Milk farming in Kenya: When he joined Thika Technical Training Institute to study electrical engineering in 2000, Joe Mwaura knew he had to work harder to get a good job after college.
And work hard he did. On completing his training in 2004, he proudly stepped into the world full of hope that it would not take long to secure a well-paying job.
But fate had other plans. He has found success in a sector that literally does not require his electrical engineering skills.
At his farm in Kianoe village, Subukia Sub-county in Nakuru Mwaura, 34, says he ventured into dairy production in 2008 after quitting his Sh10, 000 a month job at the Kenya Railways in Nairobi.
“Electrical engineering was the best career I could ever undertake. I was the happiest man on securing employment as an electrical engineer but how sustainable was Sh10, 000 a month salary?” he poses.
Like the prodigal son, Mwaura returned to the village to help his aged father run his 10-acre farm. He also opened a small shop to help him provide for his small family, but creditors soon run him out of business.
But being a smart fellow, an idea soon struck his mind. “Why not practise smart dairy farming to create self-employment?” he thought. His father readily agreed to help him actualise the idea, giving him three of his cows to start off.
Mwaura began by improving the traditional breed through Artificial Insemination Services with semen from the US, Netherlands and Germany.
In 2010, he got a Sh80, 000 loan from a bank. With this, and proceeds he got from selling two of his cows, Mwaura purchased two freshian cows.
“Yield from the local breeds was low and I could only get two litres of milk a day despite regular vaccination and proper feeding. This was not the kind of venture I had envisioned,” Mwaura says..
But he was soon to experience yet another challenge. Milk prices dropped to an all-time low of Sh15 a litre. Most dairy farmers ditched the practise, opting to instead try maize, beans, peas and vegetable farming.
In addition, KCC, his main customer, failed to pay him his three months dues. The young farmer was on the brink of dropping out, but established farmers asked him to hold on and search for better markets.
“I was so discouraged after KCC failed to pay me more than Sh250, 000 for milk deliveries,” he says.
But his fortunes changed for the better when he joined Suka Farmers’ Cooperative in 2011, a local society that has more than 900 farmers.
Mwaura now has six freshian cows that produce 18 litres of milk daily each, which he sells for between Sh30 and Sh36 to Suka Farmers’ Cooperative Society.
Each of the cows is labelled with tags for easier record keeping and breeding.
He says proper feeding is the key to constant quantity and quality milk production.
To cut on costs and supplement the dairy feeds, Mwaura plants his own animal feeds including nappier grass, lucern, fodder, maize and hay on his father’s 10-acre land.
He produces 350 bales of hay every three months, which he sells to other farmers Sh250 per bale. Asked whether he could take up a lucrative electrical engineering job if one came calling, Mwaura says nothing can keep him away from his cows. In fact, he is planning to enroll in a course on animal health to complement his livestock best production service.
Mwaura has trained more than 900 dairy farmers on livestock feeds and feeding, housing, breeding and record keeping.
“Though dairy farming has good returns, farmers should ensure proper feeding and regular vaccination to prevent diseases,” he states. His advice to youths struggling to get jobs in urban centres?
“Go back to the village, there are a lot of unexploited ventures in farming. Never be frustrated by employers who exploit us with low pay,” he says.