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Ex-civil servant hopeful amid tough dairy trade

Peninah Mukabane, a dairy cattle farmer explains the functioning of a milking machine in Emusala Village in Kakamega County. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

Like all dairy farmers, Peninah Mukabana, in Lurabi Constituency, Kakamega, feels the heat of the business thanks to the high cost of livestock feeds. The former Health Executive who quit in 2019 to concentrate on her dairy project says she has had to think out of the box to stay afloat.

 “Things were stable until recently when the cost of feeds shot up. We have had to do things differently to remain in business. I know many dairy farmers have been pushed out of business because of the high costs of feeds,” says Mukabana.

The 47-year-old who started with four Friesian cows says the venture used to pay her well.

“I was getting enough money to pay my three workers and cater for my needs without a struggle. However the rise in the cost of feeds, the market for milk has dropped and cost of treatment has risen,” says Mukabana.

Currently she has nine cows, six are pregnant and she milks three. The cows give her 81 litres a day.

She says a litre of milk has dipped from Sh40 to Sh20 and yet the cost of feeds is going up, making it challenging to sustain the farming.

Manage the cost of feeds

To manage the cost of feeds, she grows maize silage and oats on her one-acre farm.

She notes that the cost of soya, a component for making a dairy meal, has risen from Sh35 to Sh85, eating into her profit margins. Supplements like mineral salts have also increased in price.

The farmer makes her own silage and hay feeds and supplements it with artificial feeds like dairy meal.

However, she uses maize germ and bran for proteins which she buys in Kitale, Trans Nzoia county.

She also uses molasses to add taste to the dairy meals.

“Each cow consumes five kilogrammes of silage in a day after enhancing it with other feeds and minerals. That is how we are trying to cut down on cost of feeds,” says Mukabana.

To boost her feeds programme, she has leased three hectares where she has grown Napier grass, sweet potato vines and desmodium.

Another strategy to cope with tough times is diversification.

The farmer has more than 20 mature pigs and 40 piglets. The farmer keeps Large White, Landrace, Hampshire and the indigenous pig breeds.

Compared to dairy cows, she says pigs are easier to manage since they feed on waste from homes and eateries and they are hardy.

“Pigs rarely get sick. They are resistant to many diseases and do not need regular attention like dairy cows. They also give birth faster and mature quickly. Actually they give birth thrice a year. They fetch good and quick money. I sell a two to three old piglets at Sh2,000 and Sh2,500,” says the farmer.

Never say die

She adds: “One pig gives birth to almost six piglets every four-month I make around Sh180,000 from my 20 pigs which are pregnant.” 

She also produces her own biogas for cooking and lighting from the dug and has constructed a composite pit where she sells farm yard manure.

Another hurdle she faces is the many levies from the county government making things unbearable.

“I also use artificial insemination services and it is expensive. It costs between Sh3,000 and Sh4,000 per session and sometimes the success is not guaranteed.”

She also has to dig deeper into her pockets for treatment of tick and other vector borne diseases.  Despite the many challenges she is facing, the mother of four is not about to quit.

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