Sometime in 2003, David Wanyamu accompanied a colleague to a dowry negotiation meeting in Githunguri, Kiambu County.
While the aim was to help his friend get the best out of the negotiations and consequently a wife, Wanyamu got more.
“I was enchanted by the way the girl’s father kept his dairy animals,” says the 51-year-old, who works at the Auditor General’s office in Mombasa.
His interest didn’t escape the old man’s eye, who later invited Wanyamu for a tete-a-tete on dairy farming.
“About a week later, I bought from him two Holstein Friesian heifers aged nine and 14 months, at Sh7,000 and Sh9,000 respectively,” he recounts.
He built a cowshed on a part of an acre he had purchased in Ruai in 1999 and kept the animals there.
Today, the farm named Ruai Tharuyu, which he started as a shack hosting two heifers in the middle of a parched field, is now an admirable establishment.
His zero-grazing unit that sits on an eighth acre of the land hosts 20 dairy cows.
The farm currently hosts 15 Holstein Friesians animals, four Fleckviehs and one Ayrshire, with the Fleckviehs being his favourite in the herd. All the Friesian animals are offspring of his first two animals.
“It would take me much cajoling to sell any of my Fleckviehs and even then, I still will find it hard to,” he says.
Fleckviehs are highly productive, dual-purpose cattle bred for both their meat and milk. They are huge in size, with the cows resembling bulls of other breeds in frame and structure.
HIGH PRODUCTIVITY BREED
“They are hardy, rarely contract diseases and produce high quality milk and meat compared to others breeds, keeping my expenses lower due to their low maintenance costs,” he says.
He adds that the cattle breed eats less than the others, but produces more, lowering one’s production costs.
Dr Anthony Gichohi, the General Manager of Fleckvieh Genetics East Africa, says that the breed has an array of benefits compared to others, which includes high milk production on less feeds.
Wanyamu is currently upgrading his animals to pedigree Fleckviehs by breeding them using pedigree semen to produce the desired pure-breeds after three generations. This upgrading will cost him about Sh7,000 per cow.
He feeds his animals mainly silage made from pineapple peelings that he picks from Del Monte in Thika.
Other feeds include napier grass, maize stalks and baby corn that he sources from friends and neighbours, some outside Nairobi.
He further gives the animals mineral concentrates and dairy meal to enhance their milk quality and quantity. He feeds them twice daily, at 8am and 6pm after the day’s two milking sessions.
“Each of my cows eats about 70-90kg of feeds daily. This comes to about Sh100,000 per month of each on their feed and nutritional supplements.”
He milks 11 cows using a milking machine, with his two employees doing all the farm tasks. Some of the other animals are calves.
With a daily production of 30 litres, a Holstein Friesian named June is his current highest producer, with the Fleckvieh milkers offering 25 litres each. He gets a little over 200 litres daily selling at Sh60-65 per litre to households and Sh55 per litre to traders.
“I am ever striving to keep up with the demand as customers keep coming,” he says.
He also sells heifers, with a six to nine-month-old going for Sh60,000 and a mature one going for Sh120,000 or more. He has so far sold at least eight.
“About two months ago, I lost my highest milker that was offering 35 litres daily to hardware disease. Inside her carcass was a nine-inch wire which had pierced several of her vital internal organs,” says Wanyamu, highlighting the challenges in the business.
To avert such a misfortune, his wife Grace, or himself, now inspects every feed the animals eat. The farmer is keen on adding value to milk by making yoghurt.
He has sunk a borehole to provide water for his animals.
“Each of my cows consumes 80 litres of water per day, so I had to think and act fast to keep my agribusiness afloat,” says Wanyamu, who sells surplus water to neighbours.
He uses the cows’ droppings in a biogas plant which supplements his household’s cooking fuel. The manure from the shed further goes to his kitchen garden where he grows vegetables and fruits, and a nearby leased farm where he grows napier grass.
Upgrading to Pure Fleckvieh
According to Dr Gichohi, to upgrade other breeds to Fleckvieh pedigrees, the Fleckvieh semen is used to inseminate a different breed’s cow and the first progeny, also called F1 (First Generation), is usually 50 per cent Fleckvieh and 50per cent of the other breed.
The resultant female progeny is then inseminated with a different pedigree Fleckvieh bull’s semen to attain the F2 progeny which is 75per cent Fleckvieh and 25 per cent of the other breed.
The third crossing of the resultant progeny, with a different Fleckvieh bull’s semen to avoid inbreeding, produces 87.5-92 per cent Fleckvieh, depending on the merits of the bulls used.
These progenies are now the pedigrees and the process takes about five years to achieve if the programme is well managed.