First track prize sprinted athlete to multi-million shilling dairy venture

A worker milking a Paul Kipsiele Koec's Kaso Dairy cow in Bomet County. Koech started the venture with the money he won in 2004 during Athens Olympics. [PHOTOS: ANDREW MIBEI/STANDARD]

Lean framed and clad in his trademark tracksuit and sneakers, he cuts the image of a typical Kenyan athlete. Sure, he is a celebrated international star.

But Paul Kipsiele Koech will not let this restrain him to the tracks. His Kaso Dairy Farm in Kachepkoro, Sotik, is a marvel in Bomet County and beyond.

From three ‘simple’ cows that gave him 20 litres of milk daily ten years ago, he now earns a net of more than Sh250,000 every month from his dairy enterprise.

The 2004 Athens Olympics steeplechase bronze medalist says it all began after he won his first prize money of Sh300,000 in Sweden. Focused, he built a small house and bought three cows for his family.

“I spent Sh75,000 to purchase the cows and for the first time, my family had enough milk to drink and a little to spare,” Koech says.

He says this motivated him a lot and he decided to increase the herd gradually while improving the management of the cows.

He set up a zero-grazing unit for his cows while improving their feeds. The farm currently boasts of abound 50 quality animals: 18 lactating cows, four dry cows, 16 heifers and 14 calves.

He says that the use of Artificial Insemination (AI) enabled him to get better yielding cows.

Since the farm uses the conventional (50/50) semen, at times it ends up with bulls that it sells at four months for Sh15,000 each.

The farm rarely sells the heifers because it is working towards achieving pedigree status in all their cows but it sells mature cows once in a while.

“There is a contracted vet who regularly monitors the animals to ensure they are in good health. He also checks their heat cycle to ensure they calve regularly,” says Josephat Mutai, the farm manager.

The manager points at sub-clinical mastitis as a serious challenge because he says the disease does not have physical symptoms as the cow will appear healthy. The disease causes a drop in milk yields and it can only be detected using a special kit that the farm has ordered for.

Koech says the farm currently produces more than 350 litres of milk daily. Had they sold this milk to processors at the market price of Sh30, the farm would get Sh10,000 daily from the sale of raw milk.

However, the entrepreneur has embraced value addition as a way of reaping maximum returns and he recently started making yoghurt and mala. According to Irine Koech, the athlete’s wife, the processing started in 2008 with a mere 30 litres that she manually produced in their house.

“I sold the yoghurt locally and the demand kept rising making us to try the venture on a larger scale,” Mrs Koech says.

Perishable product

Currently, they use 150-200 litres to make yoghurt and mala every day. The yoghurt sells at Sh120 per litre while mala goes for Sh80 per litre. The remaining more than 100 litres is sold directly to consumers at Sh50 per litre. Their products are strawberry and vanilla flavours.

“Since milk is a perishable product, many retailers face the challenge of refrigeration especially in the rural areas and they end up buying less of our product. We also face the competition from established processors but our products are slightly cheaper, thus attracting buyers,” she says. Koech says the cows are fed on maize silage and oats that the farm plants every year. Dairy meal is prepared right in the farm by mixing maize germ, wheat pollard, wheat bran, cotton seed cake, soya, sunflower seed cake and a combination of minerals.

The farm has also set aside a section for growing different protein rich plants that are essential in dairy farming. They have sweet potatoes, lucerne, desmodium, sesbania, mulberry, edible canna and calliandra.

The plants will supplement the supply of proteins for the dairy farm thus cutting the cost of feed considerably.

“At 32, I might not last many more years in the athletics industry. I can ‘retire’ comfortably to my farm when the time comes,” Koech proudly says.