Rift farmer creates empire with low cost cattle feed

Laban Talam is not your ordinary farmer. With a herd of cattle producing tens of litres of milk and large swathes of lushy green fields, he has become an icon in his village and even internationally for producing more with little, a venture that has won the eyes of Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world who have visited his farm.

Laban Talam has been an ordinary farmer. Having started off on modest grounds with only one cattle whose milk production could only sustain home consumption Laban’s story read like that of thousands of dairy farmers in the country. Poor milk production, cattle diseases and prohibitive prices of commercial feeds.  

Talam relied on napier grass as the feed for his cow which he complemented with high protein commercial dairy meal like maize and wheat bran, cotton seed cake, soybean meal and fish meal to bolster milk production. However that would be short lived as the volatile commercial feeds hit their unprecedented levels in 2008 reaching Sh2600 for a 90kg bag up from Sh1500 an year earlier. “And I could only feed my one cow for a week with this. I knew I was finished I couldn’t manage to cough over Sh10,000 a month on just one cow when I had other competing needs for the family. I was prepared to sell it,” recalls Talam.

His light bulb moment however came when a friend introduced him to unique fodder shrubs known to increase milk production.  With nothing to loose he bought the first packet and planted the shrubs which after three months were ready for harvesting. The shrubs have become testament to how alternative feeds can turn around the dwindling fortunes of small-scale dairy farmers, boxed in by the effects of climate change and spiralling input costs.

“It only took me 2 months before my fortunes turned. I was getting 3 litres of milk previously but the shrubs now increased the milk production up to 9 litres. I could now even manage to get milk for subsistence and more to sell. I have never looked back,” says Talam.
Talam who now owns 10 cows gets over 80 litres of milk a day which he supplies to Kabiyet Dairies Company Limited. The dairy company has been established to cater for the ballooning supply of milk from the area thanks to the milk shrubs. With assistance from his petite wife Miriam and his 10 year old son, Talam also supplies milk to local schools, health centres and yoghurt shops. While delivery to the Diary Company fetches him Sh30 per litre, health centres and schools buy at Sh32 a litre “and this was the sole reason why I never wanted to supply all the milk to the diary company. I have learnt and perfected the art of spreading risks,” Talam said.

Talam is now among the major shareholders a the Kabiyet Dairy company which has introduced a share scheme where farmers supplying the milk to the chilling plant buy shares in the company which allow them to access credit facilities and get free veterinary services. A share in the dairy company costs Sh100 and Laban owns 3,000 shares only second to Derrick Rono, the farmer with the highest number of shares at 5,000. “And my aim is to be the biggest shareholder because I have seen the potential of the share scheme. I have started various projects in my area like construction and expanding the acreage under farming due to easier access to credit facilities from the dairy company,” he says.

Laban has also managed to create a biogas facility that generates gas for cooking. Installed two years ago at a tune of Sh50, 000, the facility is enough to sustain the family all year round with cooking gas and light in an area that is not connected to the national grid. The modest model has seen fellow farmers flock his farm to catch a glimpse of the project and learn of its benefit.

But what has catapulted Talam to national and international stardom is the use of his farm as a demonstration farm for farmers on better livestock management. Farmers from the expansive Nandi County meet in Talam’s farm for learning lessons. With the help of officials from the East African Dairy Development EADD a company that has chaperoned the use of fodder shrubs to increase milk production in Rift valley, farmers are taken through the theoretical aspect of livestock keeping before going full throttle with the practicals.

Talam has been appointed as one of the extension officers who educate fellow farmers. Says he, “We introduce them to the concept of fodder shrub farming, show them how to plant them and when to plant them, how to feed them to their livestock and eventually how livestock respond to being fed by fodder shrubs. We also teach them how to preserve fodder in case they over harvest for up to six months through under ground preservation.” Talam has been appointed by EADD and the ministry of Agriculture to offer extension services to fellow farmers. He has undergone a rigorous three months training services which allow him to also offer veterinary and artificial insemination services. His farm receives on average 150 farmers in a week.

It is this success in dairy farming that once saw US billionare Bill Gates visit his farm as part of Bill and Melinda Gates foundation where Gates was visiting successful dairy farmers. Talam has since addressed scholars, agricultural experts and other professionals on the success of his dairy farming venture. “And my hope one day is to open my own chilling plant and become one of the biggest supplies of milk to cooperative creameries in the country. The past has been promising and the future looks equally bright,its no longer a matter of if but when,” concludes Talam.