Mkulima Farm will never be the same again after this trip

By: JOSEPH MACHARIA

Wizcards Dairy and Training Farm is located about 45km North of the city where I attended the youth in agribusiness conference.

We drove there on the last day of the conference. About a kilometre to the main gate was well-trimmed corn crop whose maize cobs were almost ready. “This is not for human consumption. It will soon be cut and preserved as silage for cattle feed,” our guide announced, much to my consternation.

My shock was how the green crop could be fed to animals. Were it in Mashambani, the farmer would be celebrating a bumper harvest.

I kept my thoughts to myself having learnt not to show amazement at things the other conference participants saw as “normal”.

Wizcards farm had been chosen for the 20 conference participants because of its extensive use of technology and its quality breeds.

As the vehicle zoomed past, I really yearned to see what I could learn from the farm in Europe for transfer to Mkulima Mixed Farm. I also knew it was real stories like these that would make juicy gossip at Wakageorge’s Check-Point hotel.

The first thing to notice on the farm was a warning that one should not enter with their shoes on. We had to remove our shoes, wear some special white gumboots and then walk through a ditch full of treated water.

FULL-TIME NUTRITIONIST

“You first disinfect your feet here. People from outside the farm can harbour some disease-causing organisms or pests that can be harmful to our cows,” explained Brian Howard, the young farm manager.

I instantly remembered how carelessly we jump into the milking pens with our shoes on at Mkulima Mixed Farm.

“We have 52 dairy cows in total, 15 of which are now in-calf and 15 heifers. This is to ensure that we have constant supply of milk throughout the year,” said Howard, adding the rest are calves.

All this time, I was using my eyes more than the ears because I was somehow piteous for the cows that had to carry a 10kg udder, yet their ribs were showing meaning they may not have been well-fed on napier grass and weeds.

Howard stopped at a pen christened “Holstein 001 2nd in-calf”. Here, there was a huge cow with a 15kg udder that showed the milk veins. It was eating some feed that resembled dairy meal, but I noticed it had some pellets and each time the cow ate the pellets, it moved straight into a nearby water trough for a gulp.

“This is our best breed. Perhaps the best in the world,” said Howard, attracting some attention and silence from the participants.

“It is a Holstein-Friesian originally from North Holland and Friesland in Netherlands. It produces 11,800 litres of milk in a cycle of 365 days.” “Yes, 11,800 litres,” he repeated when he noticed the amazement.

“You could say it is about 32 litres of milk daily. But note the consistency “throughout the year” without calving or something like that,” explained Howard. I did quick mathematics and realised that I would earn in a year about Sh600,000 per cow if I own one.

“How many kilos of napier grass or banana stems will I need to feed it to attain such success,” I gained the courage and asked.

“Banana stem? Napier grass? We don’t feed our cattle on such stuff. We don’t look at volumes of food given, we look at the nutrients in the meal. We have a fulltime livestock nutritionist, and a vet doctor to check on the cows after every two days,” said Howard.

GRACIOUS FARM

I learnt serious farms have veterinary officers who do not necessarily have to rush to the farm on an emergency as we do at Mashambani. They are there to look at the welfare of the animals as Howard asserted. Preventing a cow’s illness is much cheaper than treating it.

“Do you have a milk cooperative where you take your milk or where you sell the milk?” I asked thinking maybe Howard was the chairman of the local cooperative, just like me.

“We process 99 per cent of our milk into ghee, butter and yoghurt. The rest is for us to drink with our families,” he said as he ushered us into a milk processing plant right on the farm.

At the end of the plant were small canters that were carting away boxes of packed ghee, butter and yoghurt. I looked at the boxes and saw the words “WIZCARDS Yogho Yogho for Healthy Kids”.

“As a present, Wizcards Dairy and Training Farm will donate to your families back home three packets of each of these products,” another manager said.

As we left the gracious farm, I remembered Muchiri would be a beneficiary of this philanthropy as well as Makena.

But for the other packets, T-shirts and caps, the choice would be tough because I had Wandia, my mother and Shiru. I had to impress all.

I returned home last weekend and I am now looking forward to borrow what I picked on the farm and try to make my cows produce 32 litres of milk each day consistently.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION