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Farmer eyes higher returns with new dairy breeds

By WILLIES MWANIKI
Emilio Gathura feeds dairy cows at Kariuki Gikonyo’s farm in Maombi village in Nakuru. [WILLIES MWANIKI]

Kariuki Gikonyo’s farm is located in Maombi village in Subukia Nakuru County and Emilio Gathura manages it. The farm has various farming projects, and previously, we featured the pig rearing story, and our focus this time is on dairy farming.

In this dairy farm, they specialise in rearing the new, improved dairy breeds which they ventured last year and have been advancing gradually. During our time of visit, there were ten improved dairy breeds in a zero-grazing system with well-constructed cattle sheds.

“Good construction is a key essential for good quality and quantity milk production, and that is why we constructed a good shed to make our cattle comfortable. When cows are uncomfortable, they are exposed to stress that may lead to less milk. Also, poor construction may expose cows to diseases, and it is essential for security reasons,” Gathura explained.

The idea of venturing into dairy farming came from reading newspaper articles, farmers’ interactions, and attending agricultural shows within the Mt. Kenya region.

“During the recent Nakuru agricultural show, we learned about a new breed that is a higher producer of milk, and we bought a heifer of the same breed at a very high price. We are optimistic the heifer will bring better results after first calving,” he says.

By the look at the structural condition and the status of the cows, you will note the great effort and dedication in this venture. “The project is specifically an agribusiness venture that we have invested in hoping for better returns. Dairy farming is a great business, and we are taking it seriously,” Gathura said.

The cows are fed with both greens and dry meals supplemented with licking salts and plenty of water to increase production.

“We ensure that even the young heifers are properly fed since it will be the determinant of milk production when the heifer matures. Neglecting a heifer at the calving stage may result in poor milk production when it matures.”

Gathura has prepared silage that will last for months as a way of preparation for the coming dry season from December to March in the region to ensure that the milk production will not be affected.

Currently, they are milking four cows, which are producing not less than 70 liters per day in total. Gathura is optimistic that the production will double when the newly bought heifers deliver. “Recently, we have added new heifer breeds that are expectant and are expected to deliver soon. According to their information, as you can see in their ear tags, they are higher feeders and high milk producers, and the farm milk production is expected to rise to around 180 liters.” Gathura said.

He added that milk production is also expected to rise further because most of the cows are new on the farm and have not yet adopted to the environment and to some of the meals that they are given. “Cows are susceptible to change ranging from meals and the people taking care of them, and this change affects milk production,” Gathura said.

Dairy farming has significant benefits to the individual and society in general. “Dairy farming creates employment to the society as it requires workforce, for example, in feeding the cattle, cleaning the cowsheds and silage preparations, and thus we employ workers depending on the labor force needed. Apart from benefiting from selling milk, we benefit from manure, and we have a plan to set up a biogas system sooner.”

Gathura told us the major challenges in dairy farming are workforce and low prices of milk. “Sometimes, workers may quit without notice leading to inconveniences which may negatively affect the production. Low milk prices are also a challenge, for example; currently, I am selling the milk at 35 Kenyan Shillings per liter, which is relatively low considering the production cost.”

But despite the challenges, Kariuki Gikonyo’s farm is ready to soldier on with the dairy farming, which has proved to be a profitable venture not only to the owner but also to the community.

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