Michael Njuguna moves around the quarter-acre dairy farm quietly checking everything, from the footbath, to the milk produced and the cows’ mood.
He also checks the animals’ teeth and the colour of their dung as a worker in tow takes note of the issues he raises for follow up. It is this attention to detail that has turned his 70 by 100 feet land into a profitable venture.
Njuguna has 24 healthy and productive dairy cows besides the farm being the transit point for farmers who rely on him to help them source quality animals.
This year, he has sold over 50 calves for between Sh120,000 and Sh150,000 each. His tiny plot on the outskirts of Kikuyu Town, Kiambu County, also trains farmers in animal husbandry, while pupils come for lessons in fermenting milk and making yoghurt.
Njuguna, a father of four, is a self-made farmer, whose parents separated when he was nine. He was raised by his grandparents in West Pokot, where he schooled at Makutano Primary until the 1993 tribal clashes rocked the region a month after he joined Standard Eight, nipping in the bud his dream of completing primary education.
Their home was razed and the family ejected from West Pokot. The homeless Njuguna survived in the streets of Moi’s Bridge, and later landed a casual job on a fish firm, where he was trained and then sent to Kikuyu Town in 1994.
Lady Luck smiled on him when Alliance High School, which is located in Kikuyu, employed him as a farmhand at Sh60 a day.
“I was given a servant’s quarter at the school,” the 35-year-old recalls, adding that he happily fenced off the 50 by 50 feet frontage of the house while saving every coin he could and bought his first two calves in 2000 at Sh12,500 each.
“I looked after them ensuring they were regularly dewormed, vaccinated and well-fed. They soon started producing milk, which I sold to neighbours and the school.”
Having seen his industry, the institution offered him a permanent job with a gross salary of Sh14,000. He was in charge of the cows and his main duty was to take care of their health and boost milk output.
To attain the goal, he would attend farmers’ clinics in Kiambu on Saturdays and Sundays, which offered him valuable lessons that he passed to other farmers. He is proud to have increased the school’s dairy herd to 30 from five and introduced the use of silage.
Keen to increase his own brood, Njuguna with the help of a government official, who recommended him to a bank, borrowed Sh2.2 million, which he used to buy a half-acre plot. He later moved his four animals to the parcel in 2012. By this time, he had quit formal employment.
He estimates his dairy investment at over Sh7 million. The animals include 14 lactating cows, six dry ones and four calves. The Ayrshire, Holstein and Friesians produce between 240 and 300 litres of milk a day with the highest producing 37 litres.
Njuguna supplies his milk to banks in Kikuyu Town, a school and several private hospitals at Sh55 a litre, which is Sh20 higher than what processing companies offer farmers.
To remain on top in the market, he does not only deliver his milk on time, but also trains kitchen staff of all his clients on how to handle milk and use a lactometer, which he also gives them, to check milk for any contamination. It is a contractual responsibility that kitchen staff keep him updated daily.
His cows are brushed and washed with warm water thoroughly every week to make sure they are clean. “Before milking, a farmer should massage the cow’s udder for several minutes and once it is totally relaxed and chewing the cud, he should whistle or sing a hymn as he milks.
‘‘This helps to cool its nerves and increase production,” Njuguna says, adding that milking cows in the presence of strangers may lower their productivity.
His cows feed on hay, lucerne, maize germ, dairy meal, chicken droppings and silage, which brings the total money he spends on each to Sh300 a day, including labour and veterinary service.
The floor of his cowshed is cemented and sloping to allow urine and dung to flow away easily. The cows sleep on mats to avoid contact with the cold floor.
Each cow has a name and a separate file. Records are key in his farm, and he always has an economics or accounts student from the nearby Kikuyu Campus of University of Nairobi on part-time employment to help in record-keeping and analysis.
His records show the date when a cow was sick or it reduced production or when it was treated.
More records are kept in the Kenya Stud Book, which documents progression of each generation of cows, meaning, he can predict the productivity of his animals long before they are born.
“Farmers hire me to source for them quality calves because I know the animal’s history and can advise if one is buying a cow in the foundation, intermediate or pedigree generations,” Njuguna says. He adds that getting good workers who understand animal husbandry is a challenge.
Apart from the East Coast Fever, foot and mouth disease and mastitis, cows are also affected by lumper skin disease.
To remain safe, Njuguna has a footbath on his farm, where anyone going into the sheds must disinfect their feet and wash their hands thoroughly.