A sweet smell of pineapple hits my nostrils as I approach Josphat Sirma’s farm in Nkoroi, Rongai on the outskirts of Nairobi.
One may think that the farmer grows the fruits, but Sirma keeps dairy cows — over 50 of them — on his three-quarter acres.
He mainly feeds them the pineapple peels which he sources from a juice processing factory in Thika.
He supplements the feeds with hay and lucerne that he buys from Naivasha.
“A kilo of hay costs Sh25, yet it has only six per cent protein,” says the engineer. “The same amount of pineapple waste has 13 per cent of protein and costs Sh3,” adds the farmer who has subdivided his land to host his three-bedroom bungalow, a servants quarters and a small playground for his four children.
Before starting to feed his animals pineapple waste, the Kenya Pipeline Company engineer was feeding his cows on maize germ, napier grass and hay.
“They were then producing an average of 20 litres of milk in a day but this has doubled,” says Sirma, who was reluctant to disclose how many litres of milk each of his 44 lactating cows produce currently.
However, he does not offer his animals the pineapple waste and the supplements with other feeds blindly.
“I regularly take samples of the feeds, including the pineapples, to a laboratory in Nairobi for testing so that I can know how to feed the animals. This enables me to know what they need and in what quantity,” says Sirma, whose initial investment was Sh30,000.
The money went to construction of a zero-grazing unit, with the investment now growing to over Sh1 million currently.
“I got my first five heifers in 2005 from my rural farm in Kampi ya Moto in Nakuru after improving with pure Friesian semen.”
He takes his young bulls to his Kampi ya Moto farm as for him, urban farming is exclusively for milk production.
At any given time, Sirma sells between 600 to 800 litres of milk every day mainly to a Nairobi-based ice-cream processing company at an average cost of Sh45 per litre. This means that the farmer is able to rake in a minimum of Sh. 810,000 per month and a maximum of Sh. 1 million from selling his milk.
He serves his cows with semen which he, in partnership with two other farmers, imports from the US. But why does he import the semen while he can buy it locally?
“It is cheaper to import semen than buy locally. It costs me Sh1,600 per straw of imported sexed semen while buying locally one would spend from Sh4,000 to Sh6,000. As a farmer, one must know ways to reduce the cost of production, besides, the imported semen is of high quality,” says the farmer, adding that his cows calve at 12 months, down from 14, and produce up to 40 litres a day at first lactation.
But it is not only semen that he imports with his friends.
The farmers saved millions of shillings importing a secondhand milk cooler with a capacity of 2,150 litres from Holland last year at a cost of Sh300,000. The equipment would have cost them Sh2.5m.
“I installed the cooler myself on my farm using my skills in engineering further saving costs. I normally store my milk at the cooler before delivering to the company,” says Sirma, who has a machine that milks 10 cows at once.
He has eight employees, three cleaners who ensure that the unit remains tidy, a milker and a supervisor who doubles up as a vet, two drivers and a relief employee.
To manage waste from his dairy unit, Sirma has installed a biogas system from where he produces energy that he uses at home and on the farm.
He offers bio-slurry free of charge to crop farmers in the area as long as they pick it from his farm.
Simon Mburu, a livestock officer based in Molo, says pineapple waste is rich in sucrose, fructose, glucose and fibre. The sugars are high in energy while the fibre helps in digestion.
“Cows fed on pineapples will not necessarily need other sources of carbohydrates such as maize germ and wheat as the concentration in pineapple is enough.”
However, this will depend on how much pineapple waste a farmer feeds his cows.
“Pineapple waste is cheap, thus, farmers should feed their dairy cows to their satisfaction,” says Mburu, adding that the waste is easily digestible than other carbohydrates.
Its fibre, he notes, hastens digestion of other feeds and nutrients such as proteins.
The faster rate of digestion increases milk production as well as saves costs as the waste is cheaper compared to maize germ, wheat or barley.
“Cow feeds need to have 70 per cent energy, 30 per cent protein and the mineral content should be about 1 per cent.”
Though it is not as effective as pineapple waste, Mburu says sugarcane waste is also good for ruminants.
“Sugarcane waste is rich in crude fibre and energy but it takes longer to digest compared to pineapple waste.”