DESERT FRESIANS

Mandera dairy farm reveals wealth in dry county

County is using the 27-acre farm to train residents in dairy farming

In Summary

• Farm was started with 12 Friesian cows in 2015; now it has 32.

• At least 200 residents have trained on zero-grazing and ready to start their ventures.

Mandera Senator Mohamud Mohamed in Bulla Haji dairy farm
ZERO GRAZING: Mandera Senator Mohamud Mohamed in Bulla Haji dairy farm
Image: STEPHEN ASTARIKO

Bulla Haji Dairy Farm on the outskirts of Mandera town is a marvel in the dry region dominated by pastoralism.

On this farm, one encounters beautiful and healthy Friesian cows, an indication that they too can thrive in the arid region that is home to Zebus and galla goats.

The county is using the 27-acre farm to train residents in dairy farming.

Muhidin Ali Haji, the farm supervisor, told the Star they target farmers living along rivers in Mandera since they can grow cattle feed in large quantities.

The farm was started with 12 Friesian heifers sourced from Naivasha in 2015. The number has since increased to 32 following successful breeding using artificial insemination.

“Only one cow died due to the change in climatic conditions but the rest have adapted well and some have calved,” Haji said.

Friesians are heavy feeders and susceptible to various diseases therefore they need quality management to keep them productive.

“This is a fact that we knew and we were prepared to handle; the reason why we have grown our own pasture over the years,” the supervisor said. Pneumonia and mastitis are some of the diseases the farm has had to contend with.

Ticks are another challenge, thanks to the pastoralism. Regular spraying is a must on the farm to curb them.

“Our highest milkers offer us up to 50 litres a day, milk which the county government buys to sustain the project,” says Haji.

The farm grows Sudan and Napier grasses and they use the former to make hay, ensuring they have feed all the time.

“This farm is trying to change the perception that zero-grazing is impossible in Mandera and the locals have shown much interest in it already,” said Johora Mohamed, the Agriculture and Livestock executive.

At least 200 residents trained in zero-grazing at the farm are awaiting public auctioning of the animals to start their ventures.

“We have a procurement committee currently evaluating the value of the cows on the farm before deciding on the price for auctioning. The exercise is expected to end this month and the interested farmers will get their cows by end month,” says Johara.

Under zero-grazing, a farmer should ensure that the cowsheds are clean all the time, meaning that the cow dung should be removed every day.

The farmer should have a reliable source of water because the animals need to drink a lot as they feed on dry pasture.

“Once a cow is served, we feed it mainly on dairy meal and silage, which we later withdraw and replace with the dry matter that includes hay,” Haji said.

“This is a very exciting venture that I am ready and willing to sell all my indigenous livestock to start zero-grazing,” Ahmed Abdulllahi, a farmer, said.

Shamsi Mohamud, the county chief officer for Livestock and Fisheries, said livestock is the main source of food and income in the county, providing 95 per cent of household income. Most of the animals are reared for meat.

“We believe this is the time to train our community new livestock farming techniques for more profits,” she said.

“We know it may take time but it is possible to transform residents from nomadic pastoral culture to zero-grazing.”

Mohamud said it was encouraging that despite the high temperatures of up to 35 degrees Celsius, the Friesians are doing well in the region.

Fresians are best kept on large-scale farms with better resources but they are not the best producers when kept by small-scale farmers with limited feed resources.

They are outstanding milk producers and if bred under good management they can be milked up to three times a day.

However, their milk has the lowest butterfat content of 2.5 to 3.6 per cent and about 3.1 per cent protein.