Do what is required of you at the right time because the results will reflect somewhere else. What you give your animals in terms of quality and quantity is what you get- Gospel according to Dave Kimani
By Catherine Kuria
There is something faintly incongruous about the sight of a dairy cow ambling through a farmyard, entering a barn and, at its own volition and at a time of its own choosing, stepping into a milking machine. In Makuyu, a town dotted with farmers, dairy cows peacefully chew hay while resting at their home in Kefa Gardens.
Kefa Gardens is a childhood dream of its Agripreneur, Mr. Kamau Kefa. The farm is run and managed by Mr. Dave Kimani, who is the farm manager. Kefa Gardens was started in the year 2009 with only two animals. Due to high milk demand in the area the farm rapidly grew. They increased their heard through; stocking, that is buying from other farmers and through breeding. Their heard increased forcing them to open up another farm known as Kefa Gardens Kismayu. Kismayu is a popular name that rings a bell in the minds of many Kenyans. They established the Kismayu farm in 2015, a time when people were trying to conquer the town of Kismayu. Kefa Gardens Kismayu is about 7 Km from Kefa Gardens Main farm and when they sent people over to the other farm they hilariously replied “You’ve sent us to Kismayu” hence the adoption of the popular name.
The main farm has a total of 126 animals where they have the milking herd, the in milk calves, weaners, dry animals, a sick bay for the sick animals and in the maternity wing they have the cows that are on maternity. In Kefa Gardens Kismayu, they have earrings, the bullrings, the in calf heifers and also part of dry animals is there. They also have Borans that they use for embryo transfer as surrogate mothers, they keep bulls that are supplied to Farmers Choice, Choice Meat department when they attain a weight of between 800 and 1 tone.
In Kismayu farm, they have 94 animals. Currently they are milking a total of 72 animals and the farm structures lie on a 1 ½ acre piece of land. They have poultry animals but they do not keep them for commercial use but for mere subsistence.They have other satellite firms which they have bought and leased some where they grow their food. They believe in storing their feeds rather than feeding their animals directly from the source. Consistency is key to them because the moment you lack consistency in feeding then you’ll also lack consistency in production.
What do they feed their animals?
According to Mr. Dave, they feed their animals based on; production since different production levels have different requirements and age because different age groups have different requirements so they can’t say that they have a uniform mode of feeding for all their animals. They mostly feed their animals with silage. Silage comes in three types; the main silage, pineapple peels silage and Napier silage.
They also feed them with hay which they source from outside since their farm is small in size. They also incorporate concentrates where they have their own feed mixers so they only buy the raw materials. They have their own formula which is also not uniform since a formula depends with the production of an animal. One animal may require a lot of energy compared to another that may be in dire need of more tender loving care (TLC). Their animals are strictly under zero grazing. “The only outdoor experience is they have is when we are moving them from this farm down to Kismayu,” he hilariously remarks.
Their animals are quite productive judging from the growth of their project spreading to other firms. “What we look at is, apart from the production here, are the assets increasing? If we are liquidated by at the end of 2017 and then 2018 is our value still the same or more? We look at our productivity from that angel.” Currently they are not doing any value addition to their milk but they are in the process of doing that. They only do the chilling. They have a buffer tank that has a capacity of 1500L where they do the chilling.
They sell their milk at the firm gate and don’t go beyond that because their milk is in high demand from their insatiable customers who come from various places. People look for quality in milk not quantity. They have till numbers and account numbers with various banks where customers deposit their payments to facilitate smooth transactions. Kefa Gardens is not a member of any cooperative society. At Kefa Gardens they have a number of breeds. They have the Friesians, a number of Ayrshires and Fleckvieh which are duo purpose animals from South Africa.
Planning ahead and implementing what you plan is very important. Thinking without doing is as good s nothing. If you don’t want to lack tomorrow, store today! At Kefa Gardens the weather change is not a bother for them. They Operate from the source, to the store and finally to the cow not from the source to the cow. They store their feeds and hence ensuring that even when times are bad, they still have enough to feed their animals. When feeds like hay are cheap they stock in advance since prices can shoot any time. They do a lot of stocking of animal feeds in their stores.
Challenges with cattle diseases
Some cattle diseases are managerial like Mastitis which is common in milking animals. Mastitis is caused by impartial milking and unhygienic handling of dairy animals. At Kefa Gardens, they have gone an extra mile to prevent managerial diseases like mastitis from affecting their animals. The number of animals they have on the farm is high so instead of using the usual milking towels, they use paper towel which are disposed after use. They maintain cleanliness not only around the farm but with their workers too. Animals need some special type of handling to be as productive as they can be. Employees are provided with uniforms and sanitation is mandatory. Set your standards high to yield maximum results. Animals and their surroundings are kept as clean as possible. Managerial diseases should not be a bother to a farmer if you know the tricks to curb them.
Diseases in calves are a huge challenge. Calves always have problem because their immunity level is low. They ensure that the risks to contracting diseases in their calves are minimized by providing them with good housing, good bedding and by ensuring that the room temperatures are warm enough.
They have certain milking patterns because even animals need a schedule. Their first milking time is t 1:00 AM, the other one at 10:00 AM and the last one at 4:00 PM. They divide 24 hours in three intervals. Therefore they do their milking at intervals of 8 hours. The amount of milk you get a day is basically determined by factors of production. They milk their animals using milking machines. When doing a farm layout, you always structure n which facilities are going to be commonly used.The traffic of the animals is also a huge consideration. They have 3 fixed milking machines and 1 mobile milking machine.
The Embryo Transfer Technology
They use Borans as their surrogate mothers. They get the ova from the female and the semen from the bull. You may do it in a laboratory or inside the animal where you just introduce the semen. It’s more of hormonal control; you control the whole process using hormones. With an assumption you have a ready donor in the farm, the animal comes on heat and you serve that animal. Then when serving it, you start preparing the surrogate. Basically before the transferring of the embryo, the status of the Corpus Luteum determines whether the transfer is going to be carried because the Corpus Luteum is what gives the uterine milk that provides food for the embryo before the development of the placenta.
The beauty part of carrying out embryo transfer according to Dave is that, “When you go to buy a pedigree animal, the price is over 300,000. Using embryo transfer you can get a pedigree bull and a pedigree sire. So you are going to get a pedigree with only one generation. But when you are looking for a pedigree through normal breeding you’ll take 4 to 5 generation which is over 6 years, to get a pedigree.” Borans are used as surrogates because hey are generally good breeds. However, the initial cost of an embryo transfer program is relatively high while the success of it is a bit low.
Does lack of defined systems fail farms?
The farm has a total of 25 permanent employees and occasionally engages 30-50 casual employees per day during planting and silage making seasons. Mr. Kimani says that what is failing a lot of farms is lack of systems. Systems entails program. At Kefa, they have defined programs. Everybody’s responsibility is clearly stipulated and pinned on the notice boards. Let the employees work when they are supposed to be working then when it’s their free time let them rest.
Role definition is another thing. Do you have role definition for your workers? Do you know who is in charge of what? They have Departments headed employees who are paid responsibility allowances. They have the Head Milker, who makes sure that all the animals have been milked and if there is any sick animal he is the support who other employees report to. There is also he Head Feeder who is in charge of the Feeding Department. He ensures that feeding is done properly and at the right time by his team. If there is an issue about animal feeds, he is the one who is communicated to.
There is the Stores Department. This is the department that receives and distributes feeds. They confirm the quality, do the counting to ascertain the number and then do the distribution. The head here is also in charge of formulation of feeds. Then there is the department of Records and Sales. They have system software where all the records are keyed in and milk reconciliation reports provided. These records can be accessed even via the phone. If there is drop in milk production then all these departments are involved.
At the end of 3 months they asses their workers and reward them in groups. They grade them chronologically from the highest to the lowest. They do it 4 times in a year then towards the end of the year, they do a summary and the best performing employees become Heads of Departments the following year. Apart from the basic salary, employees are paid responsibility allowance, risk allowance and special allowance. Their system of doing things sets them apart from the rest.