At Mutunduri, about 5km from Embu town off the Embu-Nairobi highway, sits Tujenge Farm, a modern dairy outfit with towering credentials.
The model farm hosts 250 dairy cows and has extensively employed technology, some sourced from abroad, to reap maximum benefits.
Joseph Nderitu, 53, the farm manager is observing the Holstein Friesian cows as they chew cud when I stride in.
From the gate, one can see how orderly the three-acre farm is. Half of it is under zero-grazing while the rest hosts storage facilities and offices.
At the zero-grazing unit, each shed holds cows depending on their ages and status. For instance, there are sheds for cows being milked, for calves, heifers, a maternity wing and a sick bay.
Each cow has a mat, with the sheds being cleaned thoroughly twice a day.
My attention shifts to the attractive heifers. Nderitu says the farm sells a mature heifer that is 18 to 24 months at Sh. 400,000.
“We sell them when they are in-calf. That is the price because one is assured of quality breeds and a high productivity.”
Of the cows, only 120 are milked, with their daily production ranging from 18 to 60 liters each.
“We milk an average of 3,000 liters a day, which we sell locally and export for between Sh. 40 and Sh. 60 per liter,” elaborates Nderitu of the farm that was started in 1977 by David Wachira, now 70.
The septuagenarian began with only two cows, and added some 11 more in 1996, but the business in which he invested Sh50,000 when starting, did not immediately flourish.
In 1998, with his herd having grown to 26 cows and producing 180 litres a day, Wachira sought the services of Nderitu, who holds a Diploma in Animal Production and a Certificate in Agriculture and has over a decade experience in animal management.
Nderitu improved the cows’ management, beginning with the feeds as the number of litres of milk collected hit 600. The growth has been sustained to date.
Milking is done in an interval of eight hours; at 6am, 2pm and 10pm with the produce being sold to Bio Food Products and Razco Limited, a cheese-making firm.
After milking, the produce is then chilled to around 2 degrees Celsius for preservation so that the milk reaches the buyer when it is at 5-6 degrees Celsius.
“Getting good milk, in both quantity and quality, is all about giving the animals the correct concentrates and feeding them right. One should also keep proper records and make good managerial decisions, including being financially prudent.”
Tujenge Farm has up-to-date records that capture every single activity on the farm. They include records on reproduction, growth or weight, health, mating, feeding and finances.
The employees always monitor the animals to detect and record when they are on heat, when they are served and when they are about to calve.
“There is no calf that is born by accident on this farm,” says Nderitu.
All the cows are tagged, thus, making record keeping easier for the employees; 17 of who are permanent while up to 30 are hired when need arises.
“We have leased over 100 acres to grow maize, which we harvest at the milk stage, chop into pieces and preserve as silage which takes us for up to three years, cushioning us from drought and other uncertainties.”
To ensure their animals get the right feed concentrate, the farm produces its own dairy meal that consists of whole grain maize, cotton seedcake, sunflower, fishmeal, salt lick and a mixture of quicklime, among other ingredients.
The cows’ feeds consists of the Total Mixed Ration (TMR) that comprises of silage, lucerne, hay and dairy meal mixed with molasses. TMR combines forages, grains, protein feeds, minerals, vitamins and feed additives mixed to make a specific nutrient concentration.
“A good feeding programme must start from day one, right after birth. From day one to four, our calves are fed exclusively on colostrum. From day four to week 10, we feed them on four liters of milk a day and calf pellets or special concentrates plus lucerne and hay,” explains Nderitu.
About this time, the calves are ready for weaning. During weaning, they are fed on lucerne and high energy and protein concentrates until they are seven months.
“We then feed them on silage and concentrates until they are 12 months. They calve down 20 to 24 months. With proper care, cows can calve down 12 times in their lifetimes.”
David Njoka, an officer with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in Imenti South notes: “Fluctuations in the feeds’ quality is a great inconvenience to the cow, as it does not only fail to meet the required protein and energy level but also affects the milk production.”
He advises farmers to have enough quality feeds to last them at least six months to avoid inconveniencing their animals.
Calliandra, mulberry, trichandra, sesbania sesban, bitter lupin and double bean are among fodder trees that the expert recommends.
Some of the diseases Tujenge Farm, as many others, has to contend with include foot and mouth, lumpy skin, anthrax and mastitis.
“We keep the risk of diseases down by spraying the animals after every 10 days. We vaccinate them after every three months against foot and mouth, every six months to control lumpy skin and every year to curb anthrax. The other measure is that the cows are not allowed to leave the compound even for an agricultural show for fear of infections. Our cows only leave the compound when they are sold.”
However, the farm has on standby a health technician, who is among their permanent workers.
“We also guard against hardware disease, which occurs when a cow swallows metallic objects, by use of a ruminal magnet. We introduce it in the cow’s rumen at six months,” explains Nderitu of the animals that are served with semen from Worldwide Sires and SEMEX, their guide being The Sire Summary.
They mix the ruminal magnet with feeds and offer them to the cow. The cow swallows the magnate and it lodges in the omasum, the third stomach, where it is retained in an animal’s entire life, with its function being to capture metals that the cow might swallow. The farm has received several awards, national and international.