We arrived at Olmoswet Farm, which is located four kilometres from Bomet Town, one chilly morning. To get here, you drive for 5km on the Bomet-Narok Road and then take a dusty left turn. Another two kilometres and you come to the expansive farm.
Alice Towett, the owner, is dressed in matching pink blouse and skirt, topped by a decorated headscarf. She is tending to her sorghum crop.
Alice used to struggle with the production of her dairy animals until she fixed the twin challenge of water and quality feeds, thanks to expert advice and lessons from other successful farmers.
“I planted this crop, sorghum, for my cows. It is highly nutritious and they really like it,” Alice said as she checked one of the plants, after greeting us.
She went into sorghum cultivation to lower the cost of production.
“Last year, I really had a challenge with fodder. Production dropped and when I inquired from agricultural officers, they advised me to improve on the nutrients by feeding the cows on highly nutritious feeds such as sorghum and sweet potatoes.’’
At the time, milk production had dropped to 10 litres a cow a day but after she changed the feeds, it rose to an average of 25 litres.
Feeds account for about 60 per cent of the cost of milk production. The situation is critical during the dry spell when fodder becomes scarce and expensive.
It is for this reason that the 51-year-old farmer, who has been at it for nearly two decades, put about 12 acres of her 16-acre farm under fodder.
She has planted lucerne (half acre), maize (one acre), sorghum (five acres), Boma Rhodes (four acres), napier grass (one acre) and sweet potatoes (a quarter-acre).
“Initially I had scarcity of feeds, which affected the amount of milk produced by the cows. Today, whether there is rain or drought, the milk produced doesn’t go down,” said Alice, who uses sorghum and maize to make silage.
Currently, she has a herd of 20 Friesian cows, nine of which are lactating and produce 100 litres of milk in a day. She sells her milk to a cooling plant and hospitals in the neighbourhood. A litre fetches Sh35 at the plant while hospitals buy on average at Sh50.
BOOST MILK PRODUCTION
With sorghum, she started by only planting half an acre. She harvested 20 bags and kept some of the seeds to expand the acreage. The crop takes about five months to mature.
Alice said that water is a major challenge in dairy farming because one cow can consume up to 60 litres in a day. To take care of this, she constructed an underground tank with a capacity of 180,000 litres at a cost of Sh200,000.
She also built a hay store that can stock up to 2,000 bales. In 2017, she prepared silage from her maize crop that can last for two years and plans to make more from sorghum.
Alice is a member of the Chamgaa self-help group composed of 22 dairy farmers. In 2017, the Small-Scale Dairy Commercialisation Programme, supported by the Ministry of Agriculture and International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) assisted the group to learn about feeds from other farmers.
They toured various dairy farms in other parts of the country like Eldoret, which motivated her to put up a zero-grazing unit and also formulate the proper feeding regime for the cows.
John Marindany, the Bomet East sub-county livestock officer, notes that getting quality feeds is a major challenge to most dairy farmers, especially during the dry spell.
“If farmers get it right, then they will cut costs by nearly half and enable them to remain competitive,” he said.
Sorghum, he added, is a highly nutritious fodder, which can significantly boost milk production. However, farmers should not to feed their cows on fresh grains.
“They are poisonous to the cows. It is important that they allow it to dry for three to four days before feeding their cows, which reduces acidity,” he advised.
Farmers should plant sorghum at a seed rate of 2.4-3.2kg per acre. The varieties should be planted at a spacing of 75 by 10cm.
Varieties meant for feed and grain (dual-purpose sorghum) require a spacing of 60 by 20cm, which allows for a higher grain-fodder ratio.
Sorghum should be sown at the onset of the rains. Drill seeds along the furrows (trenches) and plant them 3cm deep when dry planting to avoid germination during false rains but 2cm deep if the ground is wet.