The lush tea bushes of Kericho are alluring as they form a resplendent green bed that spreads yonder.
It is in this magnificent environment that Seeds of Gold held its sixth Farm Clinic last weekend at the Kalro Tea Research Institute (Kalro-TRI) grounds.
Farmers trooped in with various gadgets, including their smart phones and cameras, and note books to capture the moment and record the lessons.
Some had sickly plants and soil samples wrapped neatly in manila bags.
They all congregated at two tents and sat patiently to interact with various agricultural experts.
Julius Kiprono, a dairy farmer from Kipchimchim, wanted to know how to take good care of calves.
“To be successful in dairy farming, never buy cattle from the marketplace as the livestock could be sick or have other problems which will burden you later,” Dr James Aura, a livestock expert from Elgon Kenya, started.
According to him, the first 10 days after birth are key in the calf’s development.
“Immediately after birth, the calf should be fed on colostrum as frequently as possible for the next three days.”
Development of the rumen is key in producing a good dairy cow, hence feeds that hasten the development of this organ are crucial. Hay is particularly good for this purpose and the calf should start feeding on it, alongside pallets and green grass after about three months," said Dr Aura, adding that before then, the calf should be fed on milk and weaned at three months.
Accurate feeding of the dairy cow ensures it reaches mating and calving age early enough, at an average of 18 months.
Richard Kirui, another dairy farmer, asked about why brachiaria was being touted as ‘magic’ fodder and further wanted to know the best feeding habits for dairy cattle.
“Brachiaria has more protein compared to other grasses. You can get the seeds from Kalro because it is currently multiplying the grass for mass production,” said Ronald Kimitei, a dairy specialist from Egerton University.
He added the grass can also be found in farms in Molo, Naivasha and Nakuru. The seeds are, however, still costly.
He cautioned against buying the two grasses when they are overgrown and are brown in colour since they are not nutritious at that point.
COW'S DIET SHOULD BE BALANCED
Many dairy farmers use maize stover as a feed but Kimetei warned against the practice, noting stovers only make a good bedding for the animals.
He stressed that hay should be made when the sun shines, literally, since when it is made during the rainy season, the farmer will gets manure out of it instead.
Water is key in milk production and for every litre of milk the farmer expects from a cow, he should give the animal five litres of water.
“Water should be placed at most 14 metres from where the cow is feeding and not under a shade to ensure it remains warm. Also milk the cow at intervals of eight hours as the more you milk it, the more its udder gets replenished,” he said, noting the cow’s diet should be balanced and contain enough dry matter.
Sunflower plants, which are high in protein, can be mixed with Boma Rhodes, yellow maize or other grasses for silage making.
Other best fodders for dairy cows, according to Kimitei, are Kikuyu grass, yellow maize and lastly napier grass, which is however low in nutrients.
Calliandra, on the other hand, is largely viable for small dairy animals such as goats.
Despite its insufficient nutrients, he advised farmers not to discard napier grass, but harvest it when it is a metre high and grow varieties that have more leaf than stalk.
Clarence Selim, a student at Kisii University, lost nearly 80 per cent of tomatoes in his greenhouse, and wondered what disease or pests affected the plant.
After listening to Selim, who described the symptoms his tomatoes suffered, including having black frass (droppings) on the apical buds, flowers and on newly formed fruits.
Lilian Jeptanui, from the Department of Crops, Horticulture and Soils, Egerton University, identified the cause as tuta absoluta.
ON TEA CULTIVATION
“Curb this pest by crop rotation. Monitoring the crops regularly to detect it at the onset and use sticky traps to control its moths and apply different contact insecticides to ensure they don’t develop resistance to one type of insecticide,” she offered.
Joyce Kinyanjui, a farmer from Londiani, wanted to know what transport solutions are available for the small farmer.
Peter Njeru from Simba Corp named various tractors, pick-up tracks and lorries of different sizes.
“We have a Bolero pick-up capable of easily transporting up to 16 bags of maize at ago, which is ideal for the small farmer,” he said.
Dr Ayub Macharia, who works with the National Environment Management Authority, sought advice on how he can use his inherited land in Kericho as he lives in Nairobi.
Kimitei advised him to try fodder cultivation for sale to the many dairy farmers in the region.
Being a predominantly tea growing region, the experts also advised farmers on the cash crop.
Dr Samson Kamunya, a tea breeder working with the Kalro Tea Research Institute (TRI), named black, green and purple as the main varieties of tea farmed globally.
“Tea should be picked after every seven to ten days to earn more from your shrubberies,” he advised.
Dr Evelyn Cheramgoi, a pest and disease expert at Kalro-TRI, identified Armillaria root rot as a major disease that tea farmers always contend with and can be controlled by uprooting infected plants, not making lacerations on the crops, fumigation and crop rotation.
Nelson Maina, the communication manager at Elgon Kenya Ltd, was impressed with farmers’ determination. “Farmers are hungrier for knowledge,” he said.
Dr John Bore, the director at Kalro-TRI said the clinic was a good education platform for farmers, and the institution would not hesitate to host it next time.
What farmers said
- “I have been well educated especially on the dairy sector by both Mr Kimitei and Dr Aura. I had little knowledge on feeding my three dairy cows, one which is about to calve,” said Wycliffe Rono from Kericho.
- “I learnt a lot today on dairy farming, tea husbandry and also agribusinesses that one can start as a smallholder tea farmer,” said Dennis Koskei, a tea farmer and a para-vetin.