Where cows watch television and listen to radio to produce more milk in Nakuru
Beautiful bungalows and maisonettes line up Section 58, an upper income estate in Nakuru.
Most of the homes have neat lawns and flower beds, making the environment classy, the reason why the area is one of the most sought-after in the county.
It is hard to imagine that one can engage in any kind of farming in this posh neighbourhood located between the Nairobi-Nakuru highway and Lake Nakuru National Park.
However, one farmer keeps 18 dairy cows in Gate Four on a quarter acre.
The cows live in a 15 by 22 feet shed. The same area has the capacity to host up to 24 cows.
You would be forgiven to think that the cows are trained on good hygiene given the cleanliness of the shed.
At the far end of the room hosting the cowsheds is a television set – for the cows and the four workers.
“I travelled to Netherlands two years ago and found out that cows not only like listening to music, but also watching television,” says Peter Mathenge, the manager of the farm called Ndykak Investments.
Mathenge alternates television and music so that the cows do not get bored.
The farm’s four attendants work in shifts of two, day and night to ensure the cows are attended to round the clock.
“They clean the sheds early in the morning and late evening using detergents and if necessary in between to make sure the place is clean.”
Their duties also include feeding the animals, according to the instructed ratios.
“We feed them with fodder thrice a day; each meal is usually 10kg bringing it to a total of 30kg a day for mature animals,” says Mathenge.
The thorough cleaning is what has enabled the family to maintain high standards of hygiene, and avoid polluting the environment since 1992 when they transferred the animals to the estate.
MOVED FROM RONGAI
The owner of the home, Mzee Joram Kamau (now deceased), a founder of one of the leading supermarket chains in the country, was affected by politically instigated ethnic violence that hit Rongai, where he was living.
His children advised him to move from Rongai to Nakuru but he would not imagine parting with his three cows.
“His love for cows was what stood between him and his decision to move to Nakuru where he would be safer,” recounts Mathenge. One of his sons offered to transport the three cows to Section 58, where he rented the house that they have since bought.
“The old man did not believe that his grandchildren should drink milk bought from shops or any other source.”
After he passed on in 1993, according to Mathenge, his son took over the farm to keep his father’s dream alive.
From the five lactating cows, they get more than 100 litres each day, with each going for Sh50. They also sell at least 15 heifers annually, each at Sh200,000.
Dr Githui Kaba, a livestock expert in Nakuru, notes that like human beings, animals get tired, tensed and fatigued.
“Soft music is very important for cows as it helps them relax and increase milk production. As the cows listen to music, their bodies and minds relax and they release milk freely.”
Though this practice is new in Kenya, it is common in Europe and has been proven to work.
Githui adds that while some farmers may give their cows the luxury of watching television, soft music is enough.
Mathenge, a Diploma in Animal Health holder, acknowledges that milk production has increased by between one to two litres since he introduced entertainment.
Initially, his cows produced 23-24 litres a day but they have since improved to more than 25 litres.
“The cows watch television when they are relaxing while they listen to music from TV or radio as they are milked. Pictures give them alternative entertainment and by the time we switch to audio during milking time, the cows are more relaxed than if they had listened to music only.”
Most of the milk is sold to employees of supermarkets in Nakuru mainly Tuskys and Naivas. However, plans are underway to buy a milk dispenser so that the produce can be sold to clients within the supermarkets, according to Mathenge.
The firm grows its own fodder that includes yellow maize and napier grass at their farm in Rongai sub-county. They harvest and preserve the fodder in a bunker at a plot close to Section 58. They mix the silage with dairy meal, cotton seed cake and canola before feeding the mixture to the cows.
“The spaces the cows occupy are enough for exercising to keep them active,” says Mathenge.
No new cows have been bought at the farm. They have been improving what was inherited from Kamau by serving them with Friesian semen.
All the animals are generations of the three cows, which have since died.
“It is possible for people with small pieces of land to farm in towns if only they involve animal experts, who will help in maintenance of hygiene and waste disposal.”
Farmers, advises Mathenge, too should pay their staff well — not less than Sh15,000 a month.
The cows’ waste is turned into biogas, which is used at the farm by the owners and workers.
Over the years, the farm has attracted farmers from different parts of the country, including Meru and Mukurwe-ini in Nyeri, to learn how to zero-graze on a small piece of land.
Each farmer, according to Mathenge, is charged Sh500, which includes lunch. Farmers are trained on utilising small pieces of land, feeding their cows and keeping them relaxed through entertainment.
By RACHEL KIBUI http://www.nation.co.ke