Many travellers on the Nakuru-Njoro Road marvel at the black and white cows because they are spotlessly clean and have huge udders sagging with milk.
This is Technology Farm, where cows live on the fast lane, eating the ‘‘finest’’ feeds in life and getting the best treatment.
Technology Farm, which is managed by Rift Valley Development–Registered Trustees, has close to 1,000 Holstein Friesian pedigree cows.
David Cheruiyot, the manager of Technology Group of Farms, says all cows in the farm are divided into groups depending on their production and reproduction stages.
This is well-documented and is registered with the Kenya Stud Book.
The expectant cows are the most pampered. They are separated from the main herd two months to delivery and placed into what is dubbed as the Maternity Wing.
Here, they are watched round the clock and treated to specially prepared, highly nutritious feed rations in preparation for calving and milk production.
Then there are the milk producing cows, which are equally treated well to maintain high production.
The 2,700-acre farm has a Sh20 million milking parlour, complete with a 15,000-litre cooling tank.
The last categories are the less producing cows and calves, which also have their own sheds.
“We are a free range farm because we have a vast land although we are now introducing zero grazing. The cows graze in open fields in the farm and at the Rift Valley Institute of Science and Technology (RVIST), which is our sister institution.”
THE COWS ARE BATHED
So, besides the separation of the animals, how does the farm keep them happy?
“The cows are bathed at least once a week, their hooves are trimmed regularly while those on a pilot zero-grazing project have bedding,” says Cheruiyot.
“There is no need to bath the animals daily since they are free range and they always have clean grounds to rest on.”
The animals are fed on commercial dairy feeds, which are supplemented by silage and fodder.
“Friesians are great feeders. We cannot sustain them on dairy meal only. We grow maize and sorghum from which we make silage,” says Cheruiyot, adding that the farm has a storage of 3,000 tonnes of silage, which can sustain them for a year.
This excludes hay and other fodder crops on the farm.
“The cows feed according to their production capacity. For the elite group, which produce 50 litres of milk a day, we give them Total Mixed Ration (TMR). This comprises of silage, hay, lucern, minerals and dairy feeds.”
The cows in the maternity wing are also fed on TMR, although they reduce the amounts of protein in their portions to prevent them from gaining a lot of weight.
“We do not shave our cows because we have to maintain their beautiful colour, but we polish them once in a while,” adds Cheruiyot.
The farm does not encourage keeping of bulls as well as male calves. They are sold, some after a week and others after three weeks, for breeding and beef purposes.
“We dispose bull calves at an early age after we ensure they have had enough colostrum to sustain their immunity. At one week, they are sold at Sh5,000. Farmers who want to use them for breeding buy them at three months at between Sh13,000 to Sh15,000.”
Those bulls that are not sold are castrated and kept as steers for meat.
However, Cheruiyot quickly adds that keeping steers in a dairy farm is discouraged because it is uneconomical. On the other hand, heifers are sold at Sh150,000. A mature steer goes at Sh80,000.
“We sell our milk to processing factories at between Sh28 and Sh35 per litre. We produce more than 5,000 litres daily. Most cows produce an average of 25 litres daily.”
The farm sells about 80 in-calf heifers a year while the demand is close to 1,000. The waiting list for this year alone is now at 658.
“In 2013, we had an order for 900 in-calf heifers and this year we are selling across the borders as Tanzanian government has placed an order for 100 cows.”
Because of the high demand, the farm is working with the East African Agricultural Productivity Programme to use sexed semen to improve availability of high-yielding cows.
“We also have another farm called Deloraine Estates where we breed cross Ayrshire cows with the hardy and disease-resistance Sahiwal breed,” he says. Their main challenge is to get protein sources for their cattle feeds and the fluctuating milk prices.
“Protein sources are cotton and sunflower cakes, which are expensive. A kilo of cotton cake sells at between Sh65 and Sh70 with sunflower going at Sh30.”
Milk prices change with seasons and supply. Sometimes they dip to as low as Sh19 per litre while the production cost stands at Sh30.
The two farms, together with RVIST, have exposed students to both theoretical and practical skills on animal husbandry.
The facility has partnered with local universities where students undertaking animal husbandry courses go for their attachment.
Cheruiyot urges Kenyans to embrace dairy farming saying it is possible to rear a dairy cow on a small portion of land through zero grazing.
He adds that farmers can enrich homemade feeds using maize, sorghum and lucerne thereby enhancing the nutritive value of feeds.