It is 5 am in the agricultural-rich Gitakwa village of Mugwe location, Tharaka Nithi County when farmer Lawrence Mugambi starts milking his goats.
Assisted by family members, Mugambi who currently has 40 dairy goats afterwards feed the flock, clean the sheds and deliver the milk to a dairy in Chuka town.
From the 10 goats he milks, Mugambi gets 40 litres daily. He feeds 20 litres to the goats’ kids while the rest he sells at Sh80 per litre.
“I allow the goats’ kids to consume plentiful milk so that they are healthy and grow faster. When they grow quickly it translates to more profit. A litre of goat milk should sell at between Sh100 and Sh150 but we have marketing challenges as there is only a single buyer in this region,” he says.
Tending his goats from the morning to the evening is a fulfilling calling that Mugambi has been doing for over 20 years.
“I’m fulltime dairy goat farmer and I love what I do. I have tried selling clothes and even keeping dairy cows but they pale in comparison to the goats. Goats rearing is less tasking since they are hardy, resistant to diseases and can survive on low nutrient forage during dry seasons,” he says.
The farmer keeps the Toggenburg breed, which is fast maturing and when well fed and tended yields four litres of milk in a day. Mugambi says the breed usually delivers twins, twice in a year.
A veterinarian Dr Francis Kathuri says a good pedigree goat can earn a farmer a lot of money from the sale of its kids.
He says a goat can birth twice a year and even bear twins. Kathuri says goat milk has high butterfat and high nutritional value content and is good for children, especially for sick kids.
Due to its superior characteristics such as higher milk production, Toggenburg is pricier compared to other breeds.
Mugambi sells a mature doe or buck at Sh25,000. Sometimes, he lets the flock multiply and reach 100 and sells half of the lot at once like he did a year ago and earned Sh1 million.
In fact, when this writer visited, we learnt that a day earlier the farmer had fetched Sh50,000 from the sale of a doe and a buck.
Goat farming has done a lot for the farmer.
“I have a constant income stream daily from the sale of milk and a decent lump some every now and then from the sale of goats. From that income I have educated my children up to university, bought several parcels of land and built a permanent house,” he reveals.
The 63-year-old farmer is the chairman of the Tharaka-Nithi Goat Breeders Association of Kenya.
He ascended to that post due to his outstanding performance as a top goat farmer in the region and even nationwide.
He has earned several trophies in national exhibitions. His goat was the reserve champion during this year’s Nairobi Agricultural Society of Kenya Show. Last year, his buck was crowned the champion and he sold at it a whooping Sh40,000.
Mugambi started goat farming in 1998 when Farm Africa, a non-governmental organisation, trained farmers in the community and even donated Toggenburg breed to them in a poverty alleviation program.
Mugambi was in a group that received four does and two bucks and they would donate some of the kids to other groups.
That’s how he acquired his own doe and buck and which due to their high productivity and profitability eventually replaced his cows.
“In the year 2000, my daughter was admitted to Muthambi Girls. I sold one cow at Sh14,000 to raise school fees. When later I needed more money, I sold a goat at Sh7,000. I couldn’t believe that a goat can earn half the price of a cow yet rearing a cow is more tasking and costly,” he says.
The farmer is very keen on how he feeds his goats so that he maximises their productivity.
The feeds include maize stovers, sweet banana vines, desmodium, calliandra, mulberry leaves, and the various shrubs freely foraged from his farm.
He has planted the fodder in his farms thus keeping the cost of feeding his goats low.
He also provides commercial feeds and dairy licks to the goats so that they are supplied with all the needed nutrients.
To prevent inbreeding, Mugambi maintains up-to-date records that capture the breed, ear tag number, date of birth, type of kidding, sire, dam, grandsire, and health record treatment.
He has designed the goat house in a way that eases feeding and cleaning. He houses 30 goats at two large structures in his home compound.
He keeps the rest at another farm he bought in Mwanjati area some distance away.
The goats’ houses are on elevated platforms so that the droppings and urine fall onto the ground for ease of cleaning.
“When goats remain clean, they are not susceptible to diseases. They yield more,” he says.
The two structures have several have pens measuring four by five metres and each hold four animals. The pens have a feeding section and a resting place.
Mugambi says farmers in the area face challenges in marketing milk and calls on the county government to assist them by starting value addition systems.
He says the Tharaka-Nithi Goat Breeders Association of Kenya already has two milk coolers, one with a capacity of 300litres and another 1,200 litres at Muthiri area.
Mugambi markets his goats through attending farmer’s fairs and exhibitions where he is given an opportunity to teach farmers about goat farming.