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Home / Smart Harvest

Daily struggles that hold back dairy farmers

Josiah Sigei feeds his dairy cows. The farmer from Talenet village in Ainamoi constituency complained over the high cost of Artificial Insemination (AI) services in Kericho. [Nikko Tanui, Standard]

Every time Josiah Sigei’s cows go on heat, he gets jitters because he knows it is time to call a professional Artificial Inseminator. But the problem is getting a competent AI inseminator is a tall order.

“Where to get the best Artificial Insemination services is a major challenge for dairy Kericho farmers. From quacks to those who do the opposite of what is expected of them, the list is endless. A dairy farmer can order a particular breed of cattle only to get a different one when the calf is born,” Sigei laments.  

Sigei, a veteran dairy farmer from Talenet village in Ainamoi constituency who keeps seven pedigree cows in his dairy unit says it can take up to three times for an AI insemination to be successful.  

To compound the issue further, AI services are expensive especially for the smallholder farmers who make the bulk of dairy farmers in Kericho County.

“The sexed AI services costs about Sh9,000 whereas in central Kenya for instance, good AI services cost as low as Sh3,000,” says Sigei.  

To address the problem, Sigei appealed to the county government to establish a subsidised central pool for certified sexed semen. 

One way to rectify the problem he suggests is the creation of a local data bank for all dairy farmers.

Data Centre

“We also require a data centre for cows where dairy farmers can register their cows and whenever another farmer has a cow on heat, he or she can easily access the animals’ records. This will assist in eliminating inbreeding,” says Sigei.  

AI services aside, dairy farmers in the county are also grappling with an outbreak of lumpy skin disease. 

Elijah Sigei from Kipsolu village expressed fears that the viral disease threatens to wipe out his entire herd of cattle after five contracted it.  

The disease results in reduced milk production, poor growth, infertility among others. 

Dr David Rotich of the veterinary department estimates that almost one-third of the county’s cattle population was affected by the disease. 

“Most cases have been reported in Bureti, Belgut and a few cases in Londiani and Kipkelion,” he says. 

Dr Rotich blames the rise in lumpy skin disease infection on dairy farmers who fail to vaccinate their animals even when the county government rolls out subsidised programmes. 

“Sometimes we draw a program for vaccination, however when we arrive at the crushes, some farmers fail to drive in their herds of cattle for vaccination,” Dr Rotich says.

According to http://agriculture.vic.gov.au Lumpy skin disease is a devastating disease of cattle and buffalo caused by a Capri pox virus. It is transmitted between animals by direct contact, via arthropod vectors and iatrogenically. The virus is highly hosted specific and does not cause disease in humans.

To keep the disease at bay, Dr Rotich, therefore, called on the dairy farmers to take advantage of subsidised county vaccination programs. 

“If a cow is affected by lumpy skin disease, the immune system goes down and can get infected with other opportunistic diseases such as bacterial infection and other diseases.”

To prevent future incidences, Dr Rotich says the county has enough vaccine in stock.

“Last week, we received 12,000 doses of lumpy skin disease vaccination from Kenya Veterinary Vaccine Institute,” he said.

County Agriculture Executive Phillip Mason announced they were undertaking vaccination in Belgut, Bureti and Kipkelion Sub County. 

Governor Paul Chepkwony's administration vaccination programme cost just Sh50 per cow. 

It has been noted that many of the problems that bedevil dairy keepers could be averted if agricultural extension officers were reintroduced to help farmers navigate the tough waters of farming.

Kapsoit ward representative Paul Chirchir said he would lobby fellow MCAs to pass a piece of legislation which will allow the hiring of agricultural extension officers. 

“Farmers in the villages have inadequate information because they cannot access agricultural extension officers to advise them accordingly. They rely on quacks for critical services like AI, treatment of complex diseases like a lumpy disease which is catastrophic,” Chirchir points out.  

Besides the normal diary issues, a farmer in the county has to content with criminals who for over the past three years broke into farmers compounds across the county and slashed to death tens of cows. 

In one of the most shocking incidents, an unknown assailant sneaked in 2018 into Kapoloin Catholic Parish Church compound and slashed to death the parish’s entire eight cattle herd. 

Myoot Council of Elders Chairman Paul Leleito said the killing of cattle is a taboo among the Kalenjin as he links milk to water which sustains life.

He said whenever such an incident occurs, residents must sit down and conduct investigations among themselves with a view of unmasking the culprit. 

Despite these many odds, the dairy farmers soldier on.

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