Last Saturday was a special day for Seeds of Gold and its ardent readers. The sun was bright and the weather cool, offering a perfect day for farmers and the planners of the inaugural Seeds of Gold Dairy Farm Tour.
It all started at the Nation Centre in Nairobi, where some 100 dairy farmers and farming enthusiasts from across the country gathered as early as 6am.
The team of livestock experts came from Coopers K-Brands, Elgon Kenya and Simlaw Seeds Co. In a convoy of vehicles, the group left for the relatively sleepy neighbourhood of Ikinu in Githunguri, Kiambu County.
The area can be described as the dairy district of Kiambu as nearly every homestead has a zero-grazing unit, with the milk ending up at Githunguri Dairy Farmers Co-operative Society.
The first stop was at Joyce Kahuno’s farm. Joyce has been a dairy farmer for nearly 20 years, keeping 80 animals on two acres.
Her management of the land is what awed farmers on the tour. She has set aside her zero-grazing unit which hosts all the 80 Friesian cows with some goats and sheep on quarter acre. The rest of the land hosts her house, feed stores and other farm structures.
“When the calves are born, I minimise their interaction with their mothers, thus, they hardly suckle milk directly. I let them feed exclusively on colostrum then introduce them to salt lick and water a week after birth,” she said.
Thereafter, Joyce said she bottle-feeds the calves on six litres of milk a day for two months before reducing the milk to four litres per day, and fully integrates salt-lick, dry grass, water and dairy meal to the calf’s regime.
After three months, she cuts the milk intake to two litres, every evening and increases the other feeds. This, according to her, is to ensure the calf quickly learns to feed on other foods other than milk thus helping the farmer get maximum yields from the dairy enterprise.
“It is also important to give the calf plenty of water. The water and milk feeding containers should, however, be different to ensure the calf is quickly able to distinguish between the tastes of water and milk. If they do this, they would never overdrink water when the milk is removed from their regimen,” said Dr Joseph Karanja, a dairy specialist from Coopers K-Brands, adding that immediately a calf is born, the farmer should take its birth weight, and keep the records.
IMPORTANCE OF MILK REPLACERS
According to him, the calf should be taught to not depend on the mother’s milk as soon as possible. “When the calf is able to eat at least 1.5-2kg of dry feed and dairy pallet per day, it would double its birth weight making it ready for weaning. The weaning weight should ideally be 80kg, according to the vet.
Dr Victor Bogonko, the regional animal health manager at Elgon Kenya highlighted the importance of milk replacers, noting they are an ideal option in feeding the calf to minimise their intake of milk.
“When fed on milk replacers, the calves can be weaned at nine weeks since they would have attained the ideal weight.”
Joyce said she offers her lactating cows 8kg of dairy meal per day, and 200g of salt lick whenever she milks them during the day’s two milking sessions.
This is besides the daily feeding regimen of dry hay, wheat bran, other fodders like calliandra and lucerne and drinking water.
“For a cow that produces 15 litres of milk daily, give 10kg of dairy meal per day,” said Dr Karanja, guiding farmers on the formula to use.
Charles Nyakiongora, from Simlaw Seeds, advised farmers to intercrop fodder, for instance, desmodium and lucerne, Rhodes and Columbus grasses, then harvest them at the same time.
“If you combine the grasses when making cow feeds, it increases the protein content of the resultant feed,” he said, adding that they should be harvested at the right time, just when they are starting to flower to ensure optimal nutritive value.
Boma Rhodes and Columbus grasses have the highest protein content thus suitable for livestock feeds, with rice or wheat husks having the least protein component. They only serve to fill the cow’s stomach.
Trizah Njeri’s half-acre farm, where she keeps 30 dairy cattle, was next on the itinerary. The dairy farmer has been in the business for six years, specialising in rearing heifers for sale.
She keeps a mixture of Holstein Friesians, Guernseys and Fleckviehs that she sells when they are ready to calve.
Dr John Kariuki, a livestock breeding expert from Coopers, noted that breeding is key in ensuring the success of one’s dairy enterprise.
“Always set a breeding objective to achieve the most profitable cows as the success or failure of the dairy agribusiness lies in the choice of the Artificial Insemination (AI) bull you choose,” he reckoned.
CONSTANT FEED SUPPLY
He asked farmers to get genuine pedigree semen from reputable and certified breeding establishments and to always keep in check when the cow is on heat because if the cycle passes unnoticed, one will have to wait for the next, which becomes uneconomical as the farmer has to maintain the cow for an unproductive period.
Farmers lastly toured Ng’ang’a Farm, where the farmer who four years ago started with just four dairy cow, now has more than 50.
His farm sits on one acre, half which hosts his house and a large feeds store. Farmers were amazed by the organisation of his farm and the way each of the lactating cows know their milking times and where they should be milked from.
“Feeding is the most important feature in any dairy establishment. When starting the enterprise, ensure you have a constant source of feed, with an ample storage facility,” said Dr Kariuki.
Ng’ang’a, who also keeps goats, sheep and poultry, milks his cows thrice per day, with the highest milk producing 26 litres per day, selling the produce to the nearby Githunguri Dairy Cooperative Society.
The three dairy farmers sell their cattle from Sh150,000 to Sh200,000 each, depending on the size, maturity and whether the cow is in-calf or not.
“It is quite commendable that one can keep such a large number of dairy cattle within a small space, and earn even more profit,” said prospective farmer Stan Kivai, a senior research scientist in the Department of Conservation Biology at the Institute of Prime Research, who was thrilled with the tour.
The farm tour attracted dairy farmers from as far as Garissa, Mombasa, Kisumu, Elgeiyo Marakwet and even one who wished to set up a dairy enterprise in Somaliland. Look out for the next tour.
The benefits of visiting a farm
- Agri-tourism involves travel that has a farming component. Farmers learn how they can successfully and profitably run agri-businesses from the tours.
- Agro-tourism is a critical component of any nation that values its farmers as the technologies developed by researchers are passed on to various people.
- India, Israel and Britain are some of the countries that are earning millions in foreign exchange from agro-tourism, which they have taken seriously.