John Njoroge knows plenty of things about trees, canopies and forest conservation, because that is what he studied at the Kenya Forest College in Londiani.
However, when you meet him on his dairy farm in Kiminini, Trans Nzoia County, the last thing you expect him to be is a forester as he speaks with the mastery of a livestock expert.
Njoroge, 43, runs a model dairy enterprise on an acre, with the farm comprising of 81 Friesian cows kept under the zero-grazing system.
“I started the venture in 2012 with one cow and a calf using Sh60,000 that I had saved from my work as a petrol attendant. I have grown my herd to 81, where 23 of them are lactating while 58 comprise of heifers and in-calf cows,” says Njoroge, who holds a diploma in forestry.
He later added four cows, and concentrated on improving them, later selling each at Sh200 000 each.
He, thereafter, bought a herd of 15 cows after borrowing Sh600,000 from the Co-operative Bank. His herd has improved since then.
His cows, which are milked by machines, produce up to 800 litres of milk daily, with the highest milker offering 55 litres per day.
“The average milk production per cow, per day is 22 litres while the average production for the herd per day is 506 litres,” says Njoroge, who has employed eight workers, each handling 10 animals.
The farmer has leased 25 acres where he grows maize for the production of soilage and a further 10 acres where he grows Boma Rhodes for making hay.
“I also make my own dairy concentrate because I found dairy meal expensive. I make it from maize bran, maize germ and remains of fish and omena I get from Uganda.”
Njoroge feeds his animals the concentrate depending on the amount of milk they produce.
A cow that offers 30 litres of milk gets (30-5)/2 = 12.5kg concentrate over and above the forage portion of the diet.
“This formula is used to avoid underfeeding or overfeeding the animal. We consider a normal cow which has not been fed on dairy meal to be producing about five litres, so when we feed it with dairy meal the additional milk it produces we subtract five from it then we divide by two to get the amount of feed to give the cow,” he says.
His milk yield per cow has been increasing ever since he learnt and adopted the formula, which has enabled him not to waste any feeds.
Njoroge, whose dairy enterprise is known as Sprout Dairies, sells the bulk of his milk raw at Sh40 per litre in local markets in Kiminini, schools and the county government. He also supplies Brookside.
“I don’t sell any milk from the farm to avoid congestion and to get value for my milk that I produce. All the milk is taken at the market where it is sold,” says Njoroge, whose model farm attracts hordes of farmers who visit for lessons.
Without good breeding, Njoroge’s farm would not be the marvel that it is today. He buys sexed-semen at between Sh4,500 and Sh6,500 to get female animals.
On the other hand, conventional semen goes from Sh1,000 to Sh5,000.
The animals are put in different cubicles or shades depending on production, lactation period and state, that is if sick or in-calf.
Njoroge sells his lactating cows for Sh250,000 and in-calf heifers from Sh180000 to Sh200,000.
Amid his 80 animals, there is his prized Friesian bull that weighs 1.5 tonnes. He considers the animal so dear to him and says he would only sell it at Sh1 million or more.
“This animal has an insurance cover of Sh600,000, it is about three years old and it is the only bull I have ever had. I have taken time to feed and treat it. I hope that I would sell it at an agricultural show,” says the farmer, who has attended several trainings for dairy lessons.
His main challenge is fluctuating prices of milk and delays of payment by the county government when he supplies milk.
Trans Nzoia Agriculture executive Mary Nzomo says most dairy farmers in the county practice semi-intensive production system because of its low cost.
“However, intensive production system is gaining popularity among farmers due to shrinking land sizes caused by population explosion. Majority of smallholder dairy farmers have between two to three dairy cows in Trans Nzoia.”
The county has an estimated 183,000 hybrid cows and 13,500 animals comprise of crosses and indigenous cows.
The average milk production per cow in the county is 7.5 litres while the annual milk production is estimated at between 125,340 and 343, 398 litres per day.
Challenges facing smallholder dairy farmers
Inadequate and low quality feeds, high cost of artificial insemination services and low and highly fluctuating milk prices are some of the challenges that face smallholder dairy farmers resulting to low income from their investment.
Another challenge is weak dairy farmers’ co-operative societies and informal market dominance.
However, the county has started extension programmes that are supporting dairy farmers.
“With the targeted interventions from these programmes, dairy productivity is expected to improve and contribute to better livelihoods for the residents in terms of earnings, employment creation especially to youths and food and nutrition security,” she says.
Journey to having best dairy farm
It does not require magic to run a model farm, because every farmer, however, small has the ingredients.
To begin with, recordkeeping is key. The most successful businesses rely on records to influence their decisions. Do your budgeting, manage operation costs, record milk and animal sales, feed purchases and calculate your income, in short, be financially prudent.
Model dairy farms thrive on good calves as they give a proper foundation. Good calves that can be served as early as 15 months of age are not born, they are made. It all starts with feeding them on high quality feed sources soon after birth and intensifying management for fast weight gain, remarkable growth rate and later, for early service. Such animals turn out to be the very expensive heifers everyone wants to have.
Get the breeding right. More dairy farms are becoming breeder units, with milk becoming their secondary produce. How does this work? Embracing the latest breeding technologies has made this a success. Some like embryo transfer may be expensive but at least go for artificial insemination.
Semen from high-producing sires and sexed-semen may also be expensive, but to get there, you should try them out. With sexed semen, you will lock out the gamble of hoping to get a female calf.
Do the timing correctly to avoid extra costs of inseminations.