His tedious search for goat milk brought him home ripe with a viable idea
By Caroline Mwendwa
“When the doctor recommended goat milk for my son, I thought it was no big deal until I hit the road in search for it. Only then did I realise what a rare commodity it can be. I searched around Nairobi to no success and was later referred to Nyeri where I finally found a farmer trading it,”says a reminiscent Charles Wathobio recountinghis predicament that led to his now booming business in Rongai, Kajiado County. It was his regular need for goat milk that led him to rear dairy goats. “I also realised that I was not the only one in my neighbourhood and beyond experiencingthe scarcity of this milk that is considered a medicinal nutrition. Many other parents like myself with children in need of it, and adults as wellwere having challenges accessing it.” Wathobio had sighted a market gap and did not take long before grabbing the opportunity.
He started with two goats and within three months, he could have some for home use and some more to sell. “I also learned that rearing dairy goats is very easy and does not take up much time nor resources, soI sought to learn more about them with a plan to expand my herd.”This was however not without challenges as at the time, there was not much of internet as there is today. This situation had him enroll for a course in husbandry. His decision to formally train on how to rear goats has been highly beneficial as he can now tend to his flock with surety. The challenge of dealing with charlatan vets is also solved. “In this business, there are many quacks who purport to be trained veterinaries, yet they are guessing at the treatment they give our animals leading to even more serious problems andresulting to unnecessary expenditures.”Wathobio vaccinates his goats against pneumonia and tetanus annually.
His training has also helped him reduce the daily costs in terms of feeding. Wathobio explains that goats require a balanced diet which he gives them twice daily. The feed he buys is well balanced containing minerals, proteins, micro-proteins and vitamins. He buys the feeds either from Murang’a or Nairobi and using the ordinary dairy milk, he mixes them making a highly nutritious meal.“With such a diet, a goat will only consume 2-3 kilograms a day and that is why it is easy to rear them in an urban setting without strain.”Wathobio supplements these feeds with grass and vegetables since they are available locally.
As he warns, most people lack knowledge about feeds for livestock and this costs them a great deal while at the same time keeping the animals uncomfortable, hence less productive. “Ruminants can eat throughout the day as long as feeds are provided, but unless the farmer meets all their dietary needs, they will always be dissatisfied. Proper feeding is therefore critical for a satisfactory livestock keeping.
From two goats, Wathobio’s herd has blossomed to twenty goats, some heavy with kids. He says that the number keeps multiplying that the space which he has economically constructed within his compound is gradually becoming limited. He however explains that sometimes he sells the goats at Sh15000 for a kid and up to Sh30000 for mature goats. Each lactating goat gives him four litres a day which he sells at Sh200 to Sh250 per Liter.
Apart from the herd in Rongai, Wathobio has two other dairy goats’ farms in Nyeri and Murang’a.
Rural Vs. Urban
Goat milk is very delicate and as Wathobio points out, one must invest in refrigerating equipment in order to ensure that there is proper handling of the milk once it has been milked. In the rural especially, there is need for electricity for this to be possible. There is a common belief that goat milk has a distinctive odour from cattle milk. Wathobio debunks this myth with the explanation that the odour is usually as a result of unhygienic handling where the milk is exposed to contamination by bacteria which is usually eager to eat into the nutritious contents in the milk.
To ensure high standards of hygiene, Wathobio advises that the udders must be cleaned thoroughly before milking and the structures where they live must be cleaned regularly. If the surroundings are clean the milk will also be clean. After milking, the milk is stored in a refrigerator to keep bacteria away.
Wathobio has minders taking care of the herds in Nyeri and Murang’a but regularly juggles the two farms to keep tabs on the progress. He has coolers to facilitate transport of milk from Nyeri. “The good thing about the rural farms is that labour and feeds are cheaper, but the market is limited,” he says further explaining that since transporting feeds is easier than transporting milk, the most productive goats are moved to the farm in Rongai and the less productive are reared in the up country farms. In a day, Wathiobo gets 60 liters from his dairy goats.
Even though in most cases the milk is exhausted, sometimes especially during the festive season, when most of the customers have travelled up country, there is a surplus of milk remaining. To prevent this from going to waste, Wathobio along with his partners have been converting it into yoghurt which has a longer shelf-life. “Production of yoghurt is however dependent on the demand of the fresh milk.”
While most people imagine that they need a certain measure of land to keep goats, Wathobio explains using his small housing that all one needs is a 20 square feet room for each goat. He also notes that one does not just put up a structure, there is a standard setting that suits goats quite well and farmers wishing to keep them comfortably must adhere to it. After proper housing the next requirement is sufficient knowledge on how to best tend to the goats in order to avoid incurring unnecessary costs and also ensure that they are comfortable.
His advice for agripreneurs wishing to rear goats is that they should prepare a good business plan including plans on where to get feeds from, how to manage them and also the markets to target. “It is also wise to decide on the type of goats to rear since some are more vulnerable than others. Others also have a longer lactation period than others and this is a significant factor to consider when choosing goats.” Wathobio started with Alpines since on researching he found out that they are disease resistant and quite productive. For the types with a short lactation period, he advises that one should consider rearing them for breeding since they can have kids every year.
Wathobio observes despite marketing playing a great role in any business, farmers in business have given it a backseat. In most cases they assume that buyers should search for them. This is a trend he discourages with the premise that any form of business is greatly impacted by marketing. “One cannot wait for on customer who will buy all the milk, there has to be a plan on how to reach potential customers.” His customers are wide spread from Eastlands to Kasarani and his neighbourhood in Kajiado. Wathobio also cites standards and quality of the milk which enhances customer satisfaction as one major score in marketing this product. “Almost all my customers come through referrals from older customers and that is because of the standards I have maintained in terms of hygiene.
Wathobio also advocates for individual marketing asserting that if the seller takes the milk to the market, he has control over pricing as compared to the buyers locating the seller in which case they might dictate the terms of engagement.
His other competitive edge lies in the locality of his production. “Other suppliers are based elsewhere, mainly Naivasha and compared to my location close to Nairobi, most clients tend to prefer a source they can see. Others mind the length of time it has been in transport since milking and this gives me an upper hand.”
Sometimes appetite for money can lure one into selling the goats before they have generated enough profits from money. Wathobio is very careful not to fall into this temptation and ensures that the goats have provided ample supply of milk before selling them. He also warns farmers to be keen on breeding management. “If one is not careful, they can suffer an inconsistent supply of milk, whereby there is no goat lactating.”
Another precaution that Wathobio has taken is to ensure that there is a standby minder, who he trusts and is reliable enough to take charge of the herd in case the hired labourerquits abruptly as this happens often.
Farming as a hobby
Having an aptitude in animal farming has seen Wathobio take up many roles in his daily schedule. Apart from dairy goat keeping, he also does poultry as a hobby. His homestead is embellished by a variety of chicken breeds most of which are ornamental. Aside from rearing livestock, he also offers training to farmers on various livestock. “I began offering training when I realised that many people want to venture into agri-business but are unsure about many things.” Wathobio says that even though today there is challenge of land, people ought to know that there are many forms of urban farming that don’t require much space.
Today, almost all consumable goods are taken to the supermarkets. However, with the current trend of the chain stores going down, and delayed payments to suppliers which leads to challenges in cash flow, farmers are changing their minds on where to retail their farm produce. Wathobio has a distribution plan to involve small retailers. “Through establishing partnerships with other farmers, I have a plan to start packaging the milk and retailing in a more elaborate and forthcoming method of distribution.”