Music is playing from speakers placed strategically near the ceiling of the cowshed when the Seeds of Gold team arrives at Muhika Mutahi’s home in Mukurweini, Nyeri County. The tunes, Mutahi tells us, make the animals relax, thus increasing milk production.
Dressed in a pair of black trousers, black gumboots and a blue overcoat, Mutahi paces around his zero grazing unit as he takes the team on a tour of his 17-acre farm. Apart from the cows, Mutahi grows macadamia nuts and avocados. He also processes coffee.
Yellow name tags dangle from the animals’ ears. Interestingly, every animal sleeps on a mattress “to make them as comfortable as possible”.
They are separated depending on productivity and age. This makes it easy to tell those that are high yielders, in calf and lactating, Mutahi says.
Mutahi was the the first person to open a private milk processor in Nyeri 29 years ago. The plant has grown over time and its annual turnover is Sh1.2 billion.
He began the venture by forming a self-help group with 25 farmers in 1990. It began with just 31 litres and the objective of the group was to collect milk from local farmers.
“The first yield from the four cows I started with was just 15 litres of milk,” he said. Mutahi acquired knowledge on dairy farming from his grandfather.
“He used to graze his herds freely in the fields. I decided to do things differently,” he said. His high-grade Friesian cows are a product of artificial insemination.
“AI assures me of quality breeds and improved milk production. It is also the most effective way of servicing my animals,” he said.
Mutahi now has 40 cows that produce 260 litres of milk daily. The herd includes seven heifers and seven lactating cows.
He produces milk throughout the year, a feat he attributes to good farming practices. “For a farmer to maintain high milk yields, he should conserve fodder and avoid relying on rain,” he said.
“Have a proper feeding programme if you do not want to suffer when prices fall.” He feeds his cows on concentrates, hay and silage.
“With a feeding plan, one maintains constant and consistent production of milk all year round,” he said. Mutahi gives his animals silage twice a day. He also feeds them on dairy supplements and hay at a ratio of 2:2.
The silage at the farm is stored in five trenches, each measuring 12 x 10 x 8 feet. They can store up to 50 tonnes of silage that is mostly made from napier grass or maize stalks and leaves.
“The grass or maize is chopped using a chaff cutter. It is then mixed with molasses and the whole mixture is later compressed,” he said.
It is then put in the concrete trenches and compressed manually or using a tractor. “After every six or eight inches, the workers compress the mixture by stepping on it,” he said.
The trenches are then covered with black polythene. Once they are filled to the brim, they are covered with sackfuls of soil to prevent exposure of the silage to air.
Mutahi has silage that can last this year and is making more from his harvested maize. He has leased eight acres in Kirinyaga to grow maize.
“Silage from maize contains more nutrients and energy than that from napier grass,” he said. “Relying on napier silage once dropped milk production from 250 litres to 180.”
However, farmers should not write off napier in fodder preparation as it can be harvested up to four times a year, compared to two times for maize.
Mutahi dreams of becoming a breeder of pedigree cows, a business that will run concurrently with dairy farming.
Fermented milk, yoghurt and UHT
- The plant started by Muhika Mutahi processes 4,000 litres of yoghurt that comes in two flavours – vanilla and strawberry.
- It also processes 2, 000 litres of fermented milk while the rest goes into making of ultra heat treated milk. According to Mutahi, the main challenge facing the dairy industry in Kenya is counterfeit feeds.
- He says the fake feeds affect milk production. He now manufactures the feeds used on his farm.