The sun is scorching hot and a strong wind is blowing as we venture into Olngoswet village, Longisa ward in Bomet County.
A newly opened earth road, some 2km to the east, off the Bomet-Narok highway leads us to a homestead, where a wooden store full of Boma Rhodes hay and bags of animal feeds catches the eye.
Not far from the store stands a beautiful stone house and a simple dairy unit hosting four cows. It is here that Simon Towett and his wife Catherine run a dairy enterprise that has become a model in the area.
The couple keeps four cows in the dairy unit constructed using wood and cement, with feeding and water troughs on one side and a resting place for each of the animals on the other.
Three of the Friesian and Ayrshire cows are lactating and offer cumulatively 37 litres daily. He supplies the milk to a dairy plant at Longisa trading centre managed by a co-operative society, where he sells the produce at Sh35 a litre.
Toweet has three other indigenous cows, which are not under zero-grazing, with his family consuming milk from the animals.
The farming bug hit him sometime in 1990, seven years after completing his A level education at Cheptenye High School.
“I bought my first dairy cow for Sh14,000 some 19 years ago, but it was not until 1997 that I engaged in semi-zero grazing and upgraded the breed by using a bull belonging to a neighbour as artificial insemination services were not available locally at the time,” says Towett, noting the animal provided him with 10 litres daily.
Artificial insemination services
Eventually, he embraced artificial insemination services and has not turned back. The farmer has set aside one-and-a-half acres where he plants Boma Rhodes and on a similar size napier grass. Maize for silage sits on four acres.
He harvests the fodder and chops it into small pieces using a chaff cutter before feeding the animals.
During dry season, the farmer buys bales of Boma Rhodes hay from other farmers for Sh250 each to supplement his feeds.
“I buy 70 kilos of dairy meal per week at Sh2,400, which I mix with fodder and feed it to the animals,” says Towett, adding he uses manure from the dairy unit to grow vegetables, bananas, fruits and napier grass.
He set up a biogas unit in 2010 with a capacity of six cubic metres at Sh75,000 with the help of a non-governmental organisation. The unit provides fuel for his home use.
“For the past nine years, my family has never used firewood in the kitchen because of the biogas,” says Catherine.
She notes that the biogas is effective in cooking all kinds of foods and, as long as she has cows, she is assured of the energy.
Due to lack of water in the semi-arid area, Towett has invested in a farm pond large enough to store rainwater for one year.
“There is insatiable thirst for milk in the local market due to increased rural urban migration, high number of students from Longisa Medical Training College and county workers at the county referral hospital,” says Towett.
Like other farmers in the area, he uses private animal health practitioners to treat their cows.
“Milk fever has been the only major problem I have encountered. I had a cow which produced 20 litres daily but production reduced by half and I had to sell it as it did not respond to treatment,” says Towett, who adds he has built a house and educated his children using proceeds from the cows.
Dr Wilson Serem, the Bomet County director of veterinary, says milk fever largely affects high-yielding dairy cows due to low calcium level in the blood.
“It affects dairy cows during late gestation and early lactation periods due to poor mineral supplementation. Affected animals are normally unable to stand and in critical condition resulting to downer cow syndrome, where the cannot rise,” says Serem, adding the cow should be fed on calcium concentrates or intravenous injection by qualified veterinarians to curb the disease.