Farmer leads milk revolution in sleepy village

Friday March 6 2015

Mary Wambui at her farm in Kiambu. PHOTO | ERIC WAINAINA

Mary Wambui at her farm in Kiambu. PHOTO | ERIC WAINAINA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By ERIC WAINAINA
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The cow chews the cud as Mary Wambui, dressed in a white overcoat and matching gumboots, cleans its teats with a piece of cloth soaked in warm water.

Soon, she starts milking it. The milk trickles into an aluminium can.

It takes her about 10 minutes to complete milking before moving to the next animal.

Wambui is the owner of the dairy farm in Lari, Kiambu County and today is out to test if she still remembers milking an animal. She used to do this sometime back.

“It is a long time since I milked a cow. My workers usually do it but I see I can still do the work well,” she says as a worker picks up the can of milk.

The farm is known as Mung’ere and is in Gatamaiyu village in Kiambu. It has 100 dairy cows.

“I started the business about 10 years ago when I bought five heifers for about Sh50,000 each. I just wanted to have milk for my family.”

The four-acre farm is in the middle of a tea zone and is surrounded by a high perimeter wall and trees.

The dairy business occupies most of the land, with cowsheds and land set aside for growing fodder.

She stocks Friesian, Guernsey and Ayrshire breeds.

The cows live in different sheds depending on their age and whether they are lactating or in-calf.

“I have 30 calves and 16 heifers that are ready for servicing. Thirteen cows will calve soon while 53 are lactating,” says Wambui.

She feeds the animals napier grass, 10kg of concentrates consisting of dairy meal, maize germ and 40kg of hay every day. She gets the hay from Nakuru, Mwea and Ruiru.

She cleans the sheds every day and gets veterinary officers to visit the animals at least once a week to monitor their health.

The cows produce between 1,100 and 1,500 litres of milk a day. She sells a litre of milk at Sh35, earning an average of Sh1.2 million a month which comes to about Sh300,000 when she deducts expenses.

HIGH RETURNS

Like many other farmers in the region, Wambui sells her milk to the newly established processor, Uplands Premium Dairies, the makers of Pascha milk.

“The opening of the milk plant guarantees high returns because we used to sell our milk to traders at Sh20,” says Wambui. She is one of the biggest suppliers of milk to the factory, where she is a director.

The company was started after consultations between investors and farmers about four years ago.

Farmers agreed to stop selling their milk and animals to traders who trooped to the area every January as schools were about to open to buy cows at throwaway prices.

“The new prices were better and the current price of Sh35 a kilo is quite attractive,” says Wambui.

The farmers are paid promptly and the milk is collected milk from their doorsteps.

They also signed a contract, which commits them to regularly train members on animal husbandry. This ensures increased production.

Close to 1,800 farmers deliver their milk to the plant but the management plans to enlist over 10,000 in two years. The farmers are members and receive training, extension services and loans through banks.

However, the firm is working on selling shares to farmers.

DAIRY CAPITAL

Wambui says most farmers in the region have now embraced zero-grazing. The area is regarded as the ‘dairy capital’ of Kiambu County as it hosts other milk companies including Githunguri Dairies.

As the market grows, farmers have realised that dairy farming is lucrative.

“Even on quarter acre, you can have three animals and make a decent living. You don’t have to own huge chunks of land to be a farmer,” she says.

Dairy farmers however, face a myriad of problems that include outbreak of diseases, low quality feeds and poor roads.

“Most farmers are on their own when diseases break out. The extension services are not working well to enable farmers rely on them. Then transporting the produce to processors is also a problem because of poor roads.”

She says the government should provide subsidised semen. Wambui improves breeds using semen she imports from Spain, where she says it is cheaper.

Kiambu County Agriculture and Livestock chief officer Charles Njenga says they are encouraging farmers to form cooperative societies and processing plants for improve their returns.

“That way farmers have better bargaining power that helps them dictate milk prices. The societies also help them access credit and improve breeds. The returns double if a society has a processor. We have seen it with many farming groups in the county.”