Bruce Nightingale has been a dairy farmer for all his adult life after inheriting the practice from his father, with the family having come to Kenya in 1906.
The family moved to Kenya from England and settled in Njambini, Kinangop, Nyandarua County
In 1963, soon after Kenya’s independence, they moved to an 800-acre farm some 25km from Nakuru town off Njoro-Elburgon Road.
The farm named Kenana has been his home since then, having taken over its management from his father in 1965.
Kenana Farm, with its 300 animals, has been one of the leading milk producers in the country, supplying the produce to top processors.
Last Saturday, however, Bruce now in his 80s decided to call it a day, and he did it in style.
Bruce held one of the biggest dairy cows’ auctions on his farm, disposing some of his best animals as he goes into retirement.
“I have been in the industry for about 52 years. I have done my bit as a farmer and I believe it is my time to rest,” he said.
Seeds of Gold was there to witness the event that attracted both upcoming farmers and who-is-who in the dairy sector.
“Welcome to Kenana Farm auction sale for Holstein Friesian cattle,” a signpost read at a junction leading to the dairy farm.
The farm’s two-acre parking yard resembled a motor vehicle showroom, with the space hosting mainly SUVs.
The sparkling clean Friesian cows, a majority with sagging udders dripping with milk stood inside paddocks.
Bruce’s records showed his animals produced an average of 20 to 60 litres of milk each day.
Standing on a raised platform with a gong in his right hand and calling out for bids was a man dressed in a cowboy hat, a blue shirt and a matching trouser.
“These animals were served with sexed semen from Germany, US, Netherlands and Canada and produce 40 litres a day each,” the auctioneer said, whetting buyers’ appetite.
‘‘The first animal to go was a seven-year-old in-calf cow served with semen from US and due on January 12, 2018. The auctioneer said it had calved four times and produced at least 40 litres a day. The animal was bought at Sh475,000.
Some 80 animals were sold during the auction, with a majority going for between Sh200,000 and Sh300,000.
The pedigree ones went for between Sh400,000 and Sh500,000. But the sale that scooped the toast for the day was that of three heifers worth Sh1.2 million in total that was won by farmer Mathew Koros from Narok at Sh1.2 million.
The bidding price for each of the animal started at Sh150,000 and from the onset, it was obvious bidders were interested in buying the three as a package.
The second offer rose to Sh170,000 but it was cancelled by another bid of Sh190,000 and hardly a minute it hit Sh220,000 as one bidder pulled out.
But the auction intensified as a bidder raised it to Sh270,000 beating three others. Not to be outwitted, one of the bidders raised the price to Sh300,000 but no sooner had his bid been announced than his competitor raised the bar to Sh350,000.
As the auctioneer roared to announce the offer, the crowd was shocked when Koros offered Sh400,000 for each of the animal to win.
“If you look at the auctioneer board, I’m only selling champions. It is these champions that attracted potential buyers,” said Bruce as he pointed at the sold animals.
The career farmer said it was not his wish to sell the award winning cows.
“I feel so sad that I’m saying goodbye to these cows and also to farming,” noted Bruce. “These animals had given me great joy over the years and it was not my wish to sell them.”
Bruce cited a number of challenges that he has been experiencing, some which informed his decision to dispose the cows so that he can have an easy time.
“We have been experiencing water shortage for quite some time now. A pipeline that was laid in 1935 is still serving the farm and with increased population, it has become impossible to get enough supply for the animals,” he observed.
Fluctuating milk prices had also forced him to reduce the animals.
“We have animals that give between 50 and 60 litres each day, and these require good husbandry. If you sell a litre of milk at Sh35, then you are not getting the value for money,” said Bruce.
The farmer added that there are lots of poor animal feeds in the market compromising milk production.
“If you live in a country that imports grains, you cannot afford to feed your animals as you will be competing with human beings. This makes the price of dairy meals expensive.”
When he started farming, he was milking a herd of 250 which was producing between 5,000 and 7,000 litres of milk every day.
However, prior to his retirement, he has been milking 50 cows producing an average of 1,400 litres each day.
“I’m growing old and I have to put my house in order before it is too late. Reducing the number of animals would help whoever takes over plans and builds his herd,” said Bruce, who would be handing over the baton to his three sons who have shown keen interest in farming.
He had a piece of advice to those who bought his cows.
“Love your animals and spend money if you hope to get good returns because what you put in is what you get.”
Bruce has won many awards as a top dairy farmer in all local trade fairs he has attended. He said the farm plans to diversify to crop farming mainly wheat, maize and canola.
Peter, a farmer from Kiambu who bought one of the animals, said he went for it because of high milk production.
“I bought an animal from the farm some 10 years ago and the returns I got have transformed my life. It was producing 30 litres a day.”
Professor George Owuor, an agricultural Economist at Egerton University, said with the many challenges cropping up, dairy farmers both small or large must approach the venture strategically by investing heavily in water pans to collect run-off water which would be used as a backup during dry season.
Bernard Makuri, the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) Nakuru branch manager, asked farmers to plan for their retirement by saving with the organisation.
“Social security is important and Kenyans in informal sector should start early contribution because at one stage the body will reach a point where it will stop working and the money one saved will make the reminder of their lives comfortable.”
However, he noted that unfortunately most farmers do not contribute to NSSF. “But it is not late, they should start now and pay any amount at their own pace.”