A few kilometres from Meru town, off the Kithirune market in Nkando village, South Imenti, sits a farm known as Home of Friesians.
The over half-acre farm owned by Nicholas Kirimi hosts a cowshed, napier grass, maize and sweet potato vines for the animals.
“Many people here keep cows as a tradition and concentrate on tea farming but I have taken a different path by commercialising my venture,” says Kirimi, who set on the project three years ago on the land he inherited from his grandfather.
He used his savings to buy two Friesian heifers at Sh50,000 each, and employed two workers to manage the project for him as he toiled in employment at the county government, where he works as a cameraman.
“I got the two workers because then I was green in farming. I learnt from them how to take care of the cows,” says Kirimi, who holds a diploma in photography.
He now has eight cows, seven which are Friesians and one an improved Ayrshire. He milks the two cows that he started with, getting 20 litres from each every day.
“I bought the Ayrshire to find out its production. If it will not be good when it calves, I will stick to Friesians.”
He has invested in a generator-driven chaff cutter which he uses to chop the napier grass and potato vines into smaller pieces.
PATIENCE AND RESILIENCE
“When I am feeding the cows with dry maize stalks, I add molasses to make them palatable. I also feed them dairy meal to boost milk production for those that are lactating. I offer them the bulk of the feeds in the morning and little amounts in the afternoon.”
With dairy farming, he notes he can choose where to supply his milk.
“Tea farmers at times have to sell their produce at low prices to avoid incurring more losses. But with the milk, I can add value if I feel the prices do not favour me,” says Kirimi, who sells his milk in Meru town at Sh55 a litre and makes about Sh20,000 profit in a month.
The farm, according to him, now sustains itself.
“My aim is to have about 15 cows to make the venture more profitable as I improve my breeds.”
His challenges include high cost of commercial feeds and artificial insemination that goes for between Sh1,000 and Sh7,000.
“My dream is to go into dairy farming fully in the near future. There used to be a notion that farming was only for retired teachers and civil workers. As young people, we have the energy to do this kind of work when we still have the energy,” he opines.
“Most youths consider farming dirty but with the rising levels of unemployment, it is the best bet as long as one is resilient and patient. Definitely, it will not pay overnight but it will surely do.”
Meru County Director of Livestock David Mugambi says Ayrshires and Friesians are good breeds and do well in many areas across the county, including in Meru.
He attributed low production of milk to underfeeding cows.
He adds the best feeds for increased milk production are silage and Boma Rhodes grass.
Good quality cow that offers farmers much better returns
- Friesians have distinct colour, usually black and white or black red.
- They are famed for their large dairy production, averaging 23,285 litres of milk per year.
- Healthy Friesian calf weighs 40 to 45kg or more at birth. A mature one, on the other hand, weighs 580kg and stands 147cm. Friesian heifers should be bred by 13 to 15 months.
- This will enable them to calve at between 23 and 26 months.
- The gestation period is about nine and a half months.