A group of four skinny animals on the farm in Nyeri saunter inside an enclosure as others, also skeletal, feed on grains from a trough.
Looking at the animals, one may wonder why they are too skinny that you can count their ribs from far, yet the owner Dr James Gakuo has invested a lot in the farm including by building several sheds.
But that is before one walks to another set of sheds, where there are well-built animals.
“These animals at one point were skinny like the others. I brought them from Northern Kenya while they were emaciated and fed them and look at them now, they are ready for the market,” says Gakuo with a smile.
Gakuo, a veterinary doctor, is engaged in the business of buying emaciated animals, fattening them through intensive feeding and selling them after three months.
On his one acre farm called Pioneer Feedlot, Gakuo handles a herd of about 450 completely wasted cattle at one go, fattens and releases them to the beef market with desired slaughter grades.
During the first week, they are examined for any diseases, de-wormed and treated in case they are sick before feeding starts. This process is known as adaptation and it takes one week.
“When they come, all the new animals are locked into a quarantine zone, where they are gradually introduced to feeds,” he says, noting the animals are usually of the Boran and Sahiwal breeds or crosses of the two and he sources them from Laikipia, Kieni, Narok, Kajiado and Bomet.
He buys the animals at an average of Sh27,000 or even less, then spends between Sh15,000 to Sh18,000 on feeds, labour, transport and other related costs, and sells them at between Sh60,000 and 65,000 each.
In the last one-and-a-half years, Gakuo says he has been able to rehabilitate more than 1,800 cattle, most of which would have died due to lack of pasture and water.
“It is sad to see these animals die when expertise, technologies and systems which can put them back to conditions that meet and even exceed market standards are available,” said Dr Gakuo.
LOCALLY PREPARED ORGANIC RATIONS
On his farm, the veterinarian, who has previously worked with similar animal fattening facilities in Botswana with as many as 25,000 head capacity, feeds the emaciated animals on locally prepared organic rations made from grain by-products and oil crops such as barley, sunflower and cotton seed-cake that he grinds and blends at his feed production factory in Kiganjo. He imports them from Tanzania.
“This is an intensive high energy feeding programme that makes the animals gain weight in few weeks making them ideal for the beef market,” he tells Seeds of Gold, as he flips through pictures of different animals taken at the time they were received into the facility and compares them to those taken after going through the intensive feeding programme.
Most of the animals come in with an average of 280kg, then add 120kg in 90 days, when they are released to the beef market.
“This is a value chain programme, and livestock trade will always be there. When there is no drought, we get animals which are fairly healthy, and slightly expensive. With such animals, we reduce the fattening period from 90 days to between 30 and 45 days which reduces the cost by a half or more,” he says.
Having worked in the livestock industry for almost 20 years in Kenya, Botswana and South Africa, Gakuo says he noticed there was a huge gap in the livestock industry, where response only come when there is a crisis.
“If the government would adopt the fattening programme, then many herders will have the opportunity to sell their animals whenever there is an early warning for a drought, thereby making more money than when they sell them during drought, when they are fully emaciated,” he says, noting he started with 20 animals, and has grown to 450, and is targeting over 2,500 in the coming months.
Gakuo is currently expanding his farm to six acres so that he can handle thousands of emaciated animals every year.
He has presented a proposal to the Department of Veterinary Services, the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) and the Department of Livestock Resources and Marketing seeking to scale-up the fattening programme in collaboration with the government.
“This is something that can be done. It is something we have done outside Kenya and it is something that is the norm in many advanced livestock economies in different parts of the world,” says Gakuo, noting market for the animals is huge and insatiable.
The business is capital intensive, according to the farmer. “Right now I am under pressure to buy animals from herders who want to sell them, but I can’t afford it. I can only handle 450 at ago.”
Another challenge is diseases, especially the Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP), an infectious disease of lungs in cattle, which is very common in the arid areas. “The fattening programme adds value to the market chain, and it is an option for adaptation to climate change and variability,” says Abdikarim Daud, the Livestock Sector Lead at Kenya Markets Trust.
During drought, KMC buys cattle from herders, but at some point, the numbers are overwhelming with some of the animals having depleted body conditions that fail to qualify for slaughter grades desired for the corporation’s meat products.
Daud notes Kenya is 18 per cent meat deficient yet animals die every year because of drought.
“These losses can be avoided if the government and the private sector collaborated to complete the value chain.”
REVIVE COTTON INDUSTRY
He points at another window for Kenya’s beef products in the Arab market, given that countries in the region have at the moment blacklisted products from Ethiopia and Somalia.
“The very problems that bedevil pastoralists can easily be turned into opportunities for business and employment hence resilience to the prevailing conditions,” says Gakuo.
Dr Evans Kituyi, a Senior Programme Specialist in the Climate Change Programme at the International Development Research Centre, says the initiative is a perfect example of good practices and interventions with a strong business case that private sector investors should engage in to save pastoralists.
Prof Bockline Omedo Bebe, the Deputy Director, Extension and Outreach, Egerton University notes a good intensive fattening programme should use by-products to avoid conflict by using cereals that would otherwise be used for human food.
“One should focus more on use of sunflower and cotton cakes, which unfortunately have to be imported from neighbouring countries,” says Prof Bebe.
“With this kind of programme, we can revive the cotton industry, which is positive to the agriculture sub-sector.”
- According to the Ministry of Agriculture, livestock production employs about 50 per cent of the national agricultural workforce and about 90 per cent of the workforce in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs).
- About 95 per cent of the ASAL household incomes come from the livestock sub-sector.
- This, therefore, means that developing the pastoralist economy could be a key pathway to poverty reduction in the ASALs.