Just opposite Manguo swamp in Limuru, some 150 metres off the Nairobi-Nakuru road, is an enterprise that for an outsider appears unremarkable.
But looks can be deceiving, for the homestead hosts Hakikisha Farm, one of the most successful dairy enterprises in the country.
Mrs Margaret Kamande co-founded the four-acre farm with her husband in 2013 when they bought three Friesian cows “as a sort of experiment”.
The “experiment” developed into a hobby and a year later, they added six more Friesian cows with the intention of fully embracing dairy farming.
“It was not easy at first. We relied on local vets for semen who swindled us most of the time,” Mrs Kamande recalls.
The milk they got from the cows then was sold to their neighbours. However, man and wife felt they were not making as much as they had anticipated.
Mrs Kamande and her husband, who is an animal nutritionist, approached the American Breeders Association for the supply of quality sexed-semen.
It marked the beginning of Hakikisha Farm. Since then, the family gets up to 15 calves every year.
The pair has since acquired a sexed-semen nitrogen tank that is capable of storing up to 700,000 units at a time.
The farm now keeps 65 Friesian cows. The animals are kept under the strip grazing model where they are given a new place to forage periodically.
While four acres may not be sufficient for such a number of cows, Ms Kamande says commercial feeds and fodder come in handy.
“We began with zero grazing but mastitis became prevalent,” Ms Monica Mwaura, a dairy cattle scientist who manages the farm, said.
The problem was addressed when the farm adopted strip grazing. California mastitis is carried out on the milkers every week.
MILK IS GRADUALLY WITHDRAWN
“We divided the farm into paddocks and set the animals free. They are fed and sleep rotationally,” Ms Mwaura said.
The calves are kept separately. Every calf is given six litres of milk daily in their first four days.
From day five to two months, water and concentrates are added to the young animals’ diet.
“We feed the calves on mash, which we get from Better Feeds Nutrition, a feed manufacturing enterprise in Thika,” Ms Kamande says.
Better Feeds Nutrition owner Mike Kamau says one should get feed from trustworthy dealers.
“Animals never lie. You give them substandard feed and their productivity declines. This is why I personally supply feeds to my clients,” he said.
After two months, a calf should be around 80kg. Forage is added to their feed as milk is gradually withdrawn.
Ms Mwaura says it is important to deworm and weigh animals at least once every month to monitor their progress.
From the third month, they are fed on napier grass, booster concentrates, fodder, water and molasses.
“We hardly feed the heifers on silage, as this is reserved for those producing milk,” Ms Mwaura said.
Mr Daudi Omwoyo, a worker at the farm, said the 13 cows on silage produce more than 450 litres daily.
“We use a milking machine. It prevents milk contamination,” Mr Omwoyo, who supervises four other permanent employees, said.
During peak times, the farm hires up to five temporary workers.
Dr George Kamande, an animal nutritionist at Diamond V, an international livestock health and nutrition research company, says udders, teats and the place the animals sleep must always be clean. The same applies to the workers. The cows are milked at 4am, noon and 4pm.
IMPORTANCE OF HYGIENE
Ms Mwaura says workers at the farm are regularly trained in the importance of hygiene.
Two years ago, Hakikisha Farm began value addition for its milk by making yoghurt and ice-cream.
The enterprise, which operates under the mother company, Terrestria Foods Ltd, produces more than 450 litres of yoghurt a day. It is packaged in the small processing plant in the farm. The yoghurt is then supplied to supermarkets.
“We solely depend on milk from our cows as we do not want to compromise on quality,” Mrs Kamande said, adding that the family may consider involving other farmers.
To make yoghurt, milk is fetched from the pens. It undergoes an organoleptic test for any odour, dirt or contamination.
It is then pasteurised at 90°C for an hour to kill any germs and contamination. The milk is then cooled to 55°C. Sugar, thickeners and emulsifiers are then added.
“We then chill it to 45°C, add the culture and maintain the temperatures for six hours. These processes are never rushed. Unlike other yoghurt manufacturers, we do not add citric acid,” Ms Kamande said.
Some 24 hours later, the yoghurt is ready for packaging. It comes in 100ml, 250ml, 500ml, one-litre and five-litre containers under the brand name Daileys.
Yoghurt at Hakikisha Farm is produced in four flavours — strawberry, vanilla, mango-strawberry and pineapple-banana, all imported from the US.
The Hakikisha Farm ice-cream comes in vanila, peanut butter and mango flavours. Some 13 cows produce 450 litres every day. All that milk goes into making yoghurt and ice-cream.
According to Mr Daudi Omwoyo, a permanet employee of the farm, the milking machine ensures the milk is clean and prevents contamination.
During peak times, Hakikisha Farm owner Margaret Kamande says their small plant hires up to five temporary workers.