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Challenges of farming five cows in Africa

While milk vending machines are growing in popularity here in the UK, they are also a vital lifeline for farmers and consumers across Africa. Irish dairy farmer Peter Hynes reports on an initiative in Kenya which is boosting farmgate returns.

Average consumption of dairy products is expected to treble by 2030
Average consumption of dairy products is expected to treble by 2030

Milk vending machines are extremely popular in Kenya and are found in the corner of every supermarket, together with many located in small tin shacks in every village.

 

Capital outlay is a lot less than the UK, however, and dairy farmer Peter Kariuki has recently invested about 440,000 Kenyan shillings (Ksh) (£3,300) in a vending machine, pasteuriser and motorbike to transport the milk.

 

For Mr Kariuki, who milks five Holstein cows at farm situated outside a town called Embu, about three hours north-west of Nairobi, this is possibly his biggest financial outlay ever.

He says: “It was vital that our farm became profitable, adding value has ensured our survival.”

 

Consumption

 

Mr Kariuki says the motivation for dairying is that it is ‘trendy’ in Kenya, with all highways carrying giant billboards promoting dairy. Average consumption of dairy products in Kenya is on par with the UK, but it is expected this will treble by 2030.

 

He adds: “Dairy is a vital food source and is central to every household in Kenya. It helps to ensure we have adequate nutrition.”

 

At 32 years old, Mr Kariuki has a passion for dairy farming, with an ambition to build a better future for his two young children.

Peter Kariuki milks five Holstein cows
Peter Kariuki milks five Holstein cows

Milking all year round with all feed bought-in, it is a challenge to deliver a sustainable living for this family with five Holstein cows.

 

He explains that genetics consist of US and Dutch breeding culminating in high yielding cows. Surprisingly, artificial insemination is common but performed by the vet.

 

Nutrition

 

Cows are fed napier grass (a species of perennial tropical grass native to the African grasslands), maize silage, lucerne and a dairy ration, all of which may not always be available at different times.

 

Mr Kariuki says: “My main challenge is understanding nutrition and obtaining a regular supply of feed.”

 

He adds that napier grass is high in dry matter but very low in protein. In the past he has struggled to get a constant supply of maize silage, but he is now able to store a 12-month supply in a clamp which has been dug into the ground and lined with plastic.

 

A small petrol-driven shredder is used to chop the maize and the silage layers are rolled with a water filled barrel before sealing like a conventional silage clamp.

Mr Kariuki’s cows average about 40 litres per day, which is a huge achievement given the challenges of farming in a third world country.

 

He also has three heifers and while he could have invested in more cows, it can easily be argued that adding value to milk is a lot wiser move while letting the herd grow organically.

 

Dairy farming in Kenya has seen a turbulent 18 months, with milk prices dropping to 26Ksh per litre, while the Kenya dairy board failed to implement draft dairy regulations.

 

Milk prices rose in early 2020, with processors now paying 28Ksh per litre. Feed costs are around 26Ksh a litre. With the Kariuki shop now up and running, Mr Kariuki is achieving 50Ksh per litre sold from the vending machine.

 

The vending machine is located in a shop located in an up and coming retail area where numerous developments are taking place which will add to foot fall.

 

Ever the entrepreneur, he also has a stock of plastic disposable cups available so customers can take shelter from the searing heat and refresh themselves with a cup of cold milk.

 

Products

 

He explains he has also added two more products to his retail list. Cultured milk has proven very popular. He produces this by adding lactic acid bacteria to skimmed milk. He is able to sell this for 70Ksh per litre.

 

He is also producing vanilla yoghurt which sells for 120Ksh per litre. However, he believes cultured milk will outsell yoghurt due to the lower retail price. Customers also like the health benefits associated with cultured milk as it can help keep skin healthy and hydrated, as well as improve digestion.

 

He is now working on adding butter to his product range and with an adequate supply of cream being a by-product from producing cultured milk, he says the Kariuki product range is the ultimate in added value.

 

Mr Kariuki has had enquiries from a number of local hotels, as well as a school, all of which want him to supply them with fresh pasteurised milk. However, not unlike every other dairy farmer in the world, coronavirus has impacted this side of retail expansion due to travel restrictions along with school closures.

 

Positivity is his moto and he firmly believes those opportunities will await later in 2020 with an ambition to purchase milk from neighbouring farmers so he can add value.

He is currently researching how he can test milk for purity. Purchasing milk can be risky as adding water is a regular occurrence to boost volume.

About the author

Peter Hynes runs a dairy farm near Cork, Ireland, along with his wife Paula.

 

He says: “There are many differences between dairy farming in the northern hemisphere and east Africa.

 

Finance, ease of access to research along with technology make dairy farming for many of us so much easier while our southern counterparts are not inundated with paperwork and bureaucracy.

 

“Having said that there is a great lesson to be learned from Mr Kariuki – profitable expansion means survival.”

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