Most successful dairy farms in Kenya: Just before the Meru-Isiolo junction is a perimeter fence with iron sheets painted green and written in bold, “Gakurine Farm, Vision 2030 Compliant”. It is one of the most successful dairy farms in Kenya.
And the fact that Joseph Mutwiri, the proprietor of Gakurine Farm on the outskirts of Meru Town, is living the vision of building a world-class dairy farm is evident on entering the gate.
The farm, which is among the most successful dairy farms in Kenya, is home to 62 Friesians, comprising 18 lactating cows, heifers and day-old calves.
Since he started dairy farming in 2011 after retiring from the police service, Mutwiri has been gradually improving the breed and increasing yields, while minimising the cost of production.
The chairman of Meslopes Dairy Farmers and Meru Medium Farmers groups that bring together more than 30 most successful dairy farms in Kenya produces more than 300 litres a day, which he sells at Sh60 per litre, through his shops at the farm and Meru town. This means he can make Sh. 540,000 on a good month from milk alone.
But to milk more and become one of the most successful dairy farms in Kenya, Mutwiri has now set his eyes on the heifer business. He is raising heifers, inseminating them with quality semen and selling when they are in-calf. An in-calf heifer goes for as high as Sh150,000.
Because of its best agricultural practices, Gakurine Farm is now a training ground for students from the nearby Kenya Methodist University (Kemu) and many upcoming dairy farmers.
Courtesy of the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV), he just returned from a two weeks exposure tour in the Netherlands, having emerged one of the organisations most improved dairy farmers in the country.
Once we are settled in his office, Mutwiri proclaims: “A dairy farmer’s biggest undoing is ignorance. Farmers continue to miss out on the benefits of dairy farming because of the failure to seek information. Yours can never be one of the most successful dairy farms in Kenya without information.”
He adds that to make a most successful dairy farms in Kenya, a good dairy cow is a combination of genetics, which contributes 25 per cent, and the environment, 75 per cent.
Due to the shortage of extension officers in the country, Mutwiri advises farmers to do research.
“A farmer should check the breed’s history. When it comes to on-farm breeding, the farmer must be aware that a good dairy cow is prepared from the womb,” he advises.
He notes that the health of a calf is dependent on how the mother was fed during the last two months of gestation.
“The heifer should have enough strength to last through gestation and lactation. The farmer should know that once the heifer has been served, most of the nutrients go to the development of the calf,” Mutwiri hints.
The former police officer says a farmer should increase mineral ration during steaming up (two months to calving), give fodder that is rich in crude protein three weeks to calving and increase dairy meal ration two days to calving.
He recommends Kikuyu grass and maize fodder because of the high amount of crude protein they hold.
“A Friesian calf that will make a good dairy cow, will weigh more than 40kg at birth,” Mutwiri says, adding that the amount of milk to be fed to it should take cognisance of this.
He notes that a calf that is to form replacement stock needs proper management before and after birth.
The Gakurine Farm proprietor says most farmers miss the opportunity of increasing milk production in the way they handle a calf at birth.
He continues, “Colostrum is the best food for a calf. The calf should be fed with colostrum within the first 30 minutes of birth. But care should also be taken to avoid excess feeding as this can cause diarrhoea.”
SNV Kenya Dairy Value Chain Co-ordinator Reuben Koech says a good birth weight for a calf is 35-40kg. “Give a calf milk at the rate of 10 per cent of its body per day, within the first one month before introducing it to solid feeds. Even then, this milk should be spread over two or three times a day.”
Koech says the growth of a calf averages between 500 and 700g per day, and that feeding should be commensurate.
A calf should be fed borrowing from the cattle’s natural behaviour. “Drinking water should be placed on the ground for drinking while milk is fed from the level of a cow’s teats and when it shows interest,” he counsels.
Calf pellets should be introduced after 14 days, quality hay at three months and a month later, calf pencil.
“The earlier the dry matter is introduced, the earlier the rumen starts developing. A good dairy cow needs a good rumen to absorb nutrients,” Mutwiri advises, and adds that the development of the mammary and digestive systems start at a tender age.
“A big body frame and udder means more milk in future,” he quips.
Mr Mutwiri says a well-fed calf, meant for replacing the herd, should have doubled its birth weight at three months.
“With good care, a heifer should be ready for serving at 18 months,” says Mutwiri, who has a preservation can for storing semen.
He says a farmer, who is keen on succeeding should have a reliable source of quality fodder, feed store, high standards of hygiene and information.
“To sustain my animals, I have an acre of lucerne, two acres of napier grass and 10 acres of maize. We have also built a group feed mill within my farm.”
His store can hold up to 100 tonnes of silage, which lasts four months during the dry spell.
Meru County Livestock Department Director David Mugambi says for a farmer to get it right in breeding, they must use a breeding catalogue.
“A farmer should choose a bull whose calves exhibit better characteristics as shown in the catalogue. This will help to improve on them. After insemination, the farmer should ensure the cow is fed well and free of disease,” Mr Mugambi says.
He notes that feeds given to an in-calf heifer should supply nutrients that cater for its maintenance and growth as well as development of the un-born calf.
“In early pregnancy, the cow has a large space that allows big volumes of roughage. As the size of the un-born calf increases, that space reduces proportionately. The farmer should, therefore, improve on the nutrition of the feed over time. As feed volume decreases, the nutrition value remains constant,” he advises.
He adds that during calving, hygiene is of great importance. “A maternity area should be well-prepared to ensure that calving occurs in a clean environment.
A veterinary officer should be called in case of difficulties. The newborn calf requires to feed on colostrum from the mother or any other cow available without limiting the quantity. The farmer should keenly follow milk feeding instructions by giving four litres of milk per day at the body temperature,” he says.
Mugambi warns that cold colostrum milk may pass some micro-organisms to the calf leading to diarrhoea.
“There is need to protect the calves against all parasites. Fleas in recent times have led to many calf deaths. A well-kept calf can be inseminated at the age of 18 months,” he concludes.