In the outskirts of Maralal town, at Loikas village in Samburu County we meet 30-year-old Francis Kahiga, an inspiring dairy farmer. He is mixing hay and molasses to feed his five dairy cows.
A farmhand milks an Ayrshire cow that produces 30 litres of milk for the second time. The accountant narrates what inspired him to start dairy farming.
“For two years I spent a lot of money buying milk daily. This made me think of starting dairy farming to meet my family’s demand for milk,” says Kahiga.
He realised that demand for milk was too high since the locals are pastoralists who’s cows do not produce significant amounts.
He saw a business potential in the ever rising population of Maralal town.
“Town dwellers do not keep dairy cows due to lack of space and they need milk so I decided to start dairy farming,” he says.
To kick off, he acquired 200 by 100 plot where he has put up a modern house and a shed for five dairy cows. He also rears chicken, ducks and goats. He also plants different kinds of vegetables.
“I started with one cow in 2016 which cost me Sh97,000. The money was part of Sh120,000 loan I borrowed from a local sacco in town and together with some money my wife had saved, I put up a cattle shed,” he reveals.
Back then, the cow was producing 25 litres of milk daily and his family was using only two litres a day. He looked for market for the extra production and the demand was overwhelming.
After repaying the loan in less than eight months, he took another loan of a similar amount and added to his herd another dairy cow after an year.
The zero grazing cowshed consists of a milking cage, feeding troughs and a sleeping cage where he has pampered his cows with a rubber carpet popularly known as a ‘cow mattress.’
The cowsheds are cleaned daily to avoid spreading of livestock diseases. He has employed a farmhand who milks 100 litres daily from all his stock which he says will rise after the two give birth later this year. Kahiga sells the milk at Sh70 a litre making roughly Sh7,000 a day.
His farmhand, Jonathan Nyangweso says they feed the cows once a day and milk them thrice.
“Everyday at 5am I give each a 17 kilo bucket of silage and as I milk at noon, I give them a handful of hay while in the evening after milking I give them a handful of green fodder,” Nyangweso shares.
The farmer has planted grazing grass in a farm in Nanyuki from which he makes hay for his livestock. He mixes the grass with potato peelings, green maize plants and molasses and stores the mix in pits to make silage before feeding the cows.
He supplements livestock feeds with concentrates like fish meal, sunflower and dairy meal to see they get a balanced diet for more production.
He has named each of his cows to help him in record keeping, breeding and vaccination. Kahiga’s efforts were handsomely rewarded when he sold two heifers at Sh90,000 each. To encourage locals to start dairy farming, he receives about 20 youth in is farm weekly.
“I do not charge them as I would love to see Samburu youth moving from the traditional pastoral livestock farming to modern zero grazing dairy farming.”
This, he adds would greatly reduce cases of illiteracy, poverty and cattle rustling. The dairy farmer says he regularly visits established dairy farms such as Wambugu farm in Nyeri and Ziara farm in Kirinyaga where he has learnt best practise.
Though he has broken even, he faces several challenges such as lack of artificial insemination services in Samburu county. To solve this, he has to seek services of a veterinary officer from Karatina.
He is calling on the county government’s ministry of livestock to employ extension officers to be going round training youth interested in dairy farming. Kahiga’s wife, 27 Mercy Kaviri says one of the benefits of dairy farming is biogas, which she used in all her cooking.
“I’ve managed to do other things with the money I used to refill cooking gas with and I have directed close to Sh100,000 in other ventures,” she says.