Siblings’ Sh8m dairy farm run like mini corporate in Kimbimbi, Kirinyaga County
The clock ticks 3.45am. Immediately, a flurry of activities kicks off as two farm hands clutching stainless steel pails and milking tins make their way to the cowsheds.
As milk dribbles to the pails, two other workers collect cow’s droppings to wheelbarrows as they embark on washing the sheds and cows’ mattresses.
The workers are busy loading the day’s milk, totalling 370 litres to a vehicle for delivery at the Kirima Slopes Dairy Cooperative, a subsidiary of Brookeside Dairies.
The herd of 35 cattle — both cows and calves — is munching the nutritious feed placed on the troughs comprising hay, maize silage, fresh matter and dairy meals.
Some troughs have fresh and clean water for the cows. Welcome to Ziara Dairy Farm in Kimbimbi, Kirinyaga County. The farm is owned by four brothers and their sister, who have exemplified benefits of a joint venture in an area where land is fast dwindling.
The siblings, aged 32 to 40 years are professionals in various fields but have united in their passion and determination to run a successful dairy enterprise. The team ventured into serious dairyfarming in 2015.
Plough back profits
The four young farmers are Simon Gichuki, Joe Njogu, Mathew Njagi, John Mugo and Lydia Wambura.
Njogu who is the brains behind the farm is tasked with strategic management, Gichuki is the general manager while Njagi is the surpevisor. Mugo is charged with production while Lydia deals with public relations.
“Initially we grew fast maturing crops such as tomatoes, French beans and watermelons. We thought of a long-term, structured farming and settled on dairy farming,” says Njogu.
Their parents allowed them to consolidate the family’s land and put all of it under yellow maize for fodder. The farm contrasts sharply with neighbouring ones which are abandoned.
pedigree in-calf heifers from Githunguri at a cost of Sh150,000 each, which they added to the three heifers they had bought as four months old calves from their neighbours earlier.
Eight months later, they bought eight more in-calf heifers bringing their herd to 15 mature cows and a few calves. The initial capital was Sh3 million which is savings from their employment and a loan. They started it as a company where each sibling had 10 per cent of shareholding. The extra 50 per cent shares would be acquired in future in form of a share at Sh100,000 on first come first served basis.
A year down the line, they injected an extra Sh2 million to expand the project. Within 18 months, they had broken even, but they decided to plough back Sh3 million to the enterprise for expansion.
Almost three years after starting the venture, Ziara Farm is today a model dairy enterprise incorporating international best practice.
The cowsheds and overall farm houses are built in modern ways that shields cows from winds, provides ample space for cows to move about, have good drainage.
The siblings have sunk three deep silage bunkers with a capacity of 100 tonnes of silage and an extra two silage pits.
Njogu says they feed the cows a balanced feed comprising of energy giving feeds, proteins, vitamins roughage and concentrates
They plant yellow maize on five acres thrice annually to maximise yields. Njogu explains yellow maize is richer in starch and more sugary than white.
Notably, they double plant the maize, meaning they reduce spacing by half to accommodate twice the number of maize crops from an acre if recommended spacing is employed.
Njogu says by double planting, the maize harvested from a single acre produces 20 tonnes silage, totalling 100 tonnes of silage every season.
“We grow yellow maize which matures in about 75-90 days, thrice in a year. We do not rely only on rain water as we pump water from River Nyamindi, which borders the farm. We also buy maize stocks from other farmers,” says Njogu.
They ensilage the maize when it is at the milking stage, where they harvest it, chop it using a chuff cutter and spread it on the bunkers while compacting every layer to remove out air, which can lead to rotting.
“We add some molasses which aids in fermenting. We make silage enough to last six months,” he says.
The silage, which is ready in 21 days after ensiling, provides 70 per cent of the feed given to cows.
They buy Kikuyu grass, as roughage for the cows. It constitutes 10 per cent of the feed. Concentrates and supplements is through dairy meal which makes five percent of the feed. They also provide fresh matter in form of peas, brocholi, baby corn and French beans which supply proteins and energy and make up 15 percent of the total feed.
They obtain these products as wastes from a large scale farm in Mwea that produces them for export. The feed is placed on troughs starting with kikuyu grass at the bottom, followed by green fresh matter, then silage and dairy meal and mineral salts at the top.
“This way, the cow starts with the most palatable feed and mixes the rest as it tries to reach for the fresh matter. Later as they chew cud they also munch on the grass remaining in the trough,” he says.
The siblings are always experimenting on innovative ways to reduce costs.
Two months ago, they started manufacturing their own dairy meal which saves them costs.
“We incur Sh25 to produce dairy meal of better quality than the one we bought at Sh35 from stockists. With monthly consumption of 3,000kgs, we are saving Sh30,000 monthly,” reveals Njogu.
They feed the dairy meal only to the 20 lactating cows and the inexpensive rice polish to the calves.
They house the animals in different sheds according to their ages. A vet is on standby in case of complications. Willie Keya, a consultant in dairy farming and an expert in feeding and nutrition, says the feed given to a cow should be dependent on its body weight, specifically the feed should be 3-4 per cent of the total body weight.
He advises farmers to go for the locally available feed that provides the required nutrients.
“You should consider what is locally available provided it will supply the needed fibre, energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to your cows,” he advises.
Njogu says they clean the sheds and mattresses thrice a day to keep mastitis at bay. They direct droppings to a biogas digester which produces gas for cooking.
The effluent and the waste water used to wash the cowsheds is directed to the farm to enrich soils.