The grass is dry, the soil caked, the roads too dusty and water scarcer in Kajiado as the ongoing dry weather bites the vast county.
Being semi-arid, the hot weather has hit the county twice as much as other areas with the effects of the dry spell evident as one drives along Nairobi-Namanga Road.
A short distance from Kajiado Town sits Osiligi Farm, one of the top dairy farming establishments in the county.
Osiligi, which means hope in the Maa language, hosts some 70 dairy cows, mainly Friesians, Ayrshires and their crosses with Simental, Sahiwal and Fleckvieh.
The farm can best be described as an ‘oasis in a desert’ as it has managed to shake off the effects of the biting dry spell despite being in a semi-arid region.
“Pastoralism is the main way of keeping cattle in this region, but we choose to do zero-grazing in 2008 and it has worked. We have been able to show people that they can keep hybrid animals in this area and make more,” says Paul Sosoika, the farm manager
Out of the 70 animals, all of which they keep under zero-grazing, 12 are currently in-calf, 12 are calves and 26 are lactating. The rest are heifers, says Sosoika.
“Being in a dry area, we have to plan to the last detail lest we are caught napping, for instance, when the little rains we expect fail,” he offers.
They plant different kinds of fodder namely lucerne (15 acres), Boma Rhodes (20 acres), maize for silage (10 acres), brachiaria, their newest addition (an acre) and napier grass.
The fodder crops are grown mainly during the rainy season, and some like maize and brachiaria under irrigation during the dry period, with water sourced from two boreholes on the over 50-acre farm.
Save for maize and napier grass, which are used in silage formulation, Boma Rhodes is harvested and baled into hay, and then stored. Brachiaria and lucerne are harvested, chopped and given to the cows.
“Maize and napier for silage should be harvested at the right stage; the latter when it’s a metre high and former when the seeds are soft, but not milky when squeezed open. This is at about four months,” says Peter Oduor, an animal health graduate from Egerton University, who is doing internship on the farm.
SPEED FERMENTATION PROCESS
Oduor notes that to make silage, both the maize stalks and the corn are harvested, with the latter providing starch required by the cows to produce milk.
The farm books normal grass from land owners in the neighbourhood during the rainy season, which they harvest after the rains stop and bale into hay.
“This grass together with Boma Rhodes hay form the 70 per cent of dry matter we give the animals. Green matter consists of 30 per cent of the feeds which comes from lucerne and brachiaria,” he says.
The farm makes its own dairy meal from sunflower cake, maize germ, cotton cake and dairy concentrate pollard, among other ingredients.
“We get them from an animal feeds company in Nairobi which supplies us in bulk and make at least a tonne each month. This has enabled us save costs,” says Sosoika, noting the animals are given water ad libitum and salt lick depending on their stages of growth and state for instance, if in-calf.
The dairy cows are fed twice a day, at 5.30am soon after milking where they are given Boma Rhodes hay mixed with lucerne and 5.30pm, also after milking. In between the animals feed on the grass hay and during milking dairy meal.
“When we have not given them Boma Rhodes and lucerne, we offer then silage,” says Oduor.
Besides the ordinary silage, their recent adoption is a technology Oduor calls, ‘silage-in-three-days’, where they make the feed using chopped maize plants, molasses and add commercial supplements to make it palatable.
The ‘silage’, according to Oduor, is similar to the ordinary one in terms of colour, smell and nutrient only that the supplement has been added to speed up the fermentation process and increase tastiness.
“We milk 430 litres every day from the 26 animals, with the high yielder offering 27 litres and the lowest 16. The animals are milked at 5am and 5pm and even with the dry spell, our production has not changed,” says Sosoika, noting the farm employs eight workers.
DEMAND FOR MILK ON THE RISE
The crosses are among the high yielders, says the farm manager, with each offering an average of 20 litres.
“In future, these are the animals we would keep because unlike the pure Friesians or Ayrshires, they feed less and are hardy especially in this environment and they offer more.”
Once milked, the produce is pasteurised and cooled on the farm before some is taken for sale at Osiligi Farm Shop, their outlet in Kajiado Town, where it goes for Sh60 per litre through the milk ATM.
They also supply the milk to neighbouring schools and colleges like Maasai Technical Training Institute.
“Demand for milk is on the rise in Kajiado Town as population swells. We sell all our milk at the outlet in a day.
However, when schools close, we make yoghurt on demand because we usually have surplus milk,” says Sosoika, adding they are in process of making a biogas unit to generate the gas for farm use.
Stella Memusi, the owner of the farm, says that in five years, she would like to embrace embryo transfer technology to improve and increase her herd.
“I would also like to major in breeding of Dorper sheep,” says Stella, who currently keeps a few Dorper sheep.
Felix Opinya, an animal health specialist at Egerton University, notes that during dry spell, the animals need adequate feeds, good shed to prevent heat stress and clean water ad libitum.
“During such times, the quality of feeds should be improved by adding molasses or supplements to make them palatable to the animals. Fodder grasses should be chopped into tiny pieces and supplements added,” he says.
A farmer should also sprinkle water on hay and other feeds to reduce dust on them.
Diseases farmers should guard against include lumpy skin and foot and mouth, which are spread by flies and people getting in and out of the farm.
“This is the time to put and strictly adhere to bio-security measures to curb diseases. Fly repellents in the sheds also help to keep diseases at bay.”
To prepare silage
Dig out a pit and then put a polythene sheet on the floor and walls.
The walls are covered by the polythene to a metre-high so that the forage does not come into contact with soil.
The sliced fodder is then put in the pit as it is compressed and molasses added to aid in fermentation.
The molasses is, however, first diluted with water at a ratio of about 1:2 and sprinkled evenly over the forage layer using a garden water sprayer.
Apart from molasses, other additives like common salt, formic acid, lime or urea can also be used to enable good fermentation process.
The feed is then tightly covered with the polythene material and would be ready for use after three weeks.