mixed with EM bacteria. Fredrick Bittok, a veterinary officer in Koibatek explains that EM when professionally applied on animal feed increase the rate of digestion. Bittok, says the idea of making the supplement came up because there was need to solve the challenge of poor digestion in livestock and poor milk productivity among zero-grazing animals.
Having learned from his mistakes, Kimosop is now settled as a farmer and arguably one of the most successful dairy farmers in Eldama Ravine. His advice to others who may be thinking of quitting:“Don’t. Tough times do not last but tough people last. Storms come and go. If you want to make it, have a resilient spirit, work hard and only deal with experts.” Dairy Farming Mistakes.