dairy farmers problemsOn a chilly Saturday morning last week, members of Kitiri Dairy Cooperative Society gathered at the Engineer Catholic Church in Nyandarua.

The farmers had met at the church to learn how they can produce high quality milk that appeals to both local and international markets.

Having been in the venture for years, some wondered what new things they needed to learn. Besides, Kitiri, one of the top-performing cooperatives in the county, has been organising trainings for them for years.

But it was until they started sharing their experiences with the dairy experts that they realised some of the things they practised were costing them dearly.

“Before I deliver my milk at the collection point, I normally remove the cream so that I can use it for cooking,” said Margaret Githinji, as some of her colleagues acknowledged they too engage in the practice.

Evanson Mwangi, Kenya Dairy Board’s Chief Dairy Inspector, discouraged the practice noting that removal of the cream reduces the butterfat content in the milk, which is one of the things processors check for quality.

Spread of mastitis

Another practice that emerged at the forum was the use of a single towel to clean teats of several cows.

Mwangi noted this is a bad practice as it easily leads to the spread of diseases like mastitis from one teat to the others or from one animal to the next.

The farmers also learned a simple way of how to test for mastitis by milking from each teat small drops of milk on the palm to check the flow.

“If the milk is thick and, thus, flows slowly, you should know that particular teat may be infected by mastitis,” said Mwangi, who further warned farmers against treating their sick cows themselves.

Farmers were taught on the need to clean a cow’s udder with a warm towel before milking and to have milking pens as opposed to milking in the open.

Commonly known as ukabi (Maasai) style, milking cows in the open is a common practice among smallholder farmers in the county.

But this, according to Mwangi, exposes the milk to dirt especially when it rains as water flows on the cows’ body into the milk.

“You must also observe the withdrawal period after medication as this may lead to antibiotics contamination in the milk, posing health hazards to consumers,” said Mwangi.

Other bad practices rampant among farmers, as noted at the training, revolved around feeding, milk handling and hygiene.

“I thought it was normal to mix milk from two cows or that milk milked in the morning and evening,” noted Joseph Maina, a role model among other dairy farmers from Kitiri.

The milk, noted the expert, should be transported in different, well-labelled containers.

“The longer milk stays before being delivered to the cooling plant, the higher the chances of getting spoilt. Therefore, milk stored for hours should not be mixed with the freshly produced while delivering to the collection point,” he offered.

Mattresses for cows

In the area, it also emerged that farmers have a habit of putting rings on their animal’s noses. And they had a justification for this;

“The rings help in accessing the animal easily and controlling them especially when I release them to graze in the fields,” explained Maina
But this is one of the cruellest things that a farmer can do to his dairy animals.

“The rings are painful to the dairy cow, so she spends so much energy on fighting the pain while the same should have gone to milk production,” explained Paul Ndungu, the Chief Dairy Development Officer at the KDB.

A cowshed, the farmers learnt, should have a well-gravelled floor that does not hurt the cows’ hooves. Cows’ hooves hurt easily and can be stressful and painful to an animal thus, affecting milk production.

Use of cows’ mattresses was highly recommended as they not only enhance comfort, but also hygiene.

Those who cannot afford the mattresses were advised to fill gunny bags with sawdust, but spray them regularly to keep fleas at bay.

Some farmers, it was also noted, believe their cows having dung on the side is normal. But according to experts, the dung is a sign of poor bedding and an unclean cowshed.

A farmer told the forum that all her four calves stay in one pen.

Dairy experts, however, warned against this practice, noting that the animals normally pull hair from each other, which may lead to hairball in the stomach.

A calf should be left to suckle colostrum for 24 hours after birth. Thereafter, a farmer should separate it from the mother and bottle-feed it for up to two weeks.

Solid feeds are introduced after about a month, not in two weeks as some farmers said they do.

Process of making silage

When it comes to feeding, many farmers often harvest napier grass and maize stovers and chop into pieces then mix with molasses and feed their animals.

This has become the standard feed for most animals but the experts noted feeding should be based on the body weight of animal.

One should ensure the animal feeds 3 per cent of its body weight for dry feeds, with the feeds comprising of all the key nutrients.

Wet feeds, on the other hand, should be 10 per cent of body weight. With the area being wet for better part of the year, the farmers were advised against burying their silage in the ground.

Instead, farmers were advised to construct silos in a roofed store where they can safely store their silage to avoid contamination due to moisture.

The farmers further learnt that they need to bale grass to keep it fresher, healthier and be able to measure while feeding their animals.

Farmers were also advised to use aluminium or stainless containers while milking, storing and transporting their produce.

The containers should have a wide mouth and be of reasonable depth to make cleaning easy and thorough.

“They should also be used exclusively for milk and be sterilised with hot water before pouring in milk,” said Mwangi during the training attended by over 40 farmers and jointly organised by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation under an initiative dubbed the Standards and Market Access Program (SMAP), Kenya Dairy Processors Association and Kenya Dairy Board.

“We want farmers to observe high standards across the chain so that we can widen the market both locally and internationally,” said Christine Misiko, SMAP’s national coordinator.

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