- James Ndung'u's cows are sparkling clean, big and bulky and with sagging udders dripping with milk.
- Ndung'u is not only a top breeder but also a leading milk producer, supplying his produce to Brookside Dairy, Njoro Farmers Cooperative Society and individuals.
- He sells heifers at between Sh150,000 and Sh250,000 while pedigree cows go for between Sh300,000 and 600,000.
For better results in dairy cattle farming, feed the heifers with salt, hay and water to make sure they have strong top lines and veins to spread the blood and improve food efficiency, thus high milk yields.
The vehicles leave a cloud of dust on the murram road that meanders to Pokea Farm in Njoro Sub-county, some 15km from Nakuru town.
It has not rained for about two weeks and the dust is reaching unbearable levels, especially for the residents living near the road.
Adjacent farms hosting several crops that include maize and wheat are equally chocking in dust.
A signpost with the inscriptions “Pokea Dairy Farm, distributors of Hoisteins genetics for longevity and fitness cows built to last from Germany. Ask for artificial insemination services,” informs us that we have arrived at our destination.
“Welcome to Pokea Farm,” farmer James Ndung’u says as he ushers us into the 17-acre farm that he has built to one of the finest dairy outfits in Kenya.
He is not only a top breeder but also a leading milk producer, supplying his produce to Brookside Dairy, Njoro Farmers Cooperative Society and individuals.
His Holstein Friesian animals are distinctively black and white, although some light brown animals can also be spotted from far. They are sparkling clean, are big and bulky with sagging udders dripping with milk.
The cows have short horns and weigh between 500kg and 650kg, according to the records.
Away from the cows, the cowsheds are well-ventilated with fine timber dust that is changed at least thrice a week to ensure high levels of hygiene making the beddings.
The drinking troughs have clean water while the feeding mangers had some hay during our visit.
“Eight acres is under Boma Rhodes grass, napier grass is on two acres while maize is on four acres. Sorghum occupies one acre, lucerne a quarter acre while the rest host barns, milking parlour and grazing field,” says Ndung’u of his meticulously planned farm.
The enterprising farmer has 60 cows, 30 of which are pedigree and from the current 10 lactating stock, he gets an average of 400 litres of milk each day.
His cows produce about 40 litres a day each, a feat that many farmers dream of. But there is one which offers up to 55 litres.
“This is the magic cow. It gives me the most,” says Ndung’u as he strokes the animal. “I have never treated it against any diseases apart from now when I am closely monitoring mastitis as it is getting old.”
And he has a piece of advice: “If you want to reap big from dairy farming, invest in your breeds because what you put in is what you get.”
The Holstein Friesian pedigree animal has brought him fame and fortune.
The ‘champion’ produces an average of 44 litres of milk a day, hitting the over 50 litres some days, with no problem with mastitis. At between Sh35 and Sh50 per litre, it means the cow, which is now nine years old, earns Ndung’u a fortune.
When he bought semen from the US at Sh7,000 sometimes back, recounts Ndung’u, some farmers chided him, saying he was wasting money yet he could go for cheap semen of Sh500.
“But I do not regret. Every time dairy farmers ask me the secret of success, my answer is very simple: The choice of high quality semen is the first step to running a profitable dairy enterprise because you are assured of a top breed with minimal disease concerns,” Ndung’u, who started the business in 1979 with one cow after investing Sh50,000 loan from Agricultural Finance Corporation, says.
Every Tuesday, Pokea Farm is a beehive of activity as farmers from across the country and outside assemble there seeking fresh ideas on how to boost their milk production.
Farmers who come as a group are charged Sh300 per person while individuals pay Sh500.
We found four filled visitors’ books signed by guests from Kenya, US, Norway, Germany, Hungary, South Africa, Zambia, and even Somalia.
Ndung’u, whose body frame and energy does not betray his 80 years, engages in the best animal husbandry practices.
Once a calf is born, it is critical that it develops a straight top line by making it almost skinny to prepare for a high milk production in future.
FORMER SCHOOL TEACHER
“This is a secret that not many farmers know. To make a calf produce that straight top line, give it salt, hay and water in the first three months and reduce the consumption of early concentrates. The calf will look ill-fed with protruding ribs but this is an indication that the veins are now stronger and will allow faster blood movement and increase food efficiency resulting later to more milk production,” says the former primary school teacher.
Dr Permius Migwi, a veterinary expert from Egerton University, says the feeding of animals with salts and adequate minerals help to build a strong backbone.
“Minerals and good feeding in the early stages is crucial as it culminates in a strong backbone,” says Dr Migwi.
According to Ndung’u, raising healthy animals has a lot to do with managing a cow’s stress, an area many farmers score poorly.
“A cow also needs enough rest and should not be moved from one point to another unnecessarily as this will stress it and interfere with its milk production system,” says Ndung’u, a father of three.