Erastus Njoka, a professor at Chuka University and a farmer in Tharaka Nithi County chops feeds for his dairy cows in his farm in Chuka. Though he is a trained animal expert, Njoka involves and works with independent professionals in his dairy farm. PHOTO | CAROLINE WAMBUI | NATION MEDIA GROUP
A blend of knowledge in animal production and a management position at a university can be the best ingredients for success in agribusiness.
Erastus Njoka, a professor in animal production and nutrition and the vice-chancellor of Chuka University, is lucky to have both the skills.
And he is putting them into good use at his Nkuthika Farm in the semi-arid village going by the same name, situated about 7km from Chuka town in Tharaka Nithi County.
The 57-year-old rears cows, goats, pigs, guinea fowl, turkey, geese and chickens and grows a variety of crops that include beans, mangoes, bananas, avocadoes, oranges, tangerine and lemon for his own consumption.
Seeds of Gold teams finds him on the farm on a Tuesday morning, with Njoka having taken time off from the university to attend to his passion.
“I am lucky to have the knowledge that other people expensively pay for as they seek to make the best out of farming. I am putting into use my knowledge in agriculture and management,” he offers.
The dairy section, the mainstay of the farm, occupies about quarter-acre of the over 26 acres and hosts 20 cows of the Jersey, German and American Holstein Friesians breeds.
Four of the animals are lactating, seven are in-calf, five are calves and the rest are bulls.
His top milker offers him 42 litres a day and the lowest 32, with the farm selling the produce at Gakumbu Dairy in Chuka at Sh40 a litre.
“We milk the cows thrice a day, that is, at 6am, at 1pm and 6pm. The top milker offers 18 litres in the morning, 10 in the second milking and 12 in the last one,” says James Mwiti, who oversees work on the farm when Njoka is away.
Njoka attributes the high output to mainly proper feeding and good management practices.
FEEDING CONTRIBUTES TO SUCCESS OF DAIRY FARM
Feeding, according to the vice-chancellor, must be given priority by any serious farmer as it is what contributes to the success of a dairy farm.
“I have napier and maize for ensiling on about 20 acres. Boma Rhodes, which I use to make hay, occupies six acres. I store fodder that lasts the cows at least a year. These include hay and silage.”
Any fluctuation in feed quantity and quality is a great inconvenience to the cow as it does not only fail to meet the required protein energy, but it also affects the milk production, says Njoka.
“Feeding is directly proportional to productivity as the optimum reproductive performance and lifetime production of a cow are clearly tied to proper nutritional management.”
The cows are fed three times a day, in the morning at noon and in the evening mainly on silage, hay, napier and dairy meal.
“A dairy cow needs a diet that provides sufficient amounts of nutrients to meet its daily basic energy. When cows are given less fodder, they use the feed to maintain their body rather than for milk production with instances of under and overfeeding having adverse effects on the lifetime production,” says Njoka.
However, milk production does not only rely on feeding, according to the don, who got his professorship from Egerton University in 2008. One has to start with selecting the best animals.
“Selection of dairy animals should not be based on mere casual inspection, like checking whether the cow has a long tail or a sagging udder since this can be deceiving. A good dairy cow should have an angular shape when viewed from the side, open ribs where three or more fingers can fit in and should have a long lean neck and an alert head,” he explains.
For the udder, being the milk factory, it should be deep, wide and have enough capacity to accommodate high production.
“The udder should also be symmetrical in shape with the four quarters well supported to the belly and with teats of appropriate size and length and displaying good veinage.”
MONITOR LIVESTOCK'S RECORDS
Every evening when he arrives home, the vice-chancellor, who doubles up as the manager of his farm, visits in particular the animals to monitor progress and help in work, sometimes doing the duties late into the night.
“I am a farmer by night. I remember I planted the Boma Rhodes grass on the six acres at night myself since the workers were doing it and the seeds were not germinating. I would leave office and go to the farm, set up the light and broadcast the seeds,” he recounts, noting besides planting, he also chops grass using a chaff cutter in the evening.
Being a hands-on person, the father of four says one cannot entirely depend on workers to know what is happening on the farm as farming is a unique venture, which must be closely monitored.
Though he is a trained animal expert, Njoka works with independent professionals.
“The experts have the newest knowledge in the field. I cannot wish them away because I am professor in animal health,” says Njoka, who has employed three workers and started the farm in 1998 with Sh100,000 capital.
His main challenge is the low cost of milk. At Sh40, Njoka says a farmer makes money that only sustains the farm but earns little himself.
Phillip Oketch, a consultant with SNV, says a dairy farm must have good recordkeeping and book system that captures milk production per day and enables farmers detect any problem with the animals.
“Recording keeping in terms of calve rearing should also be monitored as a farmer needs to know the growth rate since the calf is expected to gain at least 500g a day if well-fed,” he says.
He advises that one should spend time on the farm to monitor progress as only the owner knows his dream or vision.
ART OF MAKING A GOOD DAIRY COW
"When calves are born, farmers don't know how to make them dairy cows," says prof Erastus Njoka.
"A cow is a made a good dairy animal from the time it is born. When young, a cow should be fed on dry grass so that the rumen expands because of the bacterial action," he says
He notes that if you feed it on green grass and chopped feeds, the rumen will not grow considering that an animal produces milk by virtue of what it eats and its capacity.
A farmer has to know how to feed a young calf by giving it dry grass which stimulates production of more bacteria which breaks the feeds.