Dairy farmers have been encouraged to invest in the forage based dairy production system that cuts down production.
Inadequate feed has always been a constraint to dairy cattle on smallholder farms notwithstanding also the weather and climate which also affect the abundance and quality of feed, translating to quantity and quality of milk produced.
The government through the Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization has been working with farmers to increase dairy productivity through use of improved forages.
Through a partnership and working with the Irish Embassy through the Dairy Kenya Ireland project, they have developed a cattle breeding programme with a focus on farm profitability through the use of improved forage -based production which meets more than 90 percent of the animal’s dietary requirements.
Speaking during a field open day learning at KALRO Dairy Research Institute in Naivasha that was attended by over 1,000 farmers from Nakuru and Nyandarua, the Director General Dr Eliud Kireger, said Kenya is quite advanced in dairy farming but there are still some challenges that hinder production.
He noted that animal feeds are becoming expensive and many dairy farmers have been forced to either downsize or close down their dairy business venture.
“Over 80 percent of the dairy keepers are small-scale farmers operating on two acres or less. Today we are showcasing a model on how small-scale farmers can manage a small dairy farm using available pasture-based feeding,” said Kireger.
He explained that the support by the Irish government and other partners has helped in developing research on livestock system and breeds that are able to use minimum available feed and produce enough milk for the farmer.
“The objective of the field day is for farmers to learn by seeing. KALRO has been able to develop many technologies on dairy but the information has not reached the farmers,” he added.
“KALRO as a research organization seeks to demonstrate that small-scale farmers are able to keep dairy animals and grow fodder in a two-acre land and maximize on production,” Kireger said.
He explained that with two acres of land, a small-scale farmer can till the land, plant fodder which is available at the KALRO seeds unit using a pastured-based system which is far much cheaper, and a farmer can spend less than half of what he can spend while using concentrates or manufactured feed.
“We want the farmers to be self-sufficient in producing their fodder such as sorghum, brachiaria and Lucerne grass as well as sweet potato vines,” said Kireger.
He encouraged the farmers to use the fodder that is available so that they can maximize on productivity without spending so much money on feeds yet one is earning little from the venture.
Kireger confirmed that smallholder farmers can learn about practical dairy management on a 2-acre demonstration farm at the Dairy institute but further said that a dairy Innovation Hub has been set up translating research results into practice for over 2,000 dairy farmers across five innovation nodes, and providing a real new connection between research, extension, and smallholder dairy farmers.
The early adopters of the technologies, the DG noted, have realized increased milk production of one to two litres per cow per day as well as reducing their production costs.
William Ayako, a research scientist from KALRO, said normally farmers tend to think that the cow that produces 50 litres of milk per day is the best cow but what they do not consider is the feed that such a cow requires especially concentrates.
“We are emphasizing on breed that are economical and have the economical breeding effect for the small-scale farmers. We want farmers to have a dairy animal that is cheap to keep by producing milk from foliage- based feeds that support production reasonably and cut down on cost of feed production,” said Ayako.
With the feed scarcity that is normally experienced during the dry season, the scientist noted that conservation is key hence the need for the farmers to grow resilient crops such as sorghum and lucerne that can be conserved in the form of silage, a good cushion for dry season.
Ayako gave an example of the breeds from milk production saying a cross breed of Friesian and Sahiwal cows can produce 20 litres of milk while a Jersey and Sahiwal cross breed can produce 14 litres of milk at peak.
“These production rates are good because they are above the national herd average. But even though the Jersey and Sahiwal produce 14 litres of milk, they are best because they give a farmer a calf every year and a farmer gets profit from both a calf and milk,” said Ayako.
Feeding, he advised, is key and there should be no shortcut and it has to be consistent with one budgeting so that they can have feed throughout the year.
Virginia Ngunjiri, County Director of livestock production Nakuru, said they have benefited from the project as the three sub counties in which the programme was piloted namely Rongai, Kuresoi North and Kuresoi South, farmers are practicing fodder-based system intervention.
“Currently, we produce over 350 million litres of milk per year in this county and most farmers have developed feed systems although the potential is still high,” Ngunjiri said.
Margaret Wangui Mbugua, 60, a beneficiary of the training, said she has increased her cows from the initial one to now six but also has improved on her milk production which has moved from 4 kilograms to now 35 kilograms of milk per day.
“When I go to the bank, I line up with doctors, teachers and other big professionals to access my account or even get a loan. Initially, I could not be able. At the household level, I have developed as I am able to produce my own feeds and not rely on buying the manufactured fodder which is expensive.
According to KALRO, to date, the project has been able to develop 11 manuals and 10 information brochures as resources for use by extension staff and lead farmers. A number of manuscripts have also been developed for sharing with the scientific community in the country and globally.
Dairying is the single largest sub-sector in Kenya’s agriculture, accounting for 6 to 8 percent of the country’s GDP but is characterized by low-input, low-yield systems which produce much less than the national herd potential of four to eight litres a day per milking cow.
Kenya is also experiencing a growing demand for milk and dairy products driven by expanding urbanization, increasing population and a growing middle class thus the country needs to significantly increase milk supply especially to these urban consumers.
This year alone, an additional 3.5 billion litres per annum is required. This is likely to rise to 12.5 billion litres per annum by 2030.
By Wangari Ndirangu