A visit to Dr Geoffrey Kaaria’s dairy farm at Kierera in Imenti Cental, Meru, speaks one thing, the farmer knows his trade well.
On close observation, we notice the animals look healthy, the milk production levels are impressive, order and precision reigns at this farm.
The veterinary doctor who ears 19 fresians says there is a specific way things are run at the dairy unit and that’s why his heifers give him more than 30 kilos of milk daily. First, Dr Kaaria says he does not let any bull mount his heifers as this would affect milk production levels.
“Many dairy farmers are not keen on this, but I am very particular which bull plays that role because I know the importance of quality semen for the next generation of calves. The wrong bull affects milk production,” Kaaria tells Smart Harvest at the farm in Abogeta West.
Kaaria, who works for Cooperative Resources International, a US-based society that supplies semen and artificial insemination services says before he started his dairy farm, he had to screen parents of his cows to ascertain their fertility.
“The daughter pregnancy rate determines if the daughter of a bull is going to be fertile,” says Kaaria.
One of his cows nicknamed Igandene produces more than 30 litres per day.
“Her father was called Sharky. She is from imported semen courtesy of CRI,” explains Kaaria.
Igandene gave birth to Kathambi, another of the prized herd which also has impressive milk records.
Kanana, another cow, produces 29 litres yet it is its first calving.
“Kathambi gets in-calf every year because she comes from a good lineage,” he says.
Good feeding regime
The vet says when he started out in dairy farming his past cows which he has since removed from his farm, had poor yields but over time his eyes were opened.
“Before I understood the importance of the parent stock, I made several blunders and brought on board infertile cows. Now I know better. To be on the safe side, I would advise farmers to scrutinise the historical background of a heifer before buying it,” he says.
Other ways to boost milk yield is adopting a good feeding regime.
“Genetics are responsible for about 40 per cent of milk production. The rest of the 60 per cent depends on feeding. That means if you get the genetics right, you will not have good amounts of milk if you deny the animal sufficient feeds,” he says.
Power of good genes
His farm, he says, runs on the mantra “the daughters of today depends on the genetics of today”... which means if the semen comes from poor genetics you cannot change the animal.”
With that knowledge, Kaaria steers away from buying semen from ‘ordinary’ bulls that retail at Sh1,000 to Sh3,000.
“I buy semen from bulls with high DPR at Sh7,000 a dose for my cows on heat.”
He buys quality semen from Nairobi which he stores at Nkubu.
One of his other secrets to high yielding cows is the fact that he retains the heifers he gets from his high producing cows whose DPRs are top class.
“Many farmers sell the young heifers and remain with their old cows. That is not advisable because they will forever continue to sell five litres of milk,” he says.
Of the six cows being milked currently he gets 215 litres which he delivers to Meru Dairy Union.
He sells a litre at between Sh32 and Sh35.
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In a month, the herd consumes silage of 250 kilos which is supplemented with other feeds.
“Usually they consume four bales of hay, 50kgs of mixed pollard and bran. That is in addition to dairy meal,” Kaaria says adding that he gives each animal feeds according to their production potential.
He adds: “I give more food to the ones with highest production, where there is maximum returns. Otherwise it is just a waste!”
Though he has invested in milking machines and those for preparation of different feeds, livestock diseases have been a challenge.
“Mastitis was a major concern. To maintain a healthy herd I have had to vaccinate them against lumpy skin disease and foot and mouth. I also ensure the feeding and rest quarters with mattresses are kept clean and dry at all times,” the vet explains.
Other steps he takes to keep mastitis at bay is ensuring complete milking. Incomplete milking is a common problem in most farms whether using machines or hand milking.
Milking an animal twice he says, helps to drain milk from the udder and thus reduces risk of mastitis.