Goats will do better on your idle plot

Goats scavenge at Balesa Trading Centre in North Horr, Marsabit County. Starting a goat and sheep project is significantly cheaper than setting up a dairy cow unit. [Photo: Ali Abdi, Standard]

Recently I connected with my childhood friend Dennis who has always desired to venture into dairy farming.

A while back, Dennis got some sizeable cash and bought five acres of land in Isinya. What came to mind was dairy farming. When he finished all the land paper work, he invited me to his farm complete with his fundi who was to do the structures for a dairy farm. He wanted some professional assistance on the farm design.

Livestock farming in this modern day shouldn’t be viewed in a narrow way. Dennis works in Mombasa and his plan was to set up a dairy unit for four dairy crosses, build a farmhand’s quarter who was to take care of the four in-calf dairy crosses.

Dennis had planned to plant enough pasture for the four animals on the farm and do some supplementation with commercial concentrates. According to Dennis upon parturition the enterprise was going to be self-sustaining.

The plan looked good and implementable but Dennis was going to get into some challenge of “long distance farming.”

His plan was to finance the project using a bank loan.

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“How much loan do you plan to take?” I prodded. He was going for Sh500,000. According to his calculations that will enable him buy four good in-calf dairy heifer crosses.

Dennis sought my services in sourcing the animals and was going to invest in my professional services. He was planning to make at least two visits to the farm in a month. This was going to be an uphill task even with the coming of Standard Gauge Railway. To him the idea looked feasible at least on paper.

Telephone farming

We sat with Dennis and using our combined basic econometric equation tried computing the possible outcomes. We had just done a feasibility study in a participatory manner.

Briefly, Dennis capital wasn’t enough to acquire four good dairy cows, second that was a higher number to begin with considering the teething problems that get many maiden farmers. Third the grace period given by the bank required that he engages in an enterprise with a relatively lower risk but assured and quick returns.

Clearly a dairy project was not a feasible idea. That is how we narrowed down to sheep and goats – small stock.

With his capital Dennis bought a foundation stock of 120 young female goats and sheep and a total of 20 male goats and sheep.

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He constructed some shelter for them, planted some pastures and employed a good full-time farm hand.

I assisted him source an assortment of goat and sheep breeds from local farmers and thereafter developed a good herd health programme. Dennis maintained a rather regular visit to the farm in addition to telephone calls that ensured everything went on as planned.

Within a year, Dennis had doubled the herd. With his first sale he offset a big percentage of the loan, which he later cleared with minimal struggle. Dennis is today a successful goat and sheep range-land farmer who has remained with small stock ever since despite his initial dairy cow dream. The last time we talked early in the year he was thinking of going into dairy goat farming considering the increasing market demand for goat milk.

The writer is the Vet of the Year Award (VOYA) 2016 winner, he works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council -KENTTEC

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