On his one-acre farm in Shanzu, Mombasa County, Suleiman Said, 43, tends to his 21 dairy cows with great dedication.
The father of three does not want anything to go wrong as over the years, he has lost some animals to East Coast Fever, a thing that he says tested his faith in farming, but made him wiser.
“The disease attacked my cows because I would graze them in the field and the animals would pick ticks there. Then, I was also not very keen on spraying them,” he says. His journey into farming began in 2009 when he ploughed Sh100,000 into buying his first cow that he fondly calls Loti after quitting his job at a tour company.
His farm has expanded since then, with the farmer currently keeping goats, cattle, fish, chickens, geese, guinea fowls and ducks.
“I also farm fruits like pawpaws and vegetables that include cowpeas, amaranth, spinach and tomatoes. I like to call my farm a supermarket because of the many things I do,” Said, who has a borehole on his farm, told Seeds of Gold.
The farmer embraced mixed farming to create a balanced ecosystem on the farm. “I use manure from the animals to fertilise the crops while I feed the cattle plant waste from the farm. I also use the waste from the animals to fertilise the pond and the nutrient-rich water from the pond to water the crops using drip irrigation,” he says.
He feeds the cows of Ayrshire, Jersey and Brown Swiss breeds mainly on hay and also buys maize and other grasses.
“I no longer graze them in the forest to curb East Coast Fever,” he says of a disease, which like trypanosomiasis, is prevalent in the region. Said sells his calves periodically to cut feeding costs and earn farm income.
“I sell the animals from Sh70,000 for the Jerseys, while the hardy ones like Swiss brown, go for Sh120,000.”
Among his 21 animals, 11 are in-calf and he is milking four getting some 30 litres daily, but his peak is usually 60 litres.
DISEASE AND DROUGHT RESISTANT
“I love crossbreeds because they’re disease-and-drought resistant,” Suleiman says. He adds that keeping mixed breeds ensures that he benefits from qualities of the different animals.
Farming is not for those searching for overnight wealth, he quips. “Diseases strike and you have to dig deeper into the pocket to treat the animals,” says the farmer, who supplies his milk to households in Nyali.
He works with a veterinary officer from Mtwapa, who checks on his herd regularly. To keep abreast of the changing farming technology, Said visits farms in Kikambala to learn from his peers.
“This is the only way to learn because counties have very few extension officers, who do not reach farmers especially those in urban areas. In rural areas, farmers benefit from things like workshops, but in urban areas, we lack such opportunities because people assume farming is only in the rural areas,” he says.
Suleiman keeps 400 tilapia fish in one pond and harvests 50kg every three months, selling them to fishmongers at Sh300 a kilo.
“If there are no ticks, there will be no East Coast Fever. A farmer must therefore control ticks through spraying. The ticks are all over the country and should be controlled by acaricides,” says Dr Peter Gitau, a veterinarian in Mombasa.
Paul Kisiangani, an expert at the Agribusiness Youth Society of Kenya, says the mixed farming model is climate-smart.
“This is because water from the borehole goes to the fish pond and then it is let into the farm. The pond water is rich in microorganism that are beneficial to the crops. I would urge farmers to practice this method of farming since water is not wasted.”
To fight animal diseases like East Coast Fever and deadly trypanosomiasis, Kisiangani asks farmers to practice zero-grazing where the animals are confined to a structure that is completely sealed using nets so that the flies and ticks do not bite them.