Dairy farmers in Taita Taveta County are banking on the use of demonstration farms to reduce costs of production for better incomes from the enterprise.
Under a partnership with processor Brookside Dairy, the farmers are using the demo farms as effective extension education points where they go to learn about appropriate on-farm practices that lead to reduced production costs through increase of milk production per cow.
Solomon Njagi is a smallholder farmer in Wumingu, near Wundanyi on the Taita Hills. His farm was identified as a dairy demonstration plot by Brookside Dairy. The farm produces an average of 19.5 litres of milk per day, far much higher than the national average of 6-7 litres per cow per day.
The processor has assisted him to set up a silage plot, besides developing a water harvesting pan to ensure that his cows have adequate water across all seasons.
The silage plot has been a major boon for Mr Njagi, who in the past had to rely on expensive commercial feeds for his animals.
“I have substantially cut back on costs of feeding, as I prepare my own silage on the farm,” Mr Njagi says. “Most importantly, I have been trained on how to prepare and conserve the feed, and so my cows are able to produce milk optimally throughout the year.”
On a typical Friday morning, farmers troop to the demo farm, with Mr Njagi being the main trainer.
Brookside has built a training shed for the visiting farmers at Mr Njagi’s, and on each training day, various dairy experts are invited to demonstrate to farmers matters to do with feed preparation, clean milk production and breed selection and management.
Industry regulator, the Kenya Dairy Board, also provides a staffer to speak to farmers on raw milk quality. “We all aspire to develop our farms to the standards we see at the demonstration farm since it helps us to manage our costs on the farm for better returns from milk sales,” Hillary Mwangeka, a member of the Wumingu Mwafugha dairy group, says.
Brookside, who is the main market for farmers’ milk in the county, has set up a cooling station nearby, and farmers can deliver 10,000 litres on a single day to the facility.
John Gethi, Brookside’s director of milk procurement and manufacturing, said the dairy demonstration farm encourages farmers to adopt modern practices for sustainable milk production. This, he said, was done through a peer education model where neighbouring farmers come to be taught best practices in dairy, at the demo farm.
“There is a need to transform dairy farming from being a subsistence activity into a full-time business capable lifting standards of living besides providing regular incomes to rural households,” Gethi said. “The establishment of the demo farm is our contribution towards assisting farmers to learn how to manage their costs on the farm.”
He challenged farmers to invest in high yielding cow breeds. “Farmers need to maintain quality feeding for cows. The efficiency of feed conversion into milk must be a factor that all farmers continuously manage to ensure cost-effective milk production,” Gethi said.
Taita Taveta county agriculture and livestock executive, Mr Davis Mwangoma said the demo farms were critical in teaching farmers on ways of addressing seasonality in milk production.
He called on farmers in the area to participate in the demos in order to grow milk production in the area.