At the entrance of Mr James Karoki’s farm 34-acre piece of land in Gatitu village on the outskirts of Nyeri town, lush green Rhode grass welcomes us.
The roar of a chaff cutter grabs our attention.
Nearby stands Mr Karoki in a grey apron and black gumboots.
One of his seven workers is feeding napier grass and hay into the machine for his 85 cows.
“This is Gatitu Dairy Farm,” he said. “It started with just four cows in 2012.”
He is among the few farmers in Nyeri County who are using hormonal stimulators to synchronise their animals to be on heat at the same time.
The stimulators also help treat uterine and fertility problems.
The technology helps a farmer select a sire and choose when to administer it. It ensures cows conceive every year.
Mr Karoki keeps Friesian and Ayrshire breeds.
He resorted to hormonal technology when he realised the animals could go for up to two years without being on heat.
When they did, it largely went unnoticed.
“I could not take chances any more. I have been using this method for the three years now,” he said.
The use of hormonal stimulators is not new but many farmers are not aware of it.
“The benefits of stimulators far outweigh the cost,” the dairy farmer said.
The animals are usually clustered in six to eight groups.
“This makes it easy to manage the farm. It also ensures the animals conceive and calve down at almost the same time,” he said.
All his animals, including calves, are tagged. A tag has the name of the animal, the bull that sired it and the date it was born.
“I intend to be a breeder in two or three years and that is why many of my animals are heifers,” he said.
A male calf remains on the farm for three months before being sold for Sh10,000.
FOUR TYPES OF HORMONES
Thirty-seven of Mr Karoki’s cows currently produce 500 litres of milk per day. The farmer sells a litre at Sh34 to Wakulima Dairy in Mukurweini Constituency.
His workers clean the eight zero-grazing units three to four times each day.
“Urine and dung are removed from the animal resting areas to avoid infections like mastitis. The mixture is then spread in the maize farm,” he said.
Mr Karoki has 20 acres under maize silage and 12 under hay, which he uses to make fodder. He mixes the fodder with canola, lucerna, maize jam and other minerals.
“I harvest the maize plants at the combing stage and have them chopped. I then add molasses to the heap to speed up fermentation. Then I cover it with a plastic paper before burying it,” he said.
He milks his animals three times and feeds them twice a day. He mixes dry matter with wet material like napier.
“This kind of feeding makes the animals thirsty and ensures they drink a lot of water. This in turn makes them produce more milk,” he said.
He buys feeds directly from manufacturers.
“Counterfeits can cut milk production by up to 100 litres daily,” Mr Karoki added.
Dr Daniel Muturi, a vet, says four types of hormones are administered to the animals.
Gonaldotrophin releasing hormone is naturally produced by the cows in order to release luteinising hormone, which in conjunction with follicle stimulating hormone, enhances growth of ovarian follicles that contain developing eggs.
While serving the animals, Mr Karoki gets a catalogue of semen in the market so as to analyse their traits and breeds.
“I have been using semen for local bulls, not sexed semen,” he said.
Dr Muturi says sexed semen is mainly imported and a farmer has to pass through a rigorous process to get it.
“This reduces the chances of conception since the semen will be weak by the time it gets to its destination,” he said.
Sexed semen is good for a heifer but it is three times more expensive. Its price ranges from Sh6,000 to Sh15,000.
“High milk-producing animals usually have fertility problems. Sexed semen is best used on heifers,” Dr Muturi said.
The vet operates a programme that helps him choose what to administer to an animal, depending on the rate at which it is on heat.
Dr Muturi’s programme runs from day 0 to day 10, depending on his report on the animals’s reproductive system.
“The hormones are readily available but they have a time limit. They should be used within 14 days,” he said.
Vets charge Sh6,000 per animal for administering the hormonal stimulation but the cost goes down when a farmer has many animals.
During the ninth and tenth day when the cow is likely to show signs of heat, a vet inseminates it artificially.
The doctor then carries out a pregnancy test after two months.
“Not all animals in the cluster group will conceive,” Dr Muturi added.
He cautioned farmers against inviting quacks to vaccinate and administer the service to their animals as the wrong use of the hormone can lead to ovary cysts.
WHAT A FARMER OUGHT TO KNOW
- Four types of hormones are administered to the animals.
- A farmer should get a catalogue of semen from agrovets so as to analyse their traits and origin.
- Sexed semen, on most occasions, Is imported. This, therefore, makes it more expensive than semen from local bulls.
- Vets say sexed semen is good for heifers since high milk-yieldng animals usually have fertility problems. A pregnancy test is carried out after AI.