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MILKING A FORTUNE

Dairy farmer grows his herd from two to 40 in seven years

The secret to his success lies in proper nutrition and artificial insemination

In Summary

• In 2013, Chabari started with two Friesian cows after using his retirement package

• Today, he has 40 dairy cows after artificial insemination, sells his calves at Sh150,000


Francis Chabari at his farm in Imenti South, Meru
Francis Chabari at his farm in Imenti South, Meru
Image: Dennis Dibondo

A dairy farmer from Meru county is a man to emulate in his village after growing his herd 20-fold in seven years.

Francis Chabari, 62, worked in several countries and after retiring, took up dairy farming at his home in Kanyakine, Imenti South constituency.

He worked with International Livestock Research Institute and German Development Cooperation for many years, but he was not able to make the kind of money he is now earning as a dairy farmer.

 
 

Chabari says he did not did not find it hard to start as had the idea from the beginning and started saving for it even before he retired.

 

In 2013, Chabari says he started with two Friesian cows after using his retirement package to prepare his farm for dairy farming and purchasing the two cows. Although he does other farming activities in his farm, ninety per cent of his work is centred on dairy farming.

Before firing up the venture, Chabari visited various dairy farmers to know how he should start. He also visited several millers to get tips on animal feeds.

He had a bit of knowledge as his father was also a dairy farmer but wanted to go the extra mile. 

“I wanted to venture into dairy enterprise in a commercial way. I wanted to be different from other dairy farmers,” he said.

The farmer built using the recommended design, noting that for a dairy cow to give you good results, it must be living in a comfortable environment where it can exist without stress.

 
 

NUTRITION FOR COWS

Chabari says in dairy farming, a cow needs enough proteins. The farmer says feeding a dairy cow with the required balanced diet so it gives you results is not a walk in the park.

You can buy expensive feeds and fail to get the required milk because the feeds do not have a balanced diet, he said.

 

“I had to ask for help, to consult a nutritionist. I needed someone with experience in the field and has ethics,” he said.

He finally settled on Chaguo Feeds CEO Martin Kinoti, who also doubles up as the secretary general of Association of Kenya Feeds Manufacturers.

Chabari says he had the urge to grow fast within a short time. He bought two Friesian cows and they were excellent and he wanted similar offspring.

He said he has been able to multiply his dairy cows using sexed semen, a process that involves artificial insemination in cows.

“This gives the farmer 95 per cent assurance that the calf would be born will be a dairy cow and not a bull that is only for meat,” he said.

Chabari says the ordeal is expensive but will enable the farmer to multiply his dairy venture at a high rate.

He has been able to multiply his cows from two to now about 40 dairy cows in seven years only.

“In that time, my cows have produced two heifers. That means the process is very effective,” he said.

He says his dairy cows have been selling like hot cakes. He gets orders countrywide from as far as Kitale, Makueni and Machakos.

“Due to the good quality of the dairy cows, many farmers even order for calves from his farm, even if they are not yet born,” he said.

Chabari tags his cows and gives them names, such as Kairu and Mutune. He keeps their records even after he has gotten rid of them.

Why? The records are important since it will be easier to trace them in case their offsprings have medical issues, he says.

“My cows, due to good records and good feeding and sexed semen, they are able to give birth at the right time, produce the required milk and also give birth to good calves, and the highest probability is they will give birth to a cow,” he said.

He sells calves at Sh150,000. The high pricing, he said, is because the calves he sells are already inseminated and he can assure the owner that after only three months, it will give birth to a calf and produce milk of about 30 litres a day.

He says he does not sell all his cows but remains with some of them to sustain his dairy venture, when some of the lineage gets old and needs replacement.

HIGH MILK PRODUCTION

He says on average, he is able to produce about 200 litres.

Chabari says when cows are about to give birth, their milk production goes down.

“In my farm, I have a cow that produces 48 to 50 litres, while the lowest produces 16 to 20 litres,” he says.

He uses milking machines, which is quicker and prevents tit diseases, such as mastitis. One machine can milk two cows within a short time.

“The machine creates a vacuum when it finishes milking, and it stops automatically,” he says.

When a calf is born, it ought to be given five litres of milk within the first one hour, Chabari says.

He advises that farmers should give newborn calves eight litres minimum in a day.

“Four litres should be given in the morning and four more  in the evening,” he said.

After one week, the calf should be given pellets so its stomach develops well to be able to eat grass.

The farmer says it’s important to keep the calf clean always so it grows without pests and always drinks clean water.

Chabari says if the cow is fed well, after about 14 months, it should be ready for mating, if it is 330-350kg, which is about 60 per cent of a mature good dairy cow.

“If it is inseminated, it will give birth when it is about two years. That is how I have been able to grow my dairy cow within a short time,” he said.

Chabari said a pregnant cow also needs a lot of protein.

NUTRITION TIPS

His nutritition adviser Kinoti has about 22 years' experience in animal feeds. He started working with Unga Feeds for about 13 years, where he was in charge of nutrition, but quit and started his own brand, known as Chaguo Feeds.

“If you take Soya, Maize, Bran, Poland put in a sack, they do not qualify as animal feeds until they have supplements, such as vitamins,” Kinoti said.

“We started manufacturing concentrates after we asked ourselves, for instance, if you take half a kilo of substance and mix with a tonne of another, will that half a kilo be effective even if it is mixed?” 

He said this is what has led to advancement in animal feeds production, and now companies such as theirs have started manufacturing concentrates.

Kinoti said it is challenging for animal feeds to get other raw materials as only a few are is available in Kenya and they have to import Soya, sunflower cake, cotton seed cake.

“This is what makes good animal feed quite expensive,” Kinoti says.

He said there are different feeds, depending on how cows produce milk.

“We have dairy meal premium for a cow producing below 30 litres of milk, and premium-plus for cows producing below 30 litres,” he said.

He says giving only grass to dairy cows is not enough nowadays and one must buy animal feeds, such as silages, napier grass and desmodium.

Kinoti says for a calf, one must have calf starter pellets that have protein of about 19 per cent.

Once it reaches three months, one must have young stalk meal that has 17 per cent protein.