Maridi in Homa Bay County is a remote village, with most residents engaging in cane and maize farming.
Sweet potato farming and fishing in the nearby Lake Victoria are the other dominant agricultural activities.
Dairy farming is also taking root in the region, and Joseph Oloo, an engineer, is among farmers leading the way.
The engineer, who works in Switzerland as an executive director at Novartis Pharmaceuticals, has invested heavily in dairy farming.
Seeds of Gold recently caught up with him on his farm near Maridi Girls High School during his August-October holiday break.
At the entrance to his farm, which is christened Williberg, is a woodlot, hosting casualina and eucalyptus trees.
From afar, one also sees fish ponds and the dairy farming project, which sits on a 70-by-20 metres piece of land.
The barn hosts 26 cows, 15 of which are mature animals. He is currently milking 10. Oloo also keeps seven calves and four bulls of the Ayrshire and Friesian breeds.
“There has been a myth that Nyanza in general is not favourable for dairy farming. This region has very conducive climate for milk production, my farm proves it,” says the farmer, who started the venture early last year.
He injected into the business over Sh4 million from his savings. The cash was spent on the barns, five cows that he purchased at Sh100,000 each and labour, among other costs.
“The start was not that easy because the cows I bought were not productive. Some were crossbreeds and were drying off. It was disappointing,” he says, noting that getting quality dairy meal also became a challenge.
Adding to the list of challenges was getting competent workers who had studied animal management including feeding, hygiene and treatment.
“I sought to learn from other farmers. I visited established dairy farms in central and Rift Valley to learn how they were running their entities and the various aspects of management,” he says, adding he bought more animals of Ayrshire and Friesian breeds.
Oloo now grows and makes his own feeds that include silage. “I get between 15 and 20 litres a day from each of the 10 animals I am milking. I sell to neighbours, schools, hospitals and hotels in Homa Bay County at Sh60 a litre. My calculation shows I get a profit of 15 per cent per litre,” he says.
ACCOUNTING AND RECORD-KEEPING
Oloo, 39, says his cows consume about 40 bags of dairy meal per month, each going for Sh2,200.
By producing his own feeds, the farmer says he has reduced operating costs. Williberg Farm sits on 12 acres, with the farmer using four to grow Boma Rhodes, brachiaria and Napier grass.
In addition, he grows maize, which he uses to make silage. He has a chaff cutter that he uses to slice the grasses and maize stalks into tiny pieces.
“The most important thing in growing and producing own feeds is understanding the weather pattern, so that you plant when it rains and have feeds during the dry season,” advises the father of two.
John Momanyi, who works with Sigma Feeds, acknowledges that there are substandard dairy feeds in the market, which result in poor and low milk production.
“Dairy meal should be rich in vital minerals and nutrients for cows. The ratio in which the ingredients are mixed determines the quality and amount of milk produced.”
Williberg Farm also has five fish ponds measuring 20 by 25 metres each, each with a capacity of 2, 000-2,500 tilapia and catfish.
He started with two ponds in October last year and has since harvested over 2,000 pieces, each going for Sh150. The farm is supplied with fresh water from a 30ft deep borehole, which he dug in 2016. The water facility also serves locals.
Oloo, who went abroad in 1999, notes that managing the project from overseas is one of his challenges. “I check on the workers daily, in the morning before reporting to office to find out the amount of milk produced, challenges faced and what each is doing.
During lunch hour, I make a follow-up on how much milk was sold, what has remained and what they have achieved in the first half of the day,” says Oloo, who has four workers, including a manager.
He keeps production, sales, breeding, birth dates and health records of the animals. The farmer has a financial adviser who assists him in accounting and recordkeeping.