A decade ago, Christopher Angote quit his teaching profession to concentrate on his promising dairy venture, a gamble he says has paid off for him and his family of four.
When we visited his five acre farm in Vihiga County, we found him cutting napier grass to feed his 15 dairy cows — eight Friesians, two Jerseys, five crosses of Jersey and Guernsey. They are all housed inside a 60ft by 10ft dairy shed.
“Each cow produces an average of 25 litres of milk. Currently, I am milking eight and collecting 150 to 170 litres daily,” the 42-year-old farmer told Enterprise.
In a good month, he records sales of about Sh360,000, an amount he says he would never make as a teacher. This is one of the reasons he left the noble profession after only a couple of years in.
“I sell a litre of milk at Sh60. We sale it largely at Ilungu Market. Some customers buy the milk at the farm and make payments at the end of the month,” says the father of four.
Mr Angote says his farming career started in 2005 when he decided to plant vegetables on a section of his farm.
He planted 5,000 seedlings of collard (sukuma wiki) black nightshade (managu), cow peas (kunde), crotalaria (mtoo) and jute mallow (mrenda). He sold the proceeds from this venture at the local market, looking to save enough cash to buy a dairy cow.
“My turning point was in 2007 after getting some cash working as a presiding officer during elections,” he said. “With my savings from selling vegetables, I purchased Friesian heifer for Sh35,000. The cow was pregnant and it soon gave birth. I used to get an average of 20 litres of milk every day. This was promising.”
With time, he was able to collate more money to purchase a second animal for Sh40,000, slowly increasing his collection and daily sales. In a day, he says, he made milk sales of about Sh3,000.
His strategy of buying expectant animals paid off as his stock increased.
Today, he has six employees who help in the management of the farm. He still grows the vegetables. Mr Angote has also used the proceeds of his farm to open two agrovets businesses – one in Ilungu and another in Kilingili.
To succeed in animal husbandry, he says farmers need to pay special attention to pest and disease control. Mr. Angote says he sprays and deworms his cows twice a month, mainly to control ticks and stop attacks by tsetse flies.
Recently one of his dairy cows suffered from Anaplasmosis, a deadly disease which is spread by ticks. The disease, which is transmittable to human beings, saw him record zero sales from the infected cow for a month.
“That was the most traumatizing experience for me as a farmer. The cow is recovering well, taking feeds with high protein and minerals,” Mr Angote added.
Animal farmers also need to feed their animals enough food. It should also be appropriate.
Within Mr. Angote’s cowshed, he has feeds such napier grass, hay, maize stalks and sacks of dairy meal. The farmer also feeds his livestock on silage, hydroponics, desmodium twice a day and dairy meal especially while milking.
In another five years’ time, he plans to expand the dairy unit to produce 1,000 litre of milk every day. When he gets there, he intends to venture into value addition like producing sour milk and yoghurt.