At exactly 2.00am – every day – 35 years old Eliud Wandera wakes up to run his milk production business. Together with a farm-hand, he milks five of his seven Fresian dairy cows and delivers the 110 liters of milk to nearby cooperative. He will milk again at noon, before calling it a day.
This is his main source of livelihood. However, this has not always been the case as ten years ago, the father of two had one cow that provided milk for household use only – 5 liters. He practiced crop farming on growing maize and vegetables for sale. “The returns were minimal.” But on learning the potential in dairy, Eliud joined a nearby cooperative, where he accessed extension services and increased his stock to four improved breed cows in 2010. The cows milk production has increased to 16 liters each cow on any given day. He attributes this to improved feeding.
The enterprising farmer with only a primary school certificate now earns about Sh80,000 ($900) every month from his engagement in milk production. A lucrative amount from farming by local standards.
He is one of the 2275 members of the Mweiga Cooperative Society in Kieni west district in Kenya’s Central province through which they supply their milk to the market. Mweiga Cooperative Society is one of EADD’s partners, and part of Kieni Dairy Products Limited. The members of the cooperative have been trained on feeding and feed preservation and also on breeding by the East Africa Dairy Development project extension officials.
Eliud cites understanding of feeding and its relation to increased milk production and eventually income as the main challenge many small holder farmers face. However, he says the training he received from EADD on fodder preservation and feeding technology was an “aha” moment on how to increase his cows milk production, reduce his costs while increasing his income. It enabled him to cut down his costs by preserving 400 bales of hay and planting fodder, which come in handy during the dry season. He now supplies about 110 litres of milk to the cooperative society daily, and sells some to a neighboring school, besides selling bales of hay once in a while.
“I only buy dairy meal for each cow per month, which I mix with the hay, calliandra and lucern using specified measurements. I have never been in formal employment, but I am comfortable with my engagement in the milk production venture,” Eliud said.
He hopes to improve his cows production from 16 litres to an average of 20 litres, by intensifying and applying stricter feeding. Producers concur with Eliud’s plans saying each Fresian cow should ideally produce an average of 40 litres of milk every day. But, “the farmers do not keenly follow a strict feeding and proper nutritional requirement for their animals at times claiming that the feeds are also very expensive,” says the Mweiga Cooperative Manager Mr. Wanjau. He cites this as a main challenge in expansion plans of the cooperatives whose profits are derived from the volumes of milk collected. “The more the milk, the larger the profit margins,” he explains.
This is the gap EADD fills through support of extension services and intensive training on feed technologies, that enables farmers to learn how to cut costs on feeding by practicing on-farm feed production, this consequently increases their cows milk production.
Eliud contrasts his life today and five years ago. Today, he is busier, but works less hard and makes more than three times the money he made then. His children attend private school, “The sky is the limit for them. I will give them the opportunities I never had.” he recently bought an additional piece of land where he shall put up commercial buildings, and he hopes to increase his herd.
Written by:Ann Mbiruru