Evans Gitau, a former conductor and also matatu driver in his dairy farm in Ikinu, Kiambu County. He has been in the dairy industry for the past eight years, raising the number of his herd from four to the current 74. PHOTO | ERIC WAINAINA | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Matatu man turns top farmer with 74 cows
The weather is hot as workers on the dairy farm in Ikinu village, Kiambu County, manually milk cows. Mounted on the walls of the stone-walled cowshed that hosts 74 cows are two speakers through which a rhythm-and-blues tune filters in.
One may be forgiven to think that it is the workers on the 100 by 100 feet Gita Farm who are enjoying the music as they milk the cows.
But the music targets the cows. The owner, Evans Gitau, a former tout and matatu driver, notes that the cows enjoy different genres of songs throughout the day, depending on the moment, to make them relax and produce more.
“When the music is on, the animals stay so calm and relaxed that, from outside, you can’t tell this is a dairy farm with several cows,” says Gitau.
However, when it is switched off, the cows moo and bellow, he adds.
From 4am to 11am, the animals listen to gospel music, between 11am and 4pm rhythm and blues (RnB) and reggae, and local songs rule the waves in the barns. Thereafter, the radio is switched back to gospel music until 9pm when the system is put off.
“When I was in the matatu sector, I realised that depending on the time of day, passengers relaxed when listening to different genres of music. In the morning while going to work, they enjoyed gospel music. In the afternoon and evening, RnBs, soul and local music. This is the schedule I borrowed because animals are like human bings,” Gitau tells Seeds of Gold.
Before he introduced the music, most cows would produce between 20 and 25 litres a day, but a majority now average 30 litres, he says.
Joseph Mureithi, the principal of Waruhiu Agricultural Development Centre in Githunguri, Kiambu, says cool music relaxes the hormones of a cow and enhances milk let-down, adding that the practice is common on big farms globally.
Gitau has been in the dairy industry for the past eight years, raising the number of his herd from four to the current 74.
“I collect over 750 litres of milk a day from 45 lactating cows. I deliver the milk to Githunguri Dairies, the company that makes Fresha milk products. They buy at between Sh36 and Sh38 depending on the market trends,” he says.
CONCETRATE ON DAIRY FARMING
Gitau, 37, dropped out of primary school and did menial jobs in the village before becoming a tout and a driver along the Githunguri-Kiambu-Nairobi route and in Eastleigh and Dagoretti, working for four years. He says he quit in 2001 due to police harassment.
The first-born in a family of seven, he returned home to help his widowed mother take care of her four cows and his responsibility was to feed them and deliver raw milk to Githunguri Dairy Co-operative Society.
“I did not like the job because it required me to do a lot of work but the returns were little since the animals only produced less than 30 litres of milk per day. I returned to Nairobi and got a job as a truck driver operating between the city and Mombasa,” he says.
Farm employees milk the dairy cattle in Gitau’s dairy farm; Gita Farm in Kiambu. The farm collects over 750 litres of milk per day from 45 lactating cows, which is delivered to Githunguri Dairies. PHOTO | ERIC WAINAINA | NATION MEDIA GROUP
He later quit, citing poor pay, and returned home in 2011 where he decided to concentrate on dairy farming, which was already flourishing after the establishment of the co-operative society.
“I presented a proposal to the sacco, which is owned by farmers, and I was advanced Sh240,000 to buy three Friesian cows. I disposed of the others that were on the farm,” he recalls, adding that milk output increased significantly, enabling him to repay the loan.
In 2013, he used the title deed of their family land to borrow Sh2 million and bought 17 Holstein Friesian cows from local farmers at Sh100,000 each. The animals were between two and six months in-calf.
With the balance, he leased a 10-acre farm in the neighbouring Kiambaa sub-county where he farmed napier grass and maize for silage preparation.
“The cows delivered 13 heifers and four bulls, increasing milk production from 50 litres to 150 litres per day. This enabled me to repay the loan,” says Gitau, who is currently building another farm.
With his herd increasing on the 100 by 100 feet land that also doubled up as the family home, Gitau had no choice but to look for a bigger space.
“I applied for a Sh4 million loan to facilitate expansion. I bought a 100 by 100 feet land at Sh1.2 million and built modern cowsheds using steel, concrete and tiles. I relocated the animals, built houses for the workers and installed a biogas system to manage manure.”
The farm currently hosts Holstein Friesian, Ayrshire and Fleckvieh breeds, 45 of which are lactating, 25 are heifers, most of which are in-calf, and the rest are calves. The top producers offer 40 litres a day and the least 15.
He delivers the milk to a collection centre using three-wheeler vehicles (tuk tuk). Once the animals calve down, he expects his milk production to hit 1,300 litres per day.
He has a 12-feet-deep and 40-feet-long silage bunker where he stores the feed to last him a year. Besides silage, he also offers the animals hay, dairy meal, napier grass and machicha — a brewer’s waste sourced from beer manufacturers.
“The animals consume at least 30 bags of silage, 35 bales of hay and napier each day. At 4am, we offer them a mixture of silage, hay, napier grass and each a bucket of machicha,” he says.
Gitau’s farm currently hosts Holstein Friesian, Ayrshire and Fleckvieh breeds, 45 of which are lactating, 25 are heifers, most of which are in-calf, and the rest are calves, with the top producers offering 40 of milk litres a day and the least 15. PHOTO | ERIC WAINAINA | NATION MEDIA GROUP
At around 11am, when preparing second round of milking, each animal gets two buckets of dairy meal and a bucket of machicha while at 6pm during the third milking, the animals get another bucket of feeds.
The animals are washed and scrubbed with clean water twice a week. The barns are cleaned thrice a day.
“We ensure the milking is thorough to prevent the cows from contracting mastitis. I also vaccinate the animals, arrange regular veterinary check-ups and sprays magadi soda at the gate to prevent visitors from transmitting diseases,” he offers.
“I am a living testimony that farming pays as long as one is consistent and gets the right training and support through the saccos,” he offers.
Benefits of being in a sacco
Thanks to his sacco membership, Gitau took loans to increase the number of cows and to build modern cowsheds.
Githunguri Dairies provides a steady market for all his milk and guarantees him loans in the sacco with his monthly wages as the collateral.
To ensure that the farm only uses quality semen, Mr Gitau has a liquid nitrogen sperm storage tank where three firms—CRV semen from Coopers, World Wide Mating Service and ABS—store semen which he uses to service the cows when on heat.