UNTAPPED POTENTIAL IN GOAT FARMING

Violet Macharia posing with her billy goat; it emerged the best male goat in the 2023 Nairobi International Trade Fair.
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Pressing need for goat milk leads Violet to venture into lucrative goat farming

By Joseph Macharia

Goat farming has been gaining popularity at a rapid rate in recent times.  Mash Farm, a goat dairy farming enterprise nestled in Kahawa West in the suburbs of Nairobi is immersed in rearing of goats for milk production. According to statistics, nearly three quarters of the world’s population consume goat milk.  These numbers are increasing owing to its nutritional value.

Mash Farm sits on a 50 by 100 feet plot of land (or an eighth of an acre). Violet Macharia, the proprietor started goat farming in 2017 with only two four month old kids (young one of a goat is called a kid). It’s a classic illustration of humble beginnings. The goat breeds she startedwith were the British Alpine which is black and German Alpine, brown in colour.

Motive

Initially what drew her to goats is that she wanted alternative milk for her family. “I chose goats because I wanted specifically their milk for my family, because of nutritional benefits,” she notes. Goat milk came across as the ultimate solution given its ease of keeping not mentioning its enormous health benefits. However, goat milk is scarce and quite expensive. Living in an urban area where spaces are minimal, she decided to venture into goat dairy farming as a means of getting   some milk for her family.

As opposed to cows, goats require relatively little space to rear. Within a year of keeping goats, she discovered there was a huge market for their milk in her area. Prospective customers who preferred goat milk started placing orders.

Gradually, she increased her herd to meet the demand. Currently, she has over   forty goats with a good number expected to give birth. All along she has been selling goats to farmers. Saanen (all white), Alpine and Toggenburg are the breeds she has reared.

Where is the money?

Generally goats are hardy and less intensive animals to keep. All you need is a proper structure, food and clean water.  The structure should be raised two to three feet above the ground to prevent your animals from contracting pneumonia.

You may partition the structure as you like. Goats on average produce one point five to four litres a day. Of all breeds, Saanen which is dubbed the queen of dairy goats has the highest milk production. Toggenburg the oldest dairy goat is known to have persistent milk production, though not as much as Saanen. Alpine are also prolific milk producers and excellent foragers which makes them thrive in harsh conditions.

One litre of goat milk goes for Kshs. 200. You can do your calculations. What is   even more appealing is that goats don’t consume much food especially when fed dry matter. A young goat will likely consume an average of eight hundred   grams while an adult goat may not finish one and half kilograms of dry matter a day. In her case, a little over forty goats consume only eight bales of hay.Since she resides in an urban area, dry matter is easy to store for future use. Mrs. Macharia mainly buys hay in Naivasha.

A young goat of three to eight months goes for Kshs. 15,000. Farmers interested in  keeping  goats that produce milk will have to part with Kshs. 30,000 to Ksh. 40,000 depending on the number of times the goat has given birth and other factors.

“My journey has been great. To succeed in any type of farming, you need to be patient,” she says adding that when she started she didn’t know a lot about goat keeping. “It’s only after one year that I started to see benefits of goat farming.”

Hurdles

Any business venture has its own set of challenges. Goat keeping is no exception. “The biggest challenge is feeding,” she states. At the beginning, she used to feed her goats with green matter which often caused diarrhoea. She however learnt that goats feel comfortable eating dry matter and hence switched.

Milking is another challenge. At first she thought goats didn’t produce much milk. So when milking, she would leave some milk. This resulted in her goats contracting mastitis. Milking a goat is not exactly an art but there is a way it is done: You place the thumb and forefinger together and pinching the top of the teat where it meets the bulge of the udder. You can milk from anywhere; you will need some warm water to wash the teats and milking jelly.

Violet demonstrating how a goat is milked.

Health benefits of goat milk

 Some years  ago, goats  were mischievously   referred to   as  ‘the poor man’s cows.”  However, the tide in goat farming is changing. You may wonder why goat milk is so expensive. It is scarce. Laws of demand and supply come into the picture. But the main reason for it fetching high price is its   numerous health benefits. In a world full of an array of dairies from cow milk, camel milk, almond milk, soy milk and other types of plant milk, goat milk surfaces to the top as the most preferred milk.

At first glance, it is thicker and creamier than cow milk. It   is tangy and grassy. Nutritionally, it has slightly more benefits than cow milk. One glass of goat milk has more protein per serving as compared to cow milk. It’s also easily digestible because its fat globules are much smaller and easier for the digestive system to break down.

For allergenic people, goat milk does not trigger allergies. What’s more, it helps to reduce cholesterol levels in the arteries and gall bladder. People who are lactose intolerant can consume goat milk without any problems because it has lower lactose levels compared to cow milk. Lactose is the sugar found in dairy that can cause stomach issues for people with a lactose allergy.

Goat milk is also fortified with protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, fats, Vitamin A and D. One glass of goat milk contains roughly a quarter of your day’s need of calcium and vitamin A. Studies show that consuming enough vitamin A can help reduce  the  risk of getting cataracts, suppresses  certain types of cancer, besides  helping   children to  fight measles.

Young goats in a nursery.

Breeding

In breeding goats, billies (male goats) are the determining factor. In the 2023 Nairobi International trade fair, the goat she has kept for breeding won an award as the best male goat in the country. To control interbreeding, she doesn’t give the goat its offspring. “Without a good male you cannot succeed in goat farming,” Mrs. Macharia notes.

Since goats are hardy animals, they are not   inflicted by many diseases.  Pneumonia – which is caused by cold – is the most common disease among goats.  To ward off the disease, farmers are encouraged to build raised structures.  They are also affected by   pink eye which is highly contagious. It is caused by bacteria or debris that irritates or injures the eyes.

Another disease is mastitis which is prevented by proper breast hygiene and thorough milking. On Mash Farm, Mrs. Macharia has never encountered any diseases because her goats are kept in a closed area. “If you keep your goats in an enclosed area, chances of getting diseases is minimal,” she observes.

After a goat has given birth, she takes the kid immediately and wipes the placenta fluid. The baby is placed in a nursery. She then milks the mother immediately. After that, she feeds the baby using a bottle. The reason she chooses to snatch the kid from the mother is because she wants to become attached to thegoat for easy milking. When goats are allowed to lick and breastfed their young ones they may withhold milk. After three weeks, the kid can   feed on its own. It   is introduced to feeds.

Final word

“To farmers intending to keep goats, go ahead and start because it’s easy to do so. It’s cheap; you can start with two goats. You don’t require alot of food and space,” she encouragesremarking that farming pays if one is patient. Despite increasing her milk output she has not been able to meet demand.

Her future plan is to expand her farm to produce more milk. She is also exploring on ways she can make products that come from goats like soaps and skin care products. Given milk is a key ingredient in such products; she is considering starting her own line of skin care products.

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