Why I am not bothered by the rising cost of dairy meal

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Hundreds of flowered maize crop form a resplendent pattern on Julius Kitur’s farm in Kamagut village, in Uasin Gishu.

Undeterred by a drizzle, we find him on the maize farm with his workers harvesting the crops.

Not far from the farm at a cowshed is a machine he calls a ten-horse power, which a worker is using to chop the harvested crops into tiny pieces for the cows.

Kitur and his four workers, one who is ferrying the produce to the machine, work hard to keep up with the gadget’s pace.

Looking at him, one wonders why he is harvesting the maize crop, which seemingly did well and feeding it to animals
But this is not the usual green maize, the farmer grows the yellow corn variety specifically for fodder bringing his cost of production down and getting more milk as the crop is more nutritious.

“I grow it for my 20 dairy cows. The fodder sits on 52 acres currently and I harvest both the cobs and the plants for feeds,” says Kitur, adding last season he harvested 370 bags and used the whole of it to make animal feeds.

The farmer charted the new path two years ago after finding the cost of dairy meal high. A 50kg bag currently goes for an average of Sh2,000.

“I started by growing the crop on five acres, then moved to 12 after realising my business was not profitable since the feeds was expensive,” he says, adding a friend introduced him to the crop and offered him 50kg seeds to start with.

Since then, Kitur has never looked back as he makes his own dairy meal from the yellow maize.

He also grinds the maize stalks then mixes 2kg of flour with the 50kg of the grounded matter. The stalks acts as roughage. On average, a single cow consumes 5kg of the feeds a day.

“With the yellow maize, I don’t need to mix with other rations like cotton seed cake, which are expensive. This a wholesome feed because it contains all the ingredients. The cows like it especially when it is dry,” says Kitur, adding he also offers his cows mineral salt and sometimes hay.

The farmer’s 20 cows are a mixture of Friesian and Guernsey.

Kitur prepares feed for his dairy cattle in his Kamagut farm.

Kitur prepares feed for his dairy cattle in his Kamagut farm. To make his animals’ feeds, he harvests the yellow maize then first dries before shelling it using a machine and grinds. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

From six lactating cows, he milks between 80 and 100 litres a day, selling the produce to traders at Sh45 a litre.

Kitur says he has recorded up to 50 per cent increase in milk production since he started feeding his cows the produce.

GOVERNMENT SHOULD SUPPORT FARMERS

“Some of my cows used to produce on average 15 litres but now offer between 25-30 litres since I started feeding them the yellow maize fodder,” says the farmer, who also keeps 50 dairy goats and poultry.

He uses the yellow maize to make feeds for his goats and 300 chickens.

“For chicken, I don’t offer them the stalks but I ensure I add in their feeds some calcium.”

To make the feeds, he harvests the maize then first dries before shelling it using a machine and grinds.

Three months ago, dairy farmers went through tough times as most parts of the country experienced harsh weather conditions resulting to high cost of feeds.

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But Kitur was not one of them as he had more than enough feeds for his herd.

“I had stocked feeds to last me a year but this season, I expect to have more harvest to last me for the next two to three years,” says Kitur.

The government recently allowed importation of yellow maize for use in animal feeds, a move that many farmers welcomed hoping the cost of animal feeds would go down, but this has not happened.

“The government needs to support farmers by providing quality yellow maize seeds instead of relying on imports,” he says, it is important to encourage more farmers to grow the yellow maize variety to make the dairy industry profitable.

Felix Opinya, a livestock researcher at Egerton University says raw materials for livestock feeds include carbohydrates (energy), proteins and the micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals).

The farmer with some of his 20 dairy cattle.

The farmer with some of his 20 dairy cattle. From six lactating cows in the herd, he milks between 80 and 100 litres a day, selling the produce to traders at Sh45 a litre. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Of these, carbs and proteins account for the bulk of total cost.

The sources of energy (carbs) include cereals like white maize, low tannin sorghum, and yellow maize and the cereal by-products like maize germ, maize bran, wheat bran and wheat pollard.

RISE IN DEMAND FOR YELLOW MAIZE

To compare white and yellow maize, he says one needs to look at their energy and protein content.

“Yellow maize is at par with white maize on energy content. However, yellow maize contains more protein per gram compared to white. It also has Vitamin A and carotenes which help boost milk production,” he says.

Also, if one is looking for yellow-yolked eggs in chickens, yellow maize is the obvious choice. The challenge with yellow maize, according to Kitur, is that there are no quality seeds in the country.

So the farmer harvests and stores some for replanting.

Like the white maize, corn takes five months to mature although some varieties take three months.

“In future I want to increase the number of acres under yellow maize to 200 acres to commercialise it, in particular produce seeds and sell to farmers.”

He also hopes to set up a plant to manufacture animal feeds from yellow maize.

Dr Simon Komen, a plant examiner at the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis), says that the demand for the yellow maize has gone up due to rising demand from poultry and dairy farmers.

He says this was not the case in the past years, a move that has influenced their decision to research more on the crop.

“There is one variety that has been released in the market and a number of varieties are undergoing National Performance Trials and would be released to the market soon,” explains Dr Komen.

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As human food, yellow maize is stereotyped

Kitur displays yellow maize in the farm.

Kitur displays cobs of yellow maize in the farm. Many people don’t readily accept the crop for food purposes as compared to white maize. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Among communities in Kenya, yellow maize is stereotyped as human food.

Most people don’t readily accept it as compared to white maize.

There are no policies in place to ensure that new crops like yellow maize and others that are drought resistant are embraced by farmers.

There is a high chance that yellow maize may withstand the disease that has befallen the white variety of maize.

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