Embracing commercial dairy farming to bridge supply gap

Margaret Ahona from Emanda village in Vihiga Subcounty tending to her dairy cow. [Brian Kisanji, Standard]

Margaret Ahona is one of the leading dairy farmers from Emanda village in Vihiga Sub-county.

She has eight dairy cows producing an average total of 100 litres daily, but during high peak season, they produce up to 150 litres a day. At Sh50 a litre, Ms Ahona makes close to Sh5,000 daily. 

She supplies some of the milk within her neighbourhood, but a bulk of it goes to the Vihiga Dairy Cooperative Society.

Her efforts have caught the eye of the cooperative, which uses her farm as a model farm to teach other farmers in the area of good dairy practices. 

The dairy processor is a major producer of pasteurised milk, cream and yoghurt.

Ms Ahona has been at it for six years now. She hopes to increase her dairy herd to 100 cows in the next five years, noting the returns so far have been encouraging. 

“If we continue with breading at the farm with each cow getting higher and superior pedigree semen through Artificial Insemination, we can get more animals and also increase milk production,” said Ms Ahona. 

Demand for milk within Vihiga County has been on the rise in recent years, which local farmers are not able to satisfy. 

Her biggest challenge is the high cost of animal feeds, which eats into her profits.

“A bag of 90kg bag of dairy meal goes for about Sh3,600. Our biggest challenge as farmers is the price of feeds, and we hope as the government subsidises other farm inputs, it would also consider dairy feeds,” said Ms Ahona. 

Peter Otiato, another farmer from Luanda Sub-county, has 15 pedigree cows. Of the 15, six are currently lactating, producing an average of 80 litres daily. Like Ms Ahona, he sells his milk to the Vihiga Dairy Cooperative Society. 

Farmers and Exhibitors showcase their product to dignitaries led by Vihiga Governor Wilber Ottichilo during the inaugural Vihiga agricultural exhibition and conference held at Hamisi Stadium on April 30, 2024. [Brian Kisanji, Standard]

The two are among the over 800 dairy farmers being supported by the Vihiga County Government to enhance milk production to meet rising demand in the county.

Through the cooperative, they can reap more for their milk due to value addition. 

Dairy experts advise that before venturing into dairy farming one should carry out conclusive market research.

This begins with getting the right breed of cows and feed, the latter of which must be stored properly.  

Azwere Isigi, who chairs Vihiga County Dairy Farmers Cooperative, says failure to do this will be reflected in poor output, hence low profits. 

“In this case, every new farmer should ensure that feed supply won’t be disrupted when the animals are brought to the farm. You also need to maintain good hygiene for the animals,” said Mr Isigi.

The dairy value chain project, he says, helps achieve maximum profit for farmers. Mr Isigi advises farmers to join dairy cooperative societies to benefit from value addition, thus increasing earnings as opposed to selling raw milk.

“The products from milk will always fetch higher market prices, thus benefitting farmers more,” he said. 

During the recent Agriculture Exhibition and Conference, Vihiga Governor Wilber Ottichilo said with proper training on modern dairy farming, farmers can earn more from the sector.

"We have to embrace smart farming, and through it we can increase production," said Mr Ottichilo.

Initially, the county government supplied 2,000 farmers with grade cows as part of the programme to increase the region's milk output. 

Farmers and Exhibitors showcase their product to dignitaries led by Vihiga Governor Wilber Ottichilo. [Brian Kisanji, Standard]

Governor Ottichilo said the programme aims to help dairy farmers produce enough milk to bridge the supply gap, with most of the milk consumed in the county being sourced from neighbouring counties.

The County Executive Committee Member (CECM) in charge of Agriculture Nicholas Kitungulu said the county government is also looking to boost indigenous chicken and fish farming. 

“The same effort done in dairy has been extended to poultry farming and fish farming," said Mr Kitungulu. 

He said the county's demand for milk stands at 65 million litres annually against the annual milk production of 35 million litres. 

This means the county has to source the difference from the neighbouring counties of Nandi and Uasin Gishu.

"The county has been distributing dairy cows since 2019 to farmers’ groups in a programme aimed at upgrading their stocks and increasing milk production to meet the demand for dairy products. The aim was to increase milk production from 35million litres to 90 million litres annually," said Mr Kitungulu

"By 2027, we want to be able to produce enough milk to meet the demand."

He said the county plans to put up a milk processing factory, which will produce a wide range of products, including fresh milk, fermented milk, and UHT milk.

The county government is also carrying out a similar programme to boost dairy goat farming among smallholder farmers.

One of the beneficiaries is Macloud Akhaya from Gamoi in Hamisi Sub-county. 

He has been breeding dairy goats for the last five years. He started with just two goats, and today has 20 goats, out of which 10 are currently lactating, producing 12 litres of milk. They earn him Sh600 daily.

Mr Akhaya says dairy goat farming is cost-efficient in comparison to traditional cattle farming.

"The animals are versatile grazers, thus saving you a lot on feeds," he said. 

On his farm, he rears breeds such as Kenya Alpine, Anglo-Nubian, Toggenburg and Saanen.

Akhaya, 34, and father of four, urges other farmers to embrace dairy goat farming to enhance their income.

At the local market, a litre of goat milk goes for Sh50 compared to the cow milk that sells at Sh25.

Nutrition experts say goat milk is more nutritious compared to cow milk and can boost immunity, especially in children and the elderly.

"Goat milk has a high protein value, making it suitable for a child’s growth and an immune booster for the elderly," said Mr Akhaya. 

A mature goat goes for over Sh28,000, while a kid goes for up to Sh16,000. 

"The county government distributed dairy goats to at least 80 farmer groups in the 2020/21 financial years, and we are happy to report that over 600 farmers are now engaged in dairy farming," said Dr Betty Mulianga, a chief officer in the county agriculture department.

“Maintenance of dairy goats is low, and the rewards are high. The dairy goats feed on shrubs and produce milk that is of high nutritive value compared to cows. They can also be reared on a small parcel of land and in a year, the females give birth twice to four kids.”

Dr Mulianga said there are also 6,800 farmers in the poultry value chain.

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