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My simple way of keeping 50 dairy cows happy

Friday July 11 2014

Josphat Mutai with one of the pregnant heifers

Josphat Mutai with one of the pregnant heifers at the farm. NATION 

The high concrete wall, an electric fence and a heavy cream metal gate stand out from far, giving one an impression of how secure the compound is.

Inside the compound in Kaplong, Sotik constituency, neatly grown flowers and well-manicured lawns complete the picture of a perfect home.

It is a perfect home indeed for the farmer and his cows. The four-acre Kaso Farm, whose name was coined out of Kaplong and Sotik, is home to over 50 pedigree cows and is the property of Paul Kipsiele Koech, the Olympics 3,000m steeple chase bronze medalist.

“We have 25 mature cows, 15 which are lactating while 10 will be calving in a few weeks’ time. We also keep 17 heifers that are already in-calf and several calves,” says Josphat Mutai, the farm manager.

From the lactating cows, Kaso Farm gets an average of 300 litres of milk daily.

“We started in 2008 with 10 cows, which we bought from farms around. They have now increased to the current number.”

The rise in number of the animals prompted the farm to come up with a plan of how to host them.

A few metres from the gate, there are the calf pens.

“This is where we keep all the weaned calves aged over four months. We do not mix them with the others because they have unique needs. We feed the animals pellets, silage and fodder.”

Mutai explains they also keep the animals separately to prevent them from injuries. The animals can be seen walking around the spacious cubicles.
Away from the calves, there are the pens for younger calves, under age of four months, which are fed on milk.

The calves are kept in raised cubicles. The walls of the cubicles are made of timber to keep the calves warm, and the front is made of metal grills that help aerate the house while also allowing the calves to feed comfortably.

Separate from the calves’ pens are sheds for the mature cows.

“We keep the cows in separate houses depending on what stage of gestation they are in. This separation allows for specific feeding regimens that vary from stage to stage.”

Dry cows occupy the first portion of the shed, where besides being fed on the normal fodder, special supplements are given to keep the unborn calves healthy while ensuring that in the next lactation period, they will be high yielders.

“We have separated the lactating cows depending on their milk production. The high milk producers with a daily production of over 30 litres are separated from the first time mothers with a production of below 25 litres a day. This is to ensure they do not affect each other, in terms of feeding habits,” says Mutai.

The in-calf heifers, described by the farm manager as the ‘‘heart’’ of the farm, occupy another section.

“Initially, we kept local breeds that yielded an average of 10 litres a day but we have been improving the herd. Now we keep high-yielding cows only.

The farm imported sexed Friesian Holstein semen from Holland to serve their cows which ensured that the calves born were all female.

Sexed semen is that with a high concentration of either sex cells, often up to 90 per cent, hence increasing the chances of getting the farmer’s desired sex. The semen was going at Sh5,000 per cow.

Right timing

“The right timing during insemination is important in ensuring that the cow conceives. This is achieved through proper recordkeeping and keenly observing the animals every day.”

In general, the cows are fed on maize silage, Rhodes grass and oats that are grown in separate farms. The silage is prepared once a year during the maize seeding stage when the cereal contains optimum nutrients.

“We prepare our own dairy meal, which is cheaper and quality is guaranteed. We have a milling machine and a mixer, which we use to prepare the dairy mill,” explains Mutai.

“Our dairy meal is made up of six components: maize germ, wheat bran, cotton or sunflower seed cake, soya, fishmeal and various minerals.”
Until recently, Kaso Farm used to supply its milk to a processor in the area.

“But we have now started processing our own yoghurt, mala and fresh milk. We package and sell in Sotik, Kilgoris, Keroka, Bomet, Kericho and other surrounding towns. We sell yoghurt at Sh120 per litre and 500ml mala and fresh milk at Sh40.”

Evans Kiplagat, a livestock production officer in Bomet, says improving the quality of one’s cows through insemination is the easiest way to get pedigree animals.

He adds that using sexed semen assures the farmer of a female calf, reducing the period of achieving the pedigree status.

“If a farmer uses conventional semen, timing is crucial if one hopes to get a female calf. Once a cow shows signs of heat, it is advisable to serve her at least eight hours later when the heat has gone down considerably.”