Birds chirped cheerily, signalling day break as the Seeds of Gold team went through their check list to ensure everything was in place before farmers started trooping at the Kisii Agricultural Training Centre for the eighth farm clinic held last Saturday.
Shortly after 8am, the first farmers and agribusiness enthusiasts started to arrive, and they came from Kisii, Homa Bay, Nakuru, Kisumu, Bomet, Nyamira and as far as Murang’a.
To interact with them were experts from Elgon Kenya Ltd, Simba Corp, Coopers K-Brands, Bayer East Africa and the Ministry of Agriculture, among others.
Soon, farmer William Nyanoti from Masaba-South set the ball rolling, seeking to know why his dairy cow did not conceive even after inseminating it severally.
Ignatius Muteshi, from the Ministry of Agriculture, explained that timing is key in serving a cow on heat.
“Ensure you serve your cow as soon as it starts showing signs of heat. When you do it late, the cow will hardly conceive,” he said, adding that a cow needs a balanced diet if it is to conceive.
Robin Nyakundi from Kisii wanted to know whether it is normal for a cow to have an extra teat and teeth, with many in the region believing that such cattle hardly conceives and should be slaughtered.
Muteshi noted that those are deformities and there is nothing wrong about such animals. “With the help of a qualified vet, you can clip the extra teat and teeth usually when the animal is young at about a month. The abnormalities, however, have no effect on the cow’s productivity.”
Jackson Nyakundi wanted to know more about zero-grazing, to which Kennedy Osoro, a livestock production officer, responded.
“Feeding is key in zero-grazing as it constitutes 50 per cent of production. First, ensure you have land where you can grow fodder, with an acre being standard for a dairy cow, especially the Friesians which are heavy feeders,” he said, adding that one can lease land, preferably for more than five years.
A well-kept dairy cow should produce milk 305 days per year, offered Kenneth Lang’at from Coopers K-Brands.
However, most farmers milk for only 270 days. “The remaining 60 days will be for steaming-up. During this time, the cow should be given dry-cow salt lick to prevent milk-fever. To ably produce milk throughout that duration, the cow requires proper feeding, the reason why you should invest in feed provision.”
ENHANCE BIOSECURITY MEASURES
Record-keeping, importance of marketing farm produce through saccos and due diligence when acquiring a dairy cow were other burning issues.
“Always buy a heifer from certified dealers who have the cows’ comprehensive records. Avoid buying from markets as in most cases, sellers try to get rid of their unproductive stock,” said Osoro.
Kennedy Nyairumbi from Mulot wondered why his chicken had an egg-eating habit, fatal flatworm and roundworm infestation and produced greenish-diarrhoea.
The diarrhoea, according to Dr James Aura, Elgon Kenya’s regional animal health manager, is a sign of Newcastle disease, which alongside gumboro, are lethal poultry killers.
“Vaccinate your poultry according to the right regimen prescribed by animal health providers,” advised Aura.
He added that egg-eating is a sign of calcium and phosphorus deficiency and the birds should be given plenty of greens such as sukuma wiki and calliandra, egg formulations and DCP mixed in their feed.
He added that birds should be dewormed every three months with the recommended drugs and biosecurity measures enhanced on the farm.
For day-old chicks, he asked farmers to give them electrolyte-balanced feed from day one to 10. “Glucose should preferably be mixed in their feed on day one and enough water to prevent constipation.”
Chicks should be vaccinated against Newcastle and gumboro when they are four to seven, and ten days old respectively, and antibiotics, which sometimes are contained in some of the birds’ vitamin-feeds, should be withdrawn at least two days before the vaccination, as they may counteract the vaccine.
“Avoid letting free-range chicks outside their housing early morning when it is still dewy to curb diseases, let it get sunny first. The first 10 days of the chicks are key in determining their successful survival to maturity,” said Aura.
Maurice Mabeya, from Kisii, wanted to know why his passion fruits, which had hitherto been productive, had suddenly began producing hard fruits, then dried and died. He also asked how he could control pests destroying his tomato crops.
Vincent Hainga, an agronomist from Bayer East Africa, attributed the problems to diseases, poor untested and untreated soils and lack of enough water in the soil.
“Testing and treating the soils ensures there are no soil-borne pests and diseases therein. Also use the right pesticides for your crops,” he said.
FACILITATE NUTRIENT PROVISION
From Oyugis, Gordon Oloo, was eager to know more on banana cultivation, and Henry Makori, an agronomist from the Ministry of Agriculture addressed the issue.
“The holes should be dug at least three weeks before planting, preferably when it is dry. Add manure mixed with soil when planting the banana,” he said.
He added that as the plants grow, the farmer can cultivate other low-canopy crops such as vegetables and always use a forked-hoe to weed.
De-suckering is essential in the banana plants. According to him, a farmer should always remove the weakest suckers to ensure each banana stem has at most five healthy suckers.
“This ensures that every time the banana stem has a plant that is yielding fruits and there is no unwarranted competition for nutrients. The male bud of the banana should be removed as soon as the banana sets its fruits,” the agronomist said.
He also noted that banana leaves shouldn’t be cut as they facilitate nutrient provision to the plant, while the sun enhances production.
Remove all roots from the sucker when planting to avoid reintroducing root-dwelling nematodes into the soil and re-infecting the plant, according to the agronomist.
Simba Corp’s Peter Njeru advised farmers to invest more in farm machinery to ease their produce transportation, land preparation and exploitation by transporters and brokers.
“You can also hire your machinery to other farmers whenever you’re not using them,” he said.
At the bee section, Evans Nyambane, an apiculture expert and farmer, advised farmers to embrace bee-keeping as it only requires minimal space and resources.
“To venture into bee-keeping, have the right aptitude and determination. You must be ready to live with bees. Contrary to belief, bees are friendly and one only needs not disturb them.”
Modern hives like Langstroth are recommended for maximum yields as traditional ones have a poor design that inhibits optimal honey harvesting.
BOOST KENYA'S FOOD SECURITY
“Langstroth hives ensure that bees are totally confined in the hive. Cylindrical traditional hives allow room for bees to roam outside and become wild. But when using the modern design, harvesting is easy especially when using a honey extractor.”
The hive should be made of softwood to make it light and avoid cracking at joints as it happens with hardwood. It should measure 48-50cm by 37-43cm by 17-24cm and hang 1.5 metres from the ground.
He said hives should be located near water and flowering plants for the worker bees to easily get pollen, nectar and water.
“Bees have a natural way of preventing inbreeding. When the queen wants to mate, she travels to other colonies where she gets a drone to fertilise her then comes back,” said Nyambane.
Honey takes three to six months to mature and this can only be identified by a thin white layer on the hive chamber.
Maturity is facilitated by worker bees vibrating their wings at high frequencies to eliminate moisture from the honey and make it viscous.
A bee-farmer can harvest five to eight litres of honey from one hive, with a kilo costing Sh1,200. “Honey can be harvested every three to eight months depending on the diversity and availability of flowering plants,” he added.
Nelson Maina, the marketing manager of Elgon Kenya Ltd, enthusiastically noted that farmers continue to thirst for information from experts to boost the country’s food security.
“We remain steadfast in walking and working with farmers to ensure Kenya remains sustainably food secure.”
Look out for the next farm clinic that will be coming near you.
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Harvesting honey and how to tell genuine from fake produce
- When harvesting, one can use two methods. One is where one uses two sufurias, one with hot water and a smaller one for the honeycombs.
- The sufuria with the honeycombs should be placed inside the water to melt the honey out before sieving and retaining the combs to introduce into new hives.
- The other method is using a honey extractor specially designed to remove the white layer. It is triggered manually to rotate at high speed separating honey from combs and draining it through a tap.
- To distinguish fake honey from the genuine one, take a matchstick and apply a drop of the honey on the stick.
- Strike to light it and if the stick burns with an explosion, it’s genuine and if it doesn’t light, it is fake.
- You can also use a glass half full of water. Add a spoonful of honey in it and if it settles at the bottom, it’s genuine.