Dairy farmer Evans Gitau is the owner of Gita Farm which is located in Ikinu village, Kiambu County. The former matatu tout and driver rears over 74 dairy cows at his farm which are his major revenue stream.
During an interview with the Nation in March 2019, the dairy farmer revealed that he had been in the business for eight years, successfully growing his herd from 4 to 74. At the time, he collected over 750 litres of milk a day from 45 lactating cows which he sold to Githunguri Dairies, the company that makes Fresha milk products for between Ksh36 and Ksh38 depending on the market trends.
Gitau’s success in dairy farming can be attributed to his resistance and determination. Here is his story as narrated by WoK.
DON'T MISS: Stay informed with the latest news and interact with us on Instagram.
Background & Education
The firstborn in a family of seven dropped out of school and began doing menial jobs in the village to earn a living. He would later become a tout and a driver along the Githunguri-Kiambu-Nairobi route and later in Eastleigh and Dagoretti. He worked for 4 years.
Gitau, 40, revealed that he quit the matatu sector in 2001 due to police harassment and returned home where he helped his mother take care of her four cowns. He was tasked with feeding the animals and delivering milk to the Githunguri Dairy Cooperative Society.
“I did not like the job because it required me to do a lot of work but the returns were little since the animals only produced less than 30 litres of milk per day. I returned to Nairobi and got a job as a truck driver operating between the city and Mombasa,” he said.
He again quit in 2011 citing poor pay and returned home where he decided to venture into dairy farming since the cooperative society was thriving.
“I presented a proposal to the Sacco, which is owned by farmers, and I was advanced Ksh240,000 to buy three Friesian cows. I disposed of the others that were on the farm,” he recalled.
JOIN US: Stay informed with the latest Kenyan news and join the conversation on Telegram.
Following the move, milk production at their farm increased significantly, enabling him to repay the loan.
Gitau took out a Ksh2 million loan in 2013 using the family land title deed which he used to buy 17 Holstein Freisian cows which were between two and six months in-calf from local farmers.
He took the remaining funds and leased a 10-acre parcel of land where he grew nappier grass and maize which he used to prepare silage for the animals.
“The cows delivered 13 heifers and four bulls, increasing milk production from 50 litres to 150 litres per day. This enabled me to repay the loan,” Gitau said.
At the time, the farm was growing and since he was based on his family land which was 100 x 100 feet, he decided to look for bigger space.
“I applied for a Ksh4 million loan to facilitate expansion. I bought a 100 by 100 feet of land at Ksh1.2 million and built modern cowsheds using steel, concrete and tiles. I relocated the animals, built houses for the workers and installed a biogas system to manage manure.”
As of March 2019, Gitau’s farm was home to a variety of dairy breeds including Holstein Friesian, Ayrshire and Fleckvieh breeds, 45 of which were lactating, 25 heifers, most of which were in-calf, and the rest were calves. The highest-yielding animals produced 40 litres of milk per day, whereas the least produced 15.
Gitau stated at the time that he expected his milk production to hit 1,300 litres per day by the time the cows calved down that year. He delivers his milk to the collection centre in a tuk-tuk.
The businessman also had a 12-feet-deep and 40-feet-long silage bunker where he stored the food to last him a year. He also supplements the cows’ diet with dairy meal, hay, napier grass and machicha – a brewer’s waste sourced from beer manufacturers.
“The animals consume at least 30 bags of silage, 35 bales of hay and napier each day. At 4am, we offer them a mixture of silage, hay, napier grass and each a bucket of machicha,” he said.
Gitau gives each of the lactating cows two buckets of dairy meal and a bucket of machicha at around 11 am when preparing for the second round of milking and also at 6 pm before the third round of milking.
He further notes that hygiene is key in the dairy business revealing that the cows are washed and scrubbed with clean water twice a week while the barns are cleaned thrice a day.
“We ensure the milking is thorough to prevent the cows from contracting mastitis. I also vaccinate the animals, arrange regular veterinary check-ups and sprays magadi soda at the gate to prevent visitors from transmitting diseases,” he said.
“I am a living testimony that farming pays as long as one is consistent and gets the right training and support through the saccos,” he added.
Gitau has installed a stereo system in the cowshed where rhythm and blues play 24/7. He explains that the music relaxes the animals, enabling them to produce more milk by lowering their stress.
“When the music is on, the animals stay so calm and relaxed that, from outside, you can’t tell this is a dairy farm with several cows,” said Gitau, adding that the cows moo and bellow when the music is switched off.
Gitau revealed that from 4 am to 11 am, the animals listen to gospel music, rhythm and blues (RnB), reggae and local songs between 11 am and 4 pm. The radio is switched back to gospel music until 9 pm when it is turned off.
“When I was in the matatu sector, I realised that depending on the time of day, passengers relaxed when listening to different genres of music. In the morning while going to work, they enjoyed gospel music. In the afternoon and evening, RnBs, soul and local music. This is the schedule I borrowed because animals are like human bings,” Gitau told Seeds of Gold.
The farmer noted that most of the animals produced between 20 to 25 litres of milk a day before he introduced music, but as of March 2019, they were averaging 30 litres per day.
According to Joseph Mureithi, the principal of Waruhiu Agricultural Development Centre in Githunguri, Kiambu, cool music relaxes the hormones of a cow and enhances milk let-down. He noted that the practice is common across big dairy farms worldwide.
To ensure that the farm only uses quality semen, Gitau has a liquid nitrogen sperm storage tank where three firms – CRV semen from Coopers, World Wide Mating Service and ABS – store semen which he uses to service the cows when on heat.