Smallscale farmers investing in milking technology are reporting sharply increased output, and cost savings that can sometimes pay for the machine in as little as a week at a time when the demand for milk is soaring upwards country-wide.
Demand for milk has shot up recently with New Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC), milk processing companies and milk vendors now competing for supplies of the commodity both for processing and for on-selling. But farmers are reporting that adding milking machinery is now cutting their labour costs, ensuring top level hygiene and increasing yields
Milking machines can start as small as equipment to milk 10 cows, and rise from there to set-ups that milk as many as 50 and include cooling tanks as the milk awaiting pick up.
Mr Wislon Kirwa, smallscale Eldoret-based farmer is one of the producers now claiming the benefit of the machinery, which additionally reduces the risk of damage to tits and the chances of mastitis, which can be a constant limit on yields. “The machine milks 1.5 to 2 litres a minute. It helps to maintain hygiene to the highest standards,” he said, adding that all the milk from the udder is also removed.
“The machine is also easily adjustable and gives a suckling feeling to the cow; it avoids pain in the udder and milk leakage.”
Kirwa has been able to reduce the number of workers to do the milking from 40 to just two who now handle the machines. This has greatly reduced his overhead costs. “Anyone serious on getting goods returns should invest in a milking machine. It is not only cost-effective but labour-friendly too.”
The simple milking machines work by opening the line canal through use of a partial vacuum, which allows milk to flow out of the teat cistern through a line to a receiving container. The method also massages the teat, which prevents congestion of blood and lymph in the teat.
“Their use helps to increase production through ease of milking, better hygiene of the milk, higher stimulation of the animals and general wellbeing of the animal and the dairy farmer,” said Mr. Douglas Keeru of Desley Holdings, a company involved in the sale of milking machines and other farming outputs.
With the machines, milking a large number of grade cows that are high yielding, even three times a day, becomes easily manageable. Hygiene standards are also ensured, and milk yields increase.
Mr. Keeru points out that hand milking causes fatigue to the milking hand, which often sees milkers forced to take a break by releasing the cow and introducing a fresh one, leading to under-milking.
“This action of incomplete milking is the first step in cows developing mastitis. Other problems associated with it include milk contamination through wet or cracked hands and dust particles and animal hairs falling into the milk through the open pails,” he said.
However, there are limitations to the technology. Some of the older cows not used to milking machines find it difficult to adapt to the new equipment, and a standby power supply is also essential. Farmers without power backups, can be left stranded at times of power blackouts.
Another potential barrier to entry for small-scale farmers are the high initial investments and training of staff.
However, anyone can use the technology, irrespective of scale, “because affordability is relative to desire,” with the smallest, one bucket machine suitable for one to 10 cows costing Sh3000 and more sophisticated machines costing up to Sh5000, said Mr Keeru.
“But anyone serious about the sale of milk to processors and the health of his cattle should never be bogged down by this cost. I started with the simple bucket machine, and I had recovered the cost within one week. It's that convenient,” said Zablon Cheruiyot, who now owns a parlour milking machine that he uses to milk his 20 cows.
The milking machines come in different types, like mobile or chariots, fixed bucket machines, fixed direct online machines and fixed parlour models, like auto tandem, herring borne and the likes.
There are simple milking machines mounted on trolleys with a bucket base to hold a maximum of two buckets. They are used for milking a herd of eight to 10 cows per hour with one bucket, and 16-20 cows per hour with two buckets.
Larger machines are fixed on one floor position, but the milking positions can be set up in a pipeline and the machine comes with accessories that include an adaptor de Laval, pulsator, milk tubes, air and vacuum tubes, pulse tubes, set of liners, shells, claws, vacuum taps, vacuum meter and plastic vacuum regulators.
More sophisticated machines still have a continuous line through which milk is transported to a common receiver instead of the individual milking bucket. They are suitable for a heavy work loads in a large dairy farm where production is high, and can be connected from three to 16 points. They remove the need for human labour during the milking process and require assistance only to receive, prepare and exit the cows.
They consist of vacuum pumps, vacuum regulators, comicock milking unit, terminal unit, cooling tanks, washing programmer and a washing system.
Milk vendors who supply milk to large milk processors say they have a budget to collect over 5,000 litres of milk per day, but can often only manage to collect 2,000 litres a day at the moment. “The interesting thing we have noticed is that the farmers with machinery will always bring us the cleanest milk and are very consistent in their milk supply. We have been working with micro finance institutions to fund the farmers at least to buy some of the simple milking machines,” said Dan Kotto a wholesale milk vendor.
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