Eight things to consider before setting up a modern dairy farm

Gideon Kirui feeds dairy cows

Gideon Kirui feeds dairy cows on his farm in Elburgon, Nakuru County. He collects 120 litres of milk from his five cows. 

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

Starting a dairy farm can be an overwhelming task. First, you need to decide what is your ultimate goal, and whether you want to grow large or stay small. The main thing to remember about dairy animals is that they need to be fed adequately, milked, and housed.

Other things to consider are the number of cows you intend to keep and the targeted milk production. With that in mind, be sure to interact with the local dairy farmers to gain first-hand knowledge that will enable you create a dairy farm that will thrive.

To avoid unpleasant surprises, plan out the significant costs and requirements ahead of time. The cost of building a modern dairy farm depends on a number of factors, including how large the farm will be, where it will be located, whether you will be buying or renting land and equipment.

Land

Land is one of the biggest start-up costs. A general rule of thumb is to plan on having one to two acres per cow. Growing your own feed will require you to be at the higher end of this range. Instead of buying the land, you might lease it to minimise costs, but it is not recommended.

Breeds available

There are different breeds that may be more suited to the land and climate in which you live, which can contribute them to producing quality milk and other products. The primary dairy cow breeds available in Kenya are: a) Friesian (Friesian- Holstein), b) Ayrshire, c) Jersey and d) Guernsey.

Research on which cow breed will work best for you and where you live. A Friesian cow fetches up to Sh120,000. But the breed is often sold at an average of Sh60,000 based on the age and milk production level.

Barns and milking

You will need at least one barn and milking parlour. You’ll also need to plan for fencing. You may also need additional barns, such as for hay and calves. This can be made from timber or off-cuts to cut costs.

Equipment

No dairy farm is complete without the right farming equipment. You might need a tractor, mower, feeding equipment, fan and sprinkler systems. You may be able to save upfront costs by renting some of the equipment, although renting will cost you more in the long-term.

Nutrition and feeding

The first step in planning nutrition is knowing how much to feed your cows. Remember, cows always need to be taking in more nutrients than they are producing in milk. When planning feed consumption, the industry-standard measures food based on its dry matter content or how much it weighs when all the water is extracted. Here are the guidelines for each category of cow:

• Non-pregnant adult cows: 1.2 per cent of body weight.

•Pregnant, non-lactating cows: 2 per cent of bodyweight

• Milking cows: 1.2 per cent of body weight plus 5kg per 10 litres of milk produced.

Properly managing feeds means carefully monitoring milk production and body weight. If you want your cows to reach peak lactation, you’ll need to ensure they’re getting sufficient high-quality feed.

It is essential that cows have constant access to high quality feed and clean water. Milking cows need 60-70 litres of water a day each, plus an additional 4-5 litres per litre of milk produced. To accomplish this, they need consistent access to water troughs.

Cows drink a large percentage of their daily water right after milking, so it is essential to have plenty of trough space as cows leave the milking parlour. Likewise, fresh forage should be consistently available. There should always be more than enough space for each cow to access the forage so that the dominant ones don’t bully younger ones and prevent them from eating.

In general, you should feed with forage first, then supplement with nutritional concentrates. A general rule is to feed a kilo of concentrate for every 2 kilos of milk a cow produces. This ensures that they are receiving enough nutrients.

Veterinarian care

Veterinarians are a regular part of managing cow health. While your own staff can manage many parts of cow welfare, a veterinarian will be essential for providing medication, addressing medical emergencies, performing testing and certifying necessary slaughters. It is important to factor veterinarian bills into your budget.

Ideally, you’ll want to establish a relationship with a local vet you like. That way, every time a group of your cows needs antibiotics or treatment for mastitis, you already have a team of professionals you can trust.

Other costs involved

When budgeting your start-up costs, make sure to also budget for labour, milk storage and distribution, insurance, legal expenses and marketing.

Starting a new dairy farm is a massive endeavour. Expert guidance can help you to plan efficiently and set yourself up for success.

Langer is an expert at Israeli Dairy School, a leading farming training centre in the country.

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