Sounds of cows mooing reach our ears as we enter Challem Dairy Farm in Ihiga-ini village, some 20km from Nyeri Town.
Hellen Weru, the owner of the farm, welcomes the Seeds of Gold team into the dairy farm she has been running since June 2010.
“I have 30 Friesian cows on half-an-acre, seven of which I am milking getting 250 litres of milk a day,” she says, opening up into her agribusiness that she started with her husband, Charles Weru, a former banker after investing Sh200,000 from their savings.
Her highest-producing cow offers 40 litres of milk a day and the lowest 25 litres. Her dairy unit is divided into different sections that include the milking shed, the resting unit, the heifers’ shed and the calves.
There is also a section where she makes animal feeds from different fodders that include napier grass and maize stover. Slurry from the cowshed flows to a biogas digester from which she produces energy that she uses at her home.
Her worker’s living quarter is atop the cowshed, and Hellen says this is to enable him attend to the cows effectively.
CLEAN THE SHED
“We clean the shed once or twice a day always ensuring that it is dry as wetness encourages growth and reproduction of bacteria,” offers Hellen.
She started with two Guernsey cows that she bought at a total of Sh55,000.
“I sold them after realising they were not offering much and switched to the Friesians, which I have increased to the current number through artificial inseminations.”
Besides silage, which she feeds the cows twice a day early morning and afternoon, she offers them mineral supplements like phosphorous and calcium.
“I milk the animals thrice a day at 5am, at noon and at 6pm to get the most. Milking should be scheduled in intervals for higher yields,” notes Hellen, who records every happening on the farm, including milk produced by each cow, time of delivery and insemination. She has given all her cows female names like, Joy, Jane for easy tracking
The farmer supplies her milk to Murunguru Secondary and Wema Academy Primary schools at between Sh40 to Sh50 per litre daily.
She also supplies to New-KCC in Kiandu when the schools are closed, though at Sh35.
She has two milking machines and a generator that powers them, all she bought in 2014 at a cost of Sh200,000, money she saved from selling milk and calves.
Hellen, who initially used to run a household goods shop in Nyeri Town, attributes her success to a farmer group she belongs to.
She is a member of Nyeri Progressive Dairy Farmers, which comprises mainly of professionals, who include a vet, nutritionists, animal health and clinical officers, and businesspersons from the eight sub counties in Nyeri County.
The group’s main aim is to improve member’s breeds, help each other obtain credit to grow their enterprises and make farm visit for new ideas.
Watson Theuri, a veterinary officer and the chairman, says through the group, they handle pressing challenges affecting members.
“We hold our meetings at a member’s farm and offer solutions to problems they are facing because we have the knowledge.”
Theuri, who rears 10 Friesian cows, five of which he is milking, says he handles most challenges relating to his profession like making quality feeds to improve their milk production and breeds.
“One of the recent practices we have adopted as a group is a new concept called ‘24-hour silage’. In this method, we mix molasses, dairy concentrates with proteins, yeast (maxigold yeast) and water in a container, close tightly the lead and store for 24 hours,” he offers.
“We also cut hay into small pieces and compress using rollers and store in a pit overnight. The two mixtures can be fed separately or the hay can be mixed with the fermented concentrate before it is offered to cows.”
TRAIN FARMERS AND THEIR WORKERS
In the conventional method, fodder is chopped into small pieces, compressed and stored in a closed place for more than a week.
According to Theuri, the ‘24-hour silage’ is easy to make and increases bacteria in the cow’s rumen making digestion easy.
Another training members benefit from is that on hygiene.
“We train the farmers and their workers that they should always ensure the milking sheds are clean and dry because wet places encourages the growth and reproduction of bacteria,” he says, adding they never source the services of external vets.
The farm workers are encouraged to cut their nails, wash their hands before milking using a disinfectant and use a medicated milk serve or jelly that kills bacteria and smoothens the teats.
Kennedy Mwaniki, an animal nutritionist and another member of the group, says by coming together, they have been able to get quality feeds and supplements from amongst themselves at subsidised prices.
“Mr Theuri manufactures mineral licks and animal health products which he sells to us through his shop in Nyeri Town. Through him, we are assured of quality products,” says Mwaniki, who joined the group recently and has two animals.
Daniel Muturi, a medical doctor and a member of the group, offers extension and breeding services to members.
“I train members on how to improve the quality of their cows by getting semen from superior breeds, which I also help inseminate into their cows,” he says, noting he joined the group to offer them professional advice, but is yet to start rearing animals.
ANIMAL HEALTH PROFFESIONALS
Silas Muguongo and his wife Rosemary, are also members of the group and have five Friesian cows on their quarter-acre farm in Classic estate, Nyeri.
Muguongo teaches at a nursing college while his wife Rosemary is a clinical officer. According to them, since they joined the group they have been able to learn much on animal health and feeding.
The animal health professionals have been treating their cows and training them on how to care for in-calf heifers.
The farmers started the group in June last year, and each member contributes Sh15,000 registration fee.
“We also contribute monthly a further Sh5,000 which has enabled us access loans at a small fee.”
The group’s long-term objective is to buy machinery like tractors, rollers and choppers to aid in making silage for their own use and hire for income.
They are also working on how they could be able to improve their individual breeds through embryo transfer.
Most of the group’s farmers sell their milk at various markets and cooperatives in Nyeri and in Mweiga.
According to Hellen, before she joined the group, her highest milk producing cow offered about 30 litres a day, with some as little as 10 litres. But with the professional help and lessons they learn
from each other, she has been able to better her production.
Doris Wambui, an agricultural expert at Wambugu Farmers Training Centre points out that while farming as a group is a great concept, farming as professionals is even better.
“When you come together as professionals, you become self-contained. The accountant would help in book-keeping and the vet in treating the animals. The teacher may help you get milk market at
the school he teaches. All members become beneficial to each other.