How I get my cows to keep the cash flowing
As panic and anxiety sweep across the country following the coronavirus pandemic, Peter Mathenge finds rejuvenation in tending to his cattle at Aramana village, Nyandarua County.
He rears seven friesian and Ayrshire cows for milk production. Mathenge got into dairy farming 10 years ago to cash in on the high local demand for milk.
“After watching disheartening news on deaths associated with coronavirus, I walk to my paddock to feed and milk my cows. I feel refreshed when I farm. I am loving this,” Mathenge tells Smart Harvest.
Mathenge preferred the Ayrshire breed because of the milk's high butter content, while friesian breeds produce high quantities of milk.
Friesians produce at least 24 litres of milk a day, while Ayrshires produce an average of 26 litres. He sells the milk to Milangine Dairy Ltd, a private milk buying group, at Sh30 per litre.
“Many people are crying due to the closure of their businesses, but I smile when going to bed because I am able to earn some cash despite the restrictions in operation. Demand for milk is currently high,” he said.
The father of five children ventured into dairy farming with only five indigenous cows. He sold them three years later because of their low milk production. He then bought two friesian heifers at Sh100,000 each, and has been adding to his stock with the money earned from selling milk.
“Local consumers began trooping to my dairy farm asking for milk, but I was not able to produce enough to meet their demand. I, therefore, decided to sell the indigenous cows and bought the exotic variety, which is high paying,” added the farmer.
During a visit to his farm, Mathenge said good quality feed is vital to attaining the desired quality and quantity of milk.
“A cow will not produce enough milk if I do not feed it on a balanced diet. Feeds make them healthy, which leads to high quality and quantity of milk produced,” Mathenge said.
“Quality and quantity milk can only be attained if dairy cows are supplied with feeds in the right amounts, supplemented by minerals. Farmers should, therefore, establish a good supply of animal feeds before establishing a farm.”
He also keeps maize silage, which is preserved, besides growing different types of pasture, including nappier grass, oats and Rhodes grass that is rich in protein.
He grows oats, a perennial animal crop, on one acre, and the grain is milled and stored in sacks for feeding during dry spells.
Each cow feeds on an average of 16 kilos of silage daily, including 30kg of supplement from sunflower and cotton seeds, which are bought locally. Feeds, Mathenge says, should be dry to prevent the stock from contracting diseases like diarrhea.
“Feeds should be of high nutritional value and balanced for healthy cows. I ensure there is enough in the stores and also on the farm for continuous feeding,” he says.
Mathenge breeds his dairies using artificial insemination (AI) services provided by a registered dealer at a cost of between Sh1,000 and Sh1,500.
However, some practitioners take advantage of ignorant farmers to sell sub-standard semen resulting in poor breeds.
“AI services should be from an authorised dealer, to enable a farmer to get desired breed of good quality that translates to quality and quantity milk production,” he says.
Other practices that boost production of the stock at the stock include regular vaccination to prevent diseases like mastitis, pneumonia and aplasmosis, more so during rainy seasons.
Diseases like east coast fever are managed through regular dipping, with deworming carried out every four months. The farmer adds that farm cleanliness and proper drainage are critical to avoid contaminating milk and to keep livestock healthy.
“Housing units should always be clean to keep out flies, pests and diseases. Milk should not be contaminated before reaching the market,” he says.
At the farm, the dairy paddocks have drainage that drain urine and water, which are directed to a vegetable garden adjacent to them.
Mathenge further notes that record keeping is key, for instance on the type of feeds given to the cows, litres of milk produced, dates of vaccination and amount received for the sale of milk.
“Records help in decision making. A farmer is in a position to determine which type of feeds are fit for quality production and where to improve in case of losses,” said the farmer.
However, feeds and feeds production cost are high, especially after increased taxation on farm inputs and a 16 per cent increase on pesticide prices introduced through amendments to tax legislation in July 2018.
“Though I lease parcels of land to produce feeds, it is very expensive because I am expected to purchase chemicals to prevent them from being affected by pests and diseases,” Mathenge says.
Fluctuation in the prices of milk is another challenge facing dairy production, an issue the farmer says the government should address. Failure to regulate prices of milk has attracted brokers, who buy it at low prices.
There is also need for a stable market to curb perishability and the attendant losses.
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