The animal gift that made me a farmer - Daily Nation

The animal gift that made me a farmer

Saturday March 16 2019

Erick Okeyo with his staff in his farm, Pinnacle Ranches Limited, in Kisumu.

Erick Okeyo with his staff in his farm, Pinnacle Ranches Limited, in Kisumu. The 20-acre farm has goats, cows, chickens, sheep and various crops. PHOTO | VICTOR OTIENO | NMG 

By VICTOR OTIENO
More by this Author

Erick Okeyo’s home in Kandaria village, Nyakach sub-county in Kisumu, can best be described as an agricultural hub.

The 20-acre farm has goats, cows, chickens, sheep and various crops. The Seeds of Gold team finds Okeyo and his wife Eunice feeding their goats and sheep.

“We started livestock keeping by accident,” says Okeyo, the proprietor and CEO of the Nairobi-based Bedrock Security Services Limited.

“We visited a friend in 2017 who gifted us a goat. We put up a house for it but as soon as it was up, my wife came up with the idea of farming,” adds the businessman who is in his mid-40s.

Today, Okeyo’s farm, named Pinnacle Ranches Limited, boasts five dairy cows, 28 goats, 30 sheep, three pigs, 30 rabbits, 750 layers, eight ducks, five geese, three guinea fowls and two turkeys.

“We farm on about five acres and have employed nine workers to assist in the farm’s management,” says Eunice.

A few metres from the main house stands a concrete cowshed. It is home to the five dairy cows, mainly crossbreeds.

These are pure Jersey, Redpoll Jersey cross, Redpoll Boran cross, Friesian-Ayrshire Redpoll cross and Friesian-Ayrshire Boran cross.

The cow mattresses in the sheds, where the animals rest, show how seriously the family has taken their investment.

Violet Jahenda, a Maseno University animal science graduate, who is the manager of the firm, says they chose the five breeds, mostly crosses, because of their adaptability to the hot and wet climate of the region, their low food intake and high productivity.

“The pure Jersey is the smallest among the heavy breeds, so it is well adapted to the Nyakach environment. The crosses also adapt easily to new environment and managing them when it comes to diseases is also easy,” says Jahenda, adding that Jerseys produce milk with high butterfat content.

KEEP RECORDS

Currently, three of the cows, Redpoll Jersey, Friesian-Ayrshire Redpoll and Friesian-Ayrshire Boran have calved while the other two are due in the coming few months.

“For good production, the animals should not be stressed. If they stay in a comfortable place, they produce more, which is why we provide the mattresses,” says Collince Oyuko, the farm’s paravet who holds a certificate in animal health and production.

At the pigsty, the Okeyos keep Large white breeds. “Pigs have plenty of fats. If they stay in a hot place like this, it affects their health if they don’t have good housing,” says Okeyo, noting that they are currently raising the roof of the pigsty to protect the animals.

Apart from the animal feeds and farm equipment, their store also hosts Jahenda’s office. While inside, she has a clear view of the cattle. It is from here that she keeps all records of the animals.

“All our animals have names for ease in identification. We keep health records, data on food intake vis-à-vis their productivity, breeding and production,” she says.

The goats and sheep are grazed in the fields but the cows, pigs and rabbits are reared under an intensive system.

Every day, each cow is fed a bale of hay. To increase their food intake, the fodder is first cut into tiny pieces using a chaff-cutter, then mixed with rice straws and dairy meal in a ratio of 5:3:2 kilos respectively, before salt for calcium is added.

“We sometimes soak the sliced hay in molasses overnight to make it palatable for the cows to eat. Then we add salt,which helps in high intake of water,” she says, adding they get 40 litres from their three cows.

The pigs are fed thrice a day; in the morning, at noon and in the evening on commercial feeds, supplemented by homemade ones like cow peas, rice straws and maize, among others.

TOLERANT TO HEAT STRESS

Chinchilla and New Zealand are the main rabbit breeds they keep.

“We will use them as our breeding stock because we plan to do extensive farming of rabbits and later sell their meat,” says Jahenda.

While the farm is still making baby steps, the Okeyos have big plans for it. These include increasing the number of pigs so that they can become a major supplier in the region.

“So far, I have invested up to Sh6 million in the business, including the cost of buying the 20 acres. We are yet to get returns from the money but we are hopeful,” says Okeyo, adding that they have been able to overcome various challenges, among them animal diseases.

Besides daily phone calls, the Okeyos visit their farm at intervals every month. “The number of visits depends on how busy we are that month. When we are not so busy, we visit at least thrice a month,” says the farmer, who sells eggs in markets in Kisumu.

Prof Mathews Dida, a lecturer in the Department of Agriculture at Maseno University, says the crosses are the best breeds for the weather in the region since they are tolerant to heat stress and diseases transmitted by ticks, compared to the jerseys and Friesians.