Dairy farming is one of agricultural activities that contribute to great economies at local, national and international levels.
The demand for milk and its products is ever increasing and there is no doubt that farmers who engage in the practice improve their livelihoods each day.
It’s also an important global food system and plays a leading role in sustaining families at family level and not forgetting boosting a county’s economy if the milk and its products are exported.
In Trans Nzoia, almost every family has ventured into the practice with most people putting little concentration on maximum production.
Dairy farming especially becomes tricky during dry season with milk production getting to low levels due to lack of feeds for the animals.
Furthermore, many families in the county get satisfied with the production as long as they are able to get milk for the families. During dry spells, some farmers produce as low as half a litre in a day.
But how can farmers who engage in dairy farming strive to get maximum production for family use and for sale? Just what makes dairy farming a business?
A visit at a serious dairy farmer in Kiminini Sub County gave insights on how to maximize on milk production for better returns.
According to John Njoroge who owns up to 85 high grade animals, investing in quality feeds, selection of high breeds and controlling pests and diseases are among factors that successful dairy farmers put into consideration in the enterprise.
Njoroge practices dairy farming on half an acre. His animals are purely on zero grazing. One of his animals that give him up to 50 litres a day is a Friesian. He says that he has his own semen and serves his animals using his veterinary doctor who he has employed on permanent and pensionable basis.
His high grade animals must be maintained through a well laid down feeding program. He says that this is also sustained through his own feeds. “I make my feeds. This enables me to control the contents in the feeds,” he says.
“I have my formula which with advice from specialists during field days has greatly improved on the feeds,” he added.
He said that his animals feed purely on dry matter. Among the foods he feeds his animals include silage and hay.
The animals are well taken care of from day one. “Immediately an animal delivers, work starts both with the mother and the calf. We put appropriate minerals as required and advised by our veterinary doctor,” says Njoroge who makes silage for his animals.
“I lease up to 40 acres of land to plant maize for the silage,” he says. Njoroge says making silage needs keenness as any mess could make the animal feed bad making a farmer incur loses.
According to the dairy farmer, the maize is harvested when the nutrients in the plant are high to tap maximum carbohydrates and proteins.
The stock and maize crop is harvested and cut into small pieces and then compressed in plastic papers that are spread on the ground. A tractor then rolls over the covered pitied staff.
The aim is to purge out as much oxygen as possible. This is done to enable fermentation process that is free from oxygen as fermentation does well in a free air environment. Furthermore, lactic acid bacteria start multiplying under air free conditions.
The maize is also left to dry for a few hours to help drain out water. The preservation helps to keep the sugars and protein for some time and thus good for a long time. Basically, silage has vitamins that include B12 and folic acids.
Njoroge also feeds his animals on hay which is also fermented using the same process. The idea is to have animal feeds at all times and the fermentation process also helps in storage. Apart from the dry matter, he also makes his own dairy meal which he has established his own formula with all needed ingredients.
Njoroge says that with enough animal feeds, he is sure that his animals are safe from hunger both during rainy and dry seasons.
He also agrees that hygiene is key to his animals to keep disease at bay. As one enters through the gate to where the animals, some disinfectants are placed to deep your shoes in before you move around to see the animals.
The dairy units are also washed using disinfectants to keep diseases at bay. They are cleaned three times in a day. The animals also sleep on saw dust to keep them warm and avoid loss of milk through cold.
During feeding time, no stranger is allowed to have a walk in the dairy unit. The idea is that the animals can lose milk through distractions. Animals are only visited when they are resting.
The farmer attests that quality feeds is key to both quality and quantity of milk. With a total of 85 dairy cows, Njoroge says feeds at all times are a must. He also agrees that a feeding programme is important where every animal gets preferred amounts at particular times. “This has helped us to regulate the amounts especially for those giving maximums,” he says adding that an animal that produces the highest kilos/litres are also well feed.
On an average day, the farmer milks up to 800 litres of milk, with the highest producing more than 50 litres per day. “We have been trying to hit the 55 litres per day mark but we have not achieved it. We are still looking around to see what can take us there,” he says adding that recommended minerals are added in the feeds to achieve maximum production.
He notes that disease in an animal is the worst enemy that can easily kill the animals. According to Njoroge, all his animals are vaccinated against animal diseases like Rift Valley fever. He has established a store for drugs and supplements at the dairy unit.
“I buy the chemicals in bulk which is cheaper for me,” he said. His veterinary doctor carries out a daily inspection to ascertain if the animals are well. “We also on hourly basis observe the animals and if any of the animals does not eat normally, then that is a sign of sickness and quickly the animal is treated accordingly. Ticks are something of the past. The animals are on pure zero grazing and chances of mixing with others does not occur,” he explained.
Njoroge sells his milk as fresh raw milk at an average of Sh.40 per litre at the local market of Kiminini. “We also sell to traders from Bungoma, a neighbouring county,” he says. He also sells part of his milk to KCC and Brookside.
On breeding, Njoroge does selective and careful breeding for better yields. He started with cross breeds but eventually moved to imported breeds which he has since maintained on his farm. He has his own semen and serves his animals on the breeds he is sure of. He sells his lactating cows for Sh.250 000 and in calf heifers for Sh.180, 000 to Sh.200, 000.
Njoroge is among few farmers who do intensive dairy farming in Trans Nzoia in an enterprise that is dominated by small scale farmers who constitute over 70 per cent. Dairy farming is one of the leading economic activities after agriculture in the county giving farmers a means of earning a living.
Njoroge’s dairy farming has attracted farmers from within and out of the country. It was only recently that the Uganda ambassador visited his farm to benchmark on the best dairy farming practices. With available quality and quantity feeds, dairy farming could be made easier and earn farmers good returns.
In an interview with KNA, the County Executive Committee member in charge of Agriculture, Mary Nzomo said most dairy farmers in the county practiced semi-intensive production system for its low cost in providing inputs such as labour and feeds in maintaining milk productions and costs for constructing a zero-grazing unit.
“However, intensive production system is gaining popularity among farmers due to shrinking land sizes caused by population explosion. Majority of smallholder dairy farmers have between two to three dairy cows in Trans Nzoia,” she said.
The county has an estimated number of 183, 000 grade and crosses and 13, 500 indigenous cows. The average milk production per cow in the county is 7.5litres while the annual milk production is estimated at 125, 340 to 343, 398 litres per day.
The CEC notes that inadequate and low quality feeds, high cost of Artificial Insemination (AI) services and low and highly fluctuating milk prices were some of the challenges that faced smallholder dairy farmers resulting to low income realized from the investment. Another challenge she said is weak dairy farmers’ cooperative societies and informal market dominance.
She however said that there were three key extension programmes that were supporting dairy in the county on different aspects of dairy farming and milk marketing which she believes would help in improving productivity.
The programmes are Smallholder Dairy Commercialization Programme (SDCP), Agriculture Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP) and National Rural Agriculture and Inclusive Growth Project (NARIGP).
“With the targeted interventions from these programmes, dairy productivity in the county is expected to improve further and contribute to improved livelihoods for the residence in terms of income earning, employment creation especially to youths and food and nutrition security,” she added.
By Pauline Ikanda