Dairy farmers increase yields 5x conserving fodder

Dairy farmers in six regions of the country are counting an increase of milk yield by up to five fold during dry days and a concomitant swell in income, thanks to a training programme that shows them how to manage fodder and improve on livestock management.

Dubbed Smallholder Dairy Commercialization Programme the project is helping rebuild profitable small dairy enterprises that can be sustained throughout the year eventually supporting the full revival of the milk and dairy subsector in the programme area. The programme operates in six districts of the Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza Provinces of western and southern Kenya.

Josephat Tabuka belongs to a dairy farmers’ group in Bungoma district in Western Province. He and his wife have been small-scale dairy farmers since 1986 and have six children. The couple through the training has seen a leap in their milk productivity and incomes. In the dry season milk production used to fall to less than 2 litres a day per cow. Now yields have risen to about 15 litres a day and are sustained through the drought period. Milk quality has also improved and Tabuka can command prices as high as Sh30 per litre during the dry season when milk is scarce.

“We are using the extra income to pay for school fees and to invest back into farm improvements,” says Tabuka. “It’s clear to me now that milk can be more lucrative than maize, and I want to focus uniquely on dairy.”

Petronella Karani and her husband live near Ndalu in Bungoma, and head a household of 27, including their four children and other dependents such as eight orphaned nephews and nieces. She gave up nursing because her salary could not support such a large family.

She began farming sheep on her 5-acre plot, then switched to dairy, but struggled to make an adequate income with local breeds of cattle. The training she has received from the programme has ignited her keen entrepreneurial spirit and allowed her to begin building a profitable dairy enterprise. She now has three cows, and sells on the male calves. She is one of the few farmers in her locality selling milk through the dry season when she can make Sh30 a litre for milk and Sh45 for fermented milk. The increased income means she can support her large household comfortably, and the family has recently hired a farm labourer.

Solomon Wamoja, aged 65, also lives in Ndalu, and became a dairy farmer after retiring. He now owns three cows and two calves, and milk yields have become so good that he employs three labourers. All he needs is a loan to carry on investing in better stock and build a business that he hopes will bring his son back from working in the city to farming.

“The key to the success of this programme,” says Moses Kembe, Programme Manager, “lies in coordinating efforts to generate change. Knowledge is fundamental, but so are linkages, grouping together and good management. Above all we want to help farmers think commercially and understand their potential to participate in their own development.”

The programme begins by expanding and strengthening farmers’ organizations. Groups are encouraged to assess their needs and identify viable goals according to the first step of the programme: building dairy enterprises and raising milk yields. The training helps them achieve those goals. Farmers learn about the importance of feed, breed and zero-grazing, as well as animal health and disease awareness, business training and marketing.

Wamoja has used part of his land to create demonstration pastures for animal feed. The first crop has now been harvested and stored, and he has invested in a chaff-cutter to mill crop residues for feed so that nothing goes to waste. He is building a zero-grazing unit to shelter the animals. Exposure to heat can affect the quality of the milk.

“I’ve set aside over a quarter of an acre to grow boma rhodes grass for fodder, he says. “Even though the seed is expensive it has paid back in terms of milk yields. Three others from my group have already adopted the method used in the demonstration plot. It takes time for others to adapt. When they come here they see clearly the progress that has been made, and admire what has been achieved.”

Tabuka has also learned from the programme the importance of producing and conserving feed for the dry season to ensure that milk production is maintained at a steady rate throughout the year. One of his greatest problems is providing good quality feed to his cows during the dry season. This is why he has dug a silage pit to store and preserve animal feed. He chops crop residues with a home-made guillotine, which he then mixes with molasses in the pit to catalyse the fermentation process. He is still learning how to achieve a balanced ration for his animals and is intent on cultivating crops whose residue makes good, nutritious feed for his cows.

Wamoja is slowly upgrading his animals. He recognizes that good quality animals are the key to increased milk production, and expects to have them in about one or two years’ time. Tabuka and his group are beginning to register their animals. “I plan to focus on one breed – the Asha breed,” he says. “Dairy farming is not just about milk. If animals are being sold on, a registered animal of good breed can fetch a high price.”

As farmers’ groups progress towards more commercial milk production the importance of building a culture of record-keeping becomes clear. They learn how to monitor milk production on a weekly and monthly basis, in order to keep track of increments in yields and prices. Keeping records helps identify problems that arise, and helps farmers understand how they are progressing towards their goals as they see the impact of the changes they have adopted.