Cows relaxing and chewing cud while lying on canvas mattresses or being taken to a maternity unit to give birth may sound like fiction. But a farmer in a sleepy village in Kinangop is attracting attention after making these rare sights a reality.
The concept has seen Joram Wanjama host curious farmers trooping to his one-acre Nyajomo Farm located in the chilly Kinangop slopes to learn about the new practice that has set tongues wagging.
Each cubicle has a canvas mattress that’s lain in such a way that it would cover the length of the animal without being soiled by urine or dung.
The idea of his pedigree dairy animals sleeping on mattresses has also become a source of income for the Nyajomo Farm owner.
“We just charge them (visiting farmers) a little consultation fee so that they can learn the art of keeping animals in hygienic conditions,” Wanjama said.
Orders for the pedigree animals have been coming first and furious.
“Orders by farmers have been coming in for the Holstein breeders,” he said. A Holstein heifer goes for between Sh250,000 and Sh300,000.
He is upbeat about going the mattresses way, saying, his animals are mostly free from mastitis. The disease is caused by unhygienic conditions in the sheds like dirty floors and milking surroundings, reducing earnings from dairy animals.
Wanjama is philosophical about this, saying, “happy cows give more and better-tasting milk”. To bolster his point, he is now setting up a “maternity unit” where cows will give birth.
“Cows are just like human beings; they need all the comfort to give maximum returns,” the Israel-trained farmer said.
This will see gestating cows in the last term removed from the rest of the herd and taken to the unit 24-hours before calving.
Cows in gestation, which usually lasts an average of 280 days, also have a special place at the farm, setting a precedent that has left some villagers questioning the wisdom of such a heavy investment.
Wanjama has grown his herd from one heifer in 1998 to the current 66 animals on a one-acre plot. Despite the limited space, he said, the animals are not “stressed up”.
“Majority of people give lack of adequate land as an excuse for not engaging in agricultural activities,” Wanjama says.
Keen on breeding, he constantly upgrades his stock.
“The grading system is a sure way of improving the milk yield. I’m also keen on becoming a breeder of repute. Currently, majority of my animals at the farm are at the pedigree stage,” he says.
The dairy farmer has done this by ensuring that he gets the best semen for his animals to improve their status and increase milk yield.
His weakest animal produces 15 litres of milk daily and the best 45 litres.
“We want to ensure that animals reared on the farm produce 60 litres daily, which is very possible,” Wanjama.
He has employed Joseph Maina, a veterinarian, who takes care of the animals daily. The veterinary officer ensures the farmer purchases the right breeds and keeps records.
“We keep a milking card to track the performance of every dairy animal, vaccination card and breeding records,” Maina says.
He also ensures the feeding programme is observed, such that cows with a higher milk output have more dairy meal.
“We normally feed cows according to their production capacity,” says the vet, who also manages tours by visiting farmers.
“It is an exciting moment for the majority of the farmers who are keen to learn the advantages of animals sleeping on mattresses. The maternity wing is another area of interest for budding farmers,” Maina says.
Wanjama’s other goals are to set up a unit capable of producing commercially viable biogas and a plant to make cowdung fertiliser.
The one-acre farm has not been a handicap to his farming dreams. He sources pasture from villagers thus creating employment. He has hired more than 20 workers.