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Five common mistakes that dairy farmers make

By Dr Othieno Joseph
A vet checking up a calf in Nakuru. [Boniface Thuku, Standard]

Most farmers normally have good intentions when venturing out, but for various reasons, they make some blunders. Here are some:

Buying the Wrong Starter Stock

This is especially common for first time dairy farmers. If you are not careful, you can start off on the wrong footing by acquiring an animal whose traits don’t resonate with your dairy farming goals.

Most farmers will jump into dairy-farming without much thought or planning.

Good planning will ensure you get the best breed for your region. A good breed is one that will survive in the local climatic conditions, can produce maximally with the available feeds and is resistant to endemic diseases.

To get this right, you need the help of an agricultural extension officer, a vet or livestock production expert. These experts are better placed to understand the previous records of the animal you are buying to postulate on its future productivity.

Poor Animal Husbandry

Many farmers assume that once they buy a good breed, it is automatic that it will perform well. That is far from the truth. Even with the best breed in town if it is not given good animal husbandry, forget about the high milk yields. Animal husbandry defines how the animal is taken care off on the farm.

It doesn’t make economic sense to invest a lot of money in buying a pedigree dairy animal without a plan on how to take care of it. If you are buying a Holstein be prepared to work hard to get it enough feeds, ensure no tick moves near it and take precaution that it doesn’t suffer mastitis.

Good animal husbandry ensures you are in touch with what is going on in the farm regularly, if not daily.

It also means that you have a herd health programme that works to protect the health of the animal and this means vaccinations, deworming and dipping or spraying.

Best practice also entails ensuring that the animal has adequate feeds that are balanced. Good husbandry means you aren’t a telephone farmer who will entrust your valued animals to a farm hand.

Not having the market in mind?

The biggest mistake potential dairy keepers make is starting the venture without factoring in the market.

“Who are you producing the milk for?” should be a major question you ask yourself before you commit your cash in a dairy project. The Kenya livestock products market is unpredictable and you need to factor in that reality as you plan.

I am sure you have seen the many times eggs or milk flood markets and farmers are forced to sell at throw away prices. 

As a wise farmer, you need to be aware of the market needs and preferences.

Value addition of the produce can be a good strategy to get more money or to preserve the product until a time of good prices.

Not keeping any records

Keeping all the records about the animal and the other farm practices is a simple routine many farmers ignore. For that reason, many of them cannot tell whether they are making profits or losses.

Good records act as a thermometer for your farming enterprise and will enable you make informed decisions. 

Your veterinary doctor can assist you come up with simple records that can be used by even farmhands.

‘Vet Phobia’

In my practice life, a good number of farmers will call a vet when a disease has advanced and it is too late. Even for conditions like difficult birth, farmers wait for far too long before calling for professional help.

When a problem arises, they fast try everything, when it fails they call a quack and when he messes, then the vet is called. The vet charges may not compare with the harm done when diseases aren’t handled in time.

[The writer is the vet of the year in 2016 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council – jothieno43@yahoo.com]     

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