Some nibble mulberry leaves while others move up and down gazing at a worker cutting fodder near their pens on the farm in Gitwaka, 2km from Chuka town.
Lawrence Ndeke, the owner of the goat farm, arrives at the cages with a bucket full of dairy meal, which he pours in basins and puts in the various cages as the animals scramble to have a share.
“They love dairy meal and always wait for the time I would bring it,” says Ndeke, who is the treasurer of the Tharaka Nithi Goat Breeders Association and the chairman in-charge of milk for Meru Goat Breeders Association.
The 55-year-old father of six has been rearing goats since 1999 on his half-acre, having started with just a Toggenburg doe, which was offered to him and other farmers by an NGO in a poverty alleviating initiative.
From the single animal, the farmer has turned around his fortunes to run a fast-growing multi-million dairy goat farm, which offer him handsome rewards.
“Then we were being given the animals by Farm Africa so that we don’t starve. The project involved villagers being organised into groups where we received four does and two bucks and we were further trained on goat rearing skills,” Ndeke recalls, noting the resultant goat kids were to be shared by members until everyone had one.
Over the years, he grew the number of his goats by buying a few more and multiplied them.
Ndeke Farm currently holds some 35 Toggenburg animals, from over 100, with the farmer having sold the rest over Christmas to earn about Sh1.5 million.
“Goats have pushed me to greater heights. They have lifted me from poverty and through them, I have educated my children all the way to the university and purchased several pieces of land where I grow fodder.”
Ndeke’s farm is an exhibition of the best goat-keeping practises. He keeps up-to-date records that capture the breed, ear tag number, date of birth, type of kidding, sire, dam, grand sire and the health record treatment.
“The records help to curb inbreeding. Our bucks only stay on the farm for a year-and-a-half, after which we bring others.”
ORANGE PEELINGS AND GARLIC SKIN
At the goats’ sheds, the pens measuring 4 by 5 metres each hold four animals and are divided into two; one side consisting of a resting place and the other a feeding section.
“A good pen should not only offer shelter and protection for the animals, but also shield them from opportunistic diseases.”
The shed should be raised a metre above the ground, be properly ventilated, lit, be neat, clean and dry as a dampness will attract pests and diseases and cause the release of ammonia gas which affects the animals.
At the maternity wing, each pen holds goats depending on their gestation. Bucks, does and kids are also kept separately.
The shed is cleaned twice a week and he uses manure for farming, including for growing fodder.
Once a kid is borne, Ndeke feeds it on milk and it is allowed to suck directly from its mother for two weeks. In the third week, he introduces solid foods that include sweet potato vines and banana leaves to help in rumen development while providing clean sufficient water.
Besides the vines and bananas, Ndeke grows desmodium, calliandra, leucaena, napier grass, mulberry, maize, cowpeas and soybean for fodder.
He also feeds his goats on banana and orange peelings and garlic skins.
“For protein, I offer my goats fish meal, cotton cake and soybean. My goats feed between 11pm and 3am. A farmer should offer adequate feeds to the animals at night for proper growth and reproduction.”
TWINS OR TRIPLETS
For fodder, the feeds should be dried in the sun for at least three days before being fed to the goats as if fed directly, the animals will experience bloating.
“Feeding should be done according to production. If goats are being kept for meat, a farmer should offer them feeds like fish meal for faster growth whereas for dairy goats, feeds like calliandra, desmodium, leucaena and avocado leaves come in handy for maximum production of milk. Similarly, a buck should be fed on nutritious feeds like mulberry during mating period.”
Ndeke notes that any change of feeds should be done gradually and contaminated feeds should be disposed.
He recommends goat farming noting, “Goats grow faster and are quite hardy as they can tolerate weather change to survive for long time without water and besides, they can eat a variety of forage, some of low quality especially during drought.”
An interesting thing about his farm is that most of his does kid to twins or triplets.
“It is all about feeding. If goats are well fed, they give birth to twins or triplets for the first time but during the second time they will give birth to a kid. They keep on alternating,” he says, adding the animals should calve down at most twice a year.
During birthing, Ndeke cautions that one should be around to prevent the doe from eating the placenta as this will cause an instant decrease in milk.
FEEDING IS KEY
“Consumption of the placenta may inhibit milk production. The placenta, which is an animal protein, isn’t meant for ruminants and consists of high levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones which inhibit lactation. A farmer should seek assistance from a livestock expert if it happens,” says Abiel Njagi, a livestock extension officer with the Ministry of Agriculture in Chuka.
He notes that feeding is key when it comes to kidding more than one offspring, though genetic factors also play a key role, and can be interfered with by management.
In a good season, like between July to August and December last year, Ndeke sells goats worth at least Sh1 million, with a pure Toggenburg goat going for Sh25,000 and a three-quarter breed going for Sh15,000.
He also milks the animals though he prefers feeding the milk to the kids first and sells the rest at Sh90 a litre to Muthiru Dairy in Tharaka Nithi County.
Pests and Diseases
- Have a foot bath at the entrance of a goat farm to keep pests and diseases away.
- There are three main diseases and pests that affect goats.
- Contagious Caprine Pleuropneumonia.
- Mastitis is also dangerous to lactating goats, while worms contribute to poor health.