This feature was first published by Mbugua Ngunjiri in a Nation Media Publication.
John Chege has been farming for 15 years having started with a few animals. He keeps dozens of cows on three different 50 by 100 plots.
On the first farm, Chege has about 40 heifers aged from three to 18 months. His second farm also measuring 50 by 100ft hosts a similar number of cows, calves and heifers. The third farm hosts about 20 animals and his house.
Apart from the farm where he has built his residential house, the other farms are divided into two portions with a walkway of roughly 7 feet in between.
Each sleeps in a space of about 5 by 8 feet with a general feeding and watering space on the opposite side. Once they are through with feeding, they simply turn around and get into their sleeping quarters.
On all the farms, there are other structures, some holding goats, sheep and chicken, as well as staff houses and feeds’ stores.
Having such a large number of animals in a small enclosure, one would expect Chege is assailed by foul-smelling animal waste. “Cleanliness is paramount. I have full-time employees who clean the cows and the sheds regularly. The waste is then channelled to the bio-digester for biogas production.”
Chege insisted that a cow only needs to eat the equivalent of two 10-litre basketfuls of feeds, that is about 20kg daily. He feeds the cows mostly on napier grass, which is sliced into pieces using a chaff cutter and mixed with wheat bran.
The cows are fed twice a day; in the morning and in the afternoon. Each feeding session lasts roughly two hours, after which the feeding area is closed to avoid over-eating.
“Anything more than that is over-feeding, which is not only costly but also reduces milk production. What cows require in plenty is water,”
And to ensure he has sufficient water supply, Chege has drilled boreholes on all his three farms.
“To maximise on milk production, the cows need to save on energy. If they use lots of energy moving around, then they will not produce a lot of milk. Still, cows that move around tend to pick diseases as opposed to those that are confined,” explained Chege.
Chege’s 20 lactating cows produce around 400 litres of milk a day, with the top one offering about 30 litres daily, making him one of the largest shareholders of the Githunguri Dairy Cooperative, where he is a member.
He milks the cows three times a day and delivers the milk at the society, which buys at Sh40.
“I am currently servicing a loan that I pay Sh. 350,000 per month. Once I complete repaying it, I will borrow more to expand my business,” he added.