Jeckonia Osumba, a teacher in Awendo sub-county in Migori county, has discovered how to kill two birds with one stone.
Osumba, 49, and the principal of Komolo Orume Secondary School quickly drops the head teacher title upon stepping into his two-acre dairy cattle farm and joins his workers in chores meant to boost his income.
So we found out when we toured the shamba recently. A dusty murram road stretching about 600 metres from Rongo town leads us to his farm. He warmly welcomes us to the farm and starts to narrate the success of the agri-biz venture. The farmer first tried the promising business due to a need to supplement his income.
“The broader aim was to find additional sources of income, but this does not imply that teachers are poorly remunerated,” says Osumba. He began the business in the year 2000 with one dairy cow bought at Sh60,000.
Encouraged by promising returns, he later acquired a loan and bought two more dairy cows at Sh80,000 each from Lake Victoria Basin Development Authority ranch at Songhor in Muhoroni sub-county, Kisumu county. “Henceforth, things took a new twist as this noble initiative plunged me into active dairy farming up to date,” Osumba reveals.
And true to his dreams, his stock has since subsequently multiplied into eight Friesian cows, 10 Ayrshire cows and 10 heifers. With constant advice from agricultural experts, Osumba has turned his life around and is now one of the area’s successful dairy farmers, enjoying lucrative milk sales.
Currently, Osumba’s farm ranks among the top suppliers of milk to Rongo town. He sells on average 60 litres of milk on a daily basis at Sh40 per litre. Mwalimu has two workers who assist him with farm duties when he is at school.
“Successful farming requires absolute discipline. You’ve to be in the farm yourself, which means you must be ready to wake up very early and sleep very late,” he advises.
He monitors the farm activities while at school and assists in farm work, especially milking in the mornings and evenings. The venture earns him an average Sh80,000 every month.
“I prefer middlemen since they pay slightly higher than the established dairy companies. These dairy firms are unreliable and do not exhibit stability or even flexibility, given their constant exit and entry from the market,’’ he regrets.
Osumba also makes money from selling heifers, with 10 to 15-month-olds going for about Sh70,000 each. “The proceeds I use for the farm expenses such as buying cattle feeds, paying workers and paying for veterinary services,” he says.
From the milk sales, he has purchased a pick-up vehicle for transporting milk to the market and ferrying animal feeds to the farm. He has also bought an additional three-acre land where he grows nappier grass, which assists him in saving costs incurred from buying cattle feed.
Osumba says he suffered great losses at the beginning, citing a major challenge of mastitis disease that infected his animals. “Initially, I was worried because mastitis disease lowered milk production.
I managed to control the situation by ensuring proper hygiene through constant cleaning and application of disinfectants in the animals yard,’’ says the farmer. He attributes his success to a close relationship with the veterinary officers, who often tip him with the expertise required in rearing dairy cattle.
“Dairy farmers must learn to pay close attention to veterinary experts’ advice. They will always tell you when to spray, vaccinate and feed the animals to keep diseases at bay and maximise milk yields,’’ he says.
As a precaution against diseases, Osumba sprays and de-worms his cows after every 10 days and three months respectively. He also uses Milking Salve to boost milk production. Getting good milk output does not come by chance as it directly depends on putting the animals in the correct mode of feeding.
Mwalimu has mastered the use of concentrates, targeting the Total Mixed Ration (TMR) using a mix of lucerne, hay, silage and dairy meal mixed with molasses.
“Dairy cows must be given plenty of clean drinking water with proportionally mixed feeds containing protein, vitamins, minerals and feed additives such as salt, which boost their appetite for feeding,’’ he advises.
Mwalimu says keeping records is essential in dairy farming because it makes him know the calving cycle of his animals and when to have them served. He buys semen at Sh10,000 on average from established dairy farmers in the Rift Valley.
And from keeping dairy cows for 17 years, he has accomplished a financial breakthrough. Already, he has built a house, bought an additional piece of land and educated his seven children.
He now plans to expand his farm from the benefits accrued from dairy farming. Despite such successes, Osumba faces a myriad challenges such as unreliable middlemen who sometimes do not pay him on time and high cost of animal feeds, especially during dry seasons.
“On average, it costs me Sh2,500 to buy 70kg of dairy meal from local dealers. This translates into about Sh10,000 every week due to high consumption by the cows, which results in high milk production,’’ he says.