Some four years ago, Philip Kiruki, a farmer in Meru County bought two dairy cows with the help of a broker.
The broker, who informed him he had sourced the animals from a reputable farm, promised the cows would offer 35-40 litres of milk daily.
To back his claim, he showed him what he said were production and genetic records.
Having taken an early retirement from Telkom Kenya and with no knowledge or proper skills in farming, Kiruki took the brokers’ words as the gospel truth.
Two years down the line and despite good management, better yields were not forthcoming from the animals, which were offering 15 litres at most.
“It was not a good experience having spent close to Sh200,000 on the animals, that I later had to sell at a lower price,” says Kiruki, adding he later realised the records were falsified.
A good number of farmers who have bought animals through the brokers, majority who are sweet-talkers, have bitter experiences.
The tricks the brokers employ to lure farmers include overfeeding animals, giving falsified records for dairy cows, failing to milk the cow to create the impression of a very productive animal with a bloated udder, and at times selling half-treated sick animals.
The brokers have seemingly taken over the cattle trade, including in the dairy sector, where they normally move from farm to farm identifying farmers selling dairy cows and linking them to buyers at a fee.
“Sometimes they buy the animal cheaply and sell. Brokers are normally active around this time as they know farmers sell their animals to pay school fees for their children. They would buy, falsify records and sell,” says John Kimanthi, a farmer in Meru.
DICTATE PRICES AND SELLERS
In the beef cattle sector, things are not different. The traders have taken over most county markets, dictating prices and sometimes who sells or not.
At Kianjai cattle market in Meru County, brokers are the king. Often, the target those buyers keenly looking at an animal’s features that include the colour and the size.
They then take over the buying and selling process as the owners look on.
Most of the time, Kimanthi says, brokers do not allow farmers to deal with buyers directly. He adds that they buy animals from farmers, sometimes paying in cash, and later sell to buyers who include butcher operators.
On average, beef cattle goes from Sh60,000 to Sh80,000, with brokers taking a commission of up to Sh20,000 per animal.
Meru County Director of Livestock Development, Dr David Mugambi, however says some brokers services are necessary as they get to places where beef traders can’t for instance Rumuruti, Laisamis, Isiolo and deliver the cattle.
“Brokers have a positive role to play in making meat cheaper.”
But once beaten by brokers, Kiruki, who runs Pejima Farm that hosts 40 dairy cows, acquired good knowledge to offer farmers various aspects of dairy farming, including where to source cows. He sells the 246 litres he gets each day to Meru Dairy Union at Sh35 each.
“The growing demand for milk is making farmers to look for quality cows, unfortunately many of them lack the knowhow in determining the traits of a good dairy cows,” he says.
Gabriel Karia, a livestock management consultant and a member of the Board of Directors of the Kenya Animal Genetics Resources Centre, warns farmers against buying animals, especially dairy cows from brokers.
“For beef cattle, the specifications depend on the purpose of purchasing the cattle whether for breeding or for slaughter, if for breeding purposes, the breed of the animal and the environment the animals are to be reared are key as breeds like the Boran can survive in harsh conditions with no much stress. They also resist some diseases as they are hardened,” he notes.
INVOLVE A VETERINARIAN
He adds a farmer should involve a veterinarian to ascertain the health status of the animal as some diseases could be in their incubation period. One should also avoid a dull animal that is not eating well.
For dairy cows, Karia says one should start with the udder, which should have enough capacity to accommodate high production.
“It should be well supported to prevent sagging and should also be symmetrical with good balance. The rump, which is the organ supporting the two hind legs, should be moderately long and wide with a level to a slight slope to the rear to allow for good calving and uterus drainage.”
According to him, the age of a cow is a major factor.
“There is need to ascertain the age of cows when buying. The dental formula can help in this. At a month, all temporary/milk teeth appear. At two years, the permanent pair of central incisors appear, the permanent intermediaries at 2.5-3 years, the second intermediaries at 3.5-4 years and the corner teeth at 4.5-5 years. From six years, wear of the incisors start by levelling and gaps between them start to be visible at eight years and at 12 years the teeth are distinctly separated and getting reduced to stumps.”
According to him, the best animal to buy is an in-calf heifer that is not older than five years or an animal that has not calved more than twice as cows reach their peak at five years.
“An ordinary heifer that has not calved may look good but may be one that has been reared badly, so one should go beyond physical attributes,” he offers, adding breeding records, as long as they are genuine, from the seller are a good guide.
Points To Consider When Buying a Dairy Cow
This is the evidence of feed conversion efficiency into milk, not meat, and fat as this determines the return on investment.
An animal should be angular in shape while viewed from the side and be open ribbed (can fit in 3 or more fingers between their ribs), have prominent chine bone (back bone from point of hump to the middle of backbone joining the loins), have clean bones free from a lot of fleshing and have soft pliable skin.
The neck should be long and lean with an alert head.
The expression of a cow’s ability to consume enough feed and water.
The size of the barell (the body part between the fore legs and the hind legs that is supported by the loins and the chine bone), should have deep ribs from fore to rear that are wide and long in the barrel, have good chest width (between the front legs), to allow the heart and lungs function well.
Have strong and wide muzzle with wide nostrils to allow for good chewing and breathing.
Stature (height of a cow measured at the rump) should be good. Mature cows that have attained five years have an average of 55-56 inches.
The loins should be wide, long and level with good jointing with the chine to ensure strength of the back bone to be able to support many pregnancies.
Feet and legs
The feet/hoofs need to have sufficient heel and, therefore, an average of a 45 degrees angle that the hoof makes with the ground.
The rear legs should be flexible and not be too curved at the hocks for good support.
When viewed from the rear, the rear legs should be open with hocks far apart for good mobility and avoid a lot of friction with the udder.