Kamere centre, on the shores of Lake Naivasha, is a typical rural market where the wafting smell of smoking fish easily overpowers the aroma of roasted maize.
Few people pay attention to the hawkers hovering near the matatu or the donkeys on the streets — some which are laden with goods with their foals sticking to their side.
The donkeys belong to John Nduhiu who has been rearing the animals for the past five years. Nduhiu owns over 10 animals, which he hires out daily but locals know him better as the man who milks donkeys.
“Donkeys define me. They have supported me through the years and helped me school my children. I have never run short of anything. This is the last venture I would lose,” he said.
The farmer, who puts his age “in the 70s”, moves with the grace of a much younger man. There is little drama as he prepares to milk the donkeys, which appear to have formed a bond with their master.
Even the wildest lactating females, he says, calm down when he shows up with milking jelly, a jug and a rope just in case the animal gets too ‘excited’.
“They are just like cows; others are difficult to handle but most are gentle. They behave well and know when it is milking time. Gentle ones do not need to be tied up to stop them from kicking. They just wait until you are done and you release the baby to suckle the remaining milk,” he said.
Nduhiu told The Standard that he learnt the art of milking donkeys from a Turkana friend, adding that the community values the milk for its nutritional value.
The milking process is straightforward. Nduhiu applies milking jelly on the tiny teats, wraps his thumb and forefinger around each teat and squeezes until milk squirts out into the container.
A donkey can give up to one litre of milk but the quantity varies depending on how frequently its foal is suckling.
The milk, which Nduhiu said is not boiled because it loses nutrients, is then packaged for sale. Clients are advised to gulp it down while it is still warm.
“The best way to drink donkey milk is to take it after milking. If one wants to drink the milk the following day, you keep it in a fridge overnight and dip it in warm water before consuming it. That way, it will be effective,” he said.
The farmer said he was a regular consumer of his own milk, which he attributed to his good health. Most of the clients who sought the milk, he added, were people suffering from ailments such as asthma, arthritis and high blood pressure.
“I receive orders which I faithfully deliver. I deliver milk in Naivasha, Nairobi and Nakuru. Most of the clients call in for their orders and I sell them a litre between Sh200 and Sh250,” he said.
But not everything is rosy. Nduhiu said a spate of donkey thefts in the past few years had seen his herd of donkeys shrink from 25 and was threatening his livelihood.
The animals that were previously left to wander in the market streets now have to be driven into the open plains where Nduhiu has to pay a guard to watch them each night.
“I always wanted to expand the venture and start a donkey dairy but since the opening of donkeyslaughterhouses in Naivasha and Mogotio, theft has dealt my dream a blow. At one point I lost seven of them and I decided to sell a few so that I could remain with a manageable number.”
His idea, he said, was to increase his customer base across the country. He was encouraged to see researchers and other interested people visiting him to learn more about keeping the beasts of burden.
“If there are experts I can collaborate with on donkeymilk research and how to improve animal breeds, I will gladly cooperate. The declining donkey numbers due to unregulated slaughter has dealt a blow to aspiring donkey owners.”
Nduhiu’s son, Joseph Karuri, said income from the sale of the milk helped the family meet their daily needs comfortably.
“I milk donkeys and drink the milk. I also cook tea with it. It is rich in nutrients and I have grown up seeing customers ordering the milk,” Karuri said.
Apart from milking the animals, Nduhiu said he regularly hires them out for Sh500 a day. On a good day earns up to Sh5,000.
He blamed animal theft for dwindling income.
“We have formed a donkey farmers’ group where we have partnered with local administrators and security enforcers to curb donkey theft in the area. Kamere originally had more than 500 donkeys but the number has dwindled. Luckily, the partnership with officers is bearing fruit,” Nduhiu said.
According to researchers, donkey milk is nutritious and possesses specific properties that makes it a potent ingredient in the promotion of human health.
Researchers also say that donkey milk is closer to human milk than cow milk, adding that people who drink it for months report improvement in asthma, coughs, eczema and psoriasis symptoms.