How one farmer has made his urban enterprise a huge success
As we drive on the dirt road off Kiminini shopping centre, in Trans Nzoia County, nothing prepares us for the urban farm and the animals we are about to see. We branch off through a small maize plantation and onto a narrower road passing by a mud-walled building before reaching an imposing gate.
Nothing spectacular greets you as you enter the farm. However, as you walk further in, you start to understand what it is all about. It is a clean dairy farm with spectacular animals. This is Mr John Mburu’s farm.
“Mr Mburu’s cows are really beautiful. Looking at them brings you peace. They are therapeutic,” says a visitor, Mr Paul Moiben. He has brought his wife to see the cows and to also get some training.
“Mburu is such an inspiration. If we could get 10 more people like him, dairy farming would not be the same in this country,” says the farmer-cum-transporter.
Located on one acre, Sprout Dairies Farm is one of a kind in this area and the country. There is hardly any odour or flies in this enclosure that houses 80 dairy cows, including calves and heifers; a home, training hall, and stores.
The small dairy farm has a loose housing system with fine, dry sawdust mixed with cow manure. This is surprising because I have always thought that manure must be cleared out of the sleeping sheds. But the cows appear comfortable, clean and robust.
The sawdust serves as a powerful sink for the nitrogen, a big source of odour.
This bedding system, I get to learn, is one of the latest and is beginning to catch. It is known as compost bedded pack barns.
The barns, which carry a couple of animals at a time, provide shelter from adverse weather, a comfortable lying area that allows them to sleep and turn as they wish, and access to the food and water in feed alleys and waterers. There are barns for in-calf, those in lactation, dry herd, and calves of different ages.
The cows are mostly Ayrshires with brown and white coats and Holstein Fresians with black and white. Others are more white with large black spots or pure brown. The Ayrshires are strong and robust, showing constitution and vigour, symmetry, style and balance throughout, and are characterised by strongly attached, evenly balanced, well-shaped udders.
The Holsteins have rugged feminine qualities and possess size and vigour, being large, straight, well-boned, and having style.
The farm produces an average of 900 litres of milk daily, with an average production of 25 litres per cow. A good number of the animals produce 35 litres, while others yield 40 litres and more. One cow produces 49 litres. According to Mr Mburu, none of the animals weighs less than 500 kilos.
He earns well over Sh1 million gross in returns from his 37 cows, and comfortably pays his eight employees and takes home a handsome return. The workers are always up by 3am to do the first round of milking.
The second is at 1pm and the last at 6pm daily.
“A cow requires a balanced diet to be healthy and productive. It must get the right feeds that contain proteins, energy and vitamins,” he says. “I only use silage, dairy meal and vitamins, which include trace mineral.”
Mr Mburu mixes his own feeds in servings that consist of silage from green maize and dairy meal made from grinding dried maize with all its components to provide energy. He gets proteins from cotton seed cake, soya and sunflower. For vitamins and minerals, the farmer provides his cows with lumps of salt to lick.
“I feed the calves throughout,” says the farmer who hires 50 acres of land from farms nearby to grow 30 acres of maize, oats, Boma Rhodes grass and sunflower for his cows on 20 acres. Once he harvests the green maize, just when it is about ready for boiling or roasting, he crushes and uses it for silage. “We only add molasses to the crushed maize, then silage it,” he says, adding that the feed is ready after 21 days.
Some of the maize is left to dry, cut and crushed into dairy meal. “Do not start your dairy business without having planned for the feed months ahead,” he advises.
“By feeding the cows on maize, I earn way more than I ever would from the crop. If I grew 50 acres of maize and harvested
25 bags per acre that would give me 1,250 bags. If we sold these at Ksh3,000 per bag, that would fetch Ksh3.5 million gross. The cows produce 900 litres daily and I sell 800 litres at Sh40, which fetches about Sh32,000 daily. Do the math for the rest of the month,” the farmer challenges.
Another aspect that determines the productivity and success of a dairy farm is genetics. A good breed will produce more milk and more returns. Can you trace the heritage of the cow, up to what point, and its characteristics? You must establish where you get your semen from.
Mr Mburu buys sexed semen and has a storage tank in readiness for any animal coming on heat. “I had to buy a tank to store the semen, which I purchase directly from World Wide Sires. It is important to have that supply of semen because you don’t want a situation where your animal comes on heat and you can’t service it on time.
The farmer also has a plan B, just in case insemination fails, an award-winning bull that is a product of one of his cows.
Comfort and hygiene
These are also key influencers of productivity. Happy, healthy cows produce more high-quality milk. Cows require a lot of time to rest and digest their food. They need to lie down. Blood circulation through the udder increases by up to 30 per cent.
This is why Mr Mburu ensures that his cows are comfortable.
The farmer ensures hygiene by spraying sheds and the animals twice a week, while the dampened sawdust is replaced and used as manure.
Mr Mburu is a forester-turned-dairy farmer. The versatile man started with a cow and a calf, which he bought from his savings working as a fuel attendant in his brother’s petrol station in 2012.
After getting up to 20 litres of milk a day, he saw a window of opportunity and seized it. He took a bank loan and bought five more cows at Ksh50,000 each.
“Someone heard of the progress and the potential of the cows and bought the whole herd of six at Ksh200,000 per cow. I did not really want to sell and so suggested what I thought was a high figure to the buyer in the hope that he would reject it, but he agreed to it. The next morning he deposited Ksh1.2 million in my account. I realized that dairy farming is good business,” says the dairy farmer who knows all his cows by name.
With the money, he bought 15 cows and expanded his dairy. “But after six months of feeding them right and deworming, the same buyer came and bought another six animals,” he says, adding that with some of the income, he bought another 30 cows, which have increased to the current herd of 80.
But success did not come easy. At one point, he was at loggerheads with his wife who did not see the need of investing in dairy farming while she saw as a waste of time and money.
Source: Smart Farmer
Lessons from Mr Mburu:
- To become a dairy farmer, one needs patience: “It will take you about three years to get on your feet,” he says.
- Do not expect instant profits
- Give your animals loving care and you will see the difference in output
- Do not venture into dairy farming without knowing where you will get feed.
- “Don’t start with calves because they feed and do not give back to the farmer,” he advises
- It’s a no-no to telephone farming as it limits your ability to know every cow’s potential. “You need to be close to monitor the herd up to four times a week,” he says.
- De-worm- and vaccinate your animals twice a year for lump skin and foot and mouth disease.
- The animals’ bedding has to be clean all the time with a clean layer of fresh sawdust or bedding spread on the floor.
Many people have been trooping to Mr Mburu’s dairy farm daily to learn from his magic. Today, he hosts field days once a month for groups of 40-50 people at Ksh50 each, while those who want a full board pay Ksh5,000 for a week’s stay, during which they are expected to work like any other employees on the farm.
Source: Smart Farmer