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For good profits, learn to grow your own fodder

By Mercy Kahenda
Kamau Kimai, a Medical Officer on his dairy farm. July 10, 2019. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

When he is not in hospital serving his patients, Kamau Kimani, a doctor, spends time in his dairy farm in Njoro, Nakuru County.

Despite being passionate about farming, Kimani, says his cows provide him with the much-needed therapy when the daily goings-on in hospital take a toll on him.   

“When I want to rejuvenate after seeing patients in acute pain, I drive to my farm where I get to cool my mind especially after dealing with hard situations in hospital,” said Kimani.

Kimani keeps different breeds of dairy cows including Friesians, Jersey and Ayrshire.

There are five dairy cows on the farm that produce about 20 litres of milk every day. He sells a litre at between Sh40 and Sh60, depending on demand. Though he began with only two cows, a high demand for milk inspired him to increase the animals to his current stock of five. 

“To succeed in dairy farming, one has to know how to feed his animals. Cows produce milk depending on how they are fed,” says the farmer.

Kimani grows different types of pasture, rich in proteins including oats, guatamala grass, boma Rhode and brachiaria. The oats are milled and stored in sacks.

To maintain high nutritional value in oats, springs are cut early before the heads emerge.

If seed heads begin to emerge, there is a substantial decrease in nutritive value attributed to the accumulation of stem tissue and leaf loss.

“Nutritional value of oats is maintained if they are harvested at the recommended stages. The crop is milled and fed to the stock in all seasons,” he says. Most feeds grown on the farm have high protein content.

Proteins according to the farmer are fed to the stock for high and quality milk production and reproductive tract reconditioning after calving.

Calves and heifers, in particular, need relatively high levels of crude proteins in their diets to support muscle growth.

Creep feeds or forages for nursing calves should contain at least 15 per cent of crude protein, he says.

“Proteins help in muscle growth, quality milk production, and reproductive track in animals. For example, the nutritive value of Lucern is around 18 to 22 per cent crude protein and around 10 kgs of metabolism energy,” he says.

He adds that brachiaria grass too has crude protein content that ranges from 9 to 20 per cent.

Feeds on the farm are grown in different stages for continuous supply, irrespective of weather patterns that have become the main challenge in both crop and livestock keeping.

“Dairy cows are fed all the time, this is why I ensure there is adequate supply of feed all the time, in all seasons,” he says. Kimani also leases several farms within Njoro where he grows sorghum, yellow maize and nappier grass that boost which he also uses as feed. Whereas many farmers are struggling to feed their stock, Kimani has thousands of tonnes of hay and silage. Prices of bail range from Sh150 and Sh300 depending on supply.

To supplement feeds, he purchases maize jam dairy meal for lactating cows. In addition, he purchases maize jam from Uganda, a product he says is fermented and good for cows.

A kilogramme of maize jam sells at Sh25 while in Kenya it is sold at Sh30.

“I prefer to purchase feeds from Uganda because they are cheaper compared to Kenya,” he observes.

“I mostly use sexed semen to determine the sex of the calf but before insemination, I make sure I know the characteristics of a bull,” notes the farmer. Two months to calving, the heifers are separated from the main herd and placed in a different section. While at the section, they are put on high nutritious concentrates to boost their immunity, provide calving energy and milk production.

“Expecting cows are fed on total mixed ratio although the amount of protein intake is reduced to prevent them from gaining a lot of weight,” he said.

Other practices that boost production of the stock include vaccination and deworming. Though dairy production is a lucrative venture, the fluctuation of milk prices is a major challenge facing the farmer. High taxation on animal feeds is also a big challenge to many farmers but by growing his own sialge, Kimani has been able to beat reduce his feed expenditure.

“Prices of milk are at times are too low as compared to the cost of production, it is a tricky situation that must be looked into,” says the farmer.

The doctor hopes to increase the number of his cows to 10. He is also looking forward to making yoghurt. “Once I increase the number of my cows, I will venture into value addition as this is the only way we will manage to beat the poor prices offered by brokers,” said Kimani.

Fresh fodder should be fed after a day’s wilt, chopped into 2 inch pieces to enable the cow feed easily and minimise wastage. A dairy cow should consume 15-20kg of chopped forage per day preferably in two splits, one in the morning and the other in the evening. After calving, a dairy cow should be fed 3kg of concentrates (dairy meal) per day depending on individual production. The animals may be challenged further by increasing their dairy meal rations for up to an optimal level.  

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