Francis Mwangi: How I made my 100-cow farm profitable

Francis Mwangi

Francis Mwangi on his Joy Farm Lanet in Nakuru County.

Photo credit: Richard Maosi | Nation Media Group

Situated some 2km from Nakuru-Dundori Road in Mua estate, Joy Farm Lanet can best be described as a dairy wonder.

The sun is scorching hot when the Seeds of Gold team arrives on the farm to meet farmer Francis Mwangi.

The biology tutor at Kagumo Teachers Training College is in one of the cowpens inspecting the newest members of his farm–two calves–that had been born few hours before we arrived.

"I keep Friesian and Ayrshire animals mainly. I have 100 cows, 32 which I am currently milking,” says Mwangi, adding the rest of the herd comprises 10 dry cows, 25 in-calf heifers, seven calves and 26 heifers

The five-acre farm also hosts lucerne and maize fodder plantations as well as a barn and a servant quarters.

“I grew up with livestock and loved the idea of keeping them. My parents kept a single cow we called January, which we milked as we grew up,” he recalls.

In 2000, he actualised his dream of starting a dairy farm by buying two cows, but closed the unit in 2004 after he was transferred from Nakuru to Nandi.

But he did not lose the passion. Mwangi started the business again in early 2006 with a single cow but as fate would have it, it died from disease. The same year, he moved from his quarter acre to five that he had purchased after he was transferred back to Nakuru.

After careful planning, in 2008, he bought four Friesian cows from a farmer who was disposing them and nurtured them. He spent Sh50,000 on the herd

"From a litre of milk that they were each giving, they moved to five, then 10 and 15 in three months."

Encouraged, he bought three more and soon, his herd increased to 15. He sold the bull calves as soon as they were born to save on the cost of rearing them.

He expanded his dairy herd to 24, then to 55 after building a 64 by 40 feet modular cow barn. He currently hosts his 100 cows in a 40 by 128 feet barn. “The livestock stays in the barn in seven groups, starting with the calves, weaners, heifers, bullying heifers, in-calf heifers, dry cows and milkers.”

Farm manager Justus Githinji says their daily routine starts at 4am. With his staff of six, they do cleaning, milking and feeding the animals.

“For milkers, we feed them maize silage, hay and lucerne in the ratio of 70, 15 and 15 per cent respectively. The feeding depends on the stage, with the milkers getting more silage while heifers do with hay alone," he adds.

The animals are also given dairy meal that they formulate on the farm depending on the amount of milk they produce. Their highest milker offers 42 litres a day while the lowest 14 .

The cows are milked using machines thrice a day at an interval of eight hours and then the produce is stored in a cooler before it is collected by a processor from Nairobi.

Joy Farm Lanet

Workers store milk in coolers at Joy Farm Lanet in Nakuru County.

Photo credit: Richard Maosi | Nation Media Group

“We collect 750 litres of milk daily and sell each at Sh540.  Keeping in the cooler enables us to get better prices and avoid spoilage,” says Mwangi.

He owns two coolers,  one that is 3,000 litre  and  the other 1,100 .

Having the coolers, making his own feeds as well as growing fodder , according to Mwangi, has helped him not only to cut costs but also make the farm profitable.

“We use several ingredients to make the dairy meal. They include maize, maize germ, wheat bran, canola, meal, soya meal, lime, salt, toxin binder, bi-carbonate of soda and dairy premix,” he explains.

To curb pest pests and diseases, they spray the animals twice a month and deworm the calves and weaners once a month.

Mwangi vaccinates his cows twice a year against foot and mouth and lumpy skin diseases, which killed his two animals in 2019.

Training is key, he says, noting he attends workshops hosted by institutions like SNV Netherlands to learn new skills.

“One of the lessons I have learnt from the venture is that you cannot keep few cows and operate optimally. Economies of scale help, but it takes time to achieve that. In my case, it took me about a decade.”

One of the challenges in the business is fluctuating milks prices, says Mwangi, with most of the time the processor determining the cost.

"The cost of running a dairy business is high but you can cushion yourself by planting maize for silage and growing fodder like lucerne.  These are the small things make the difference,” says Mwangi, who holds farm visits for farmers from as far as Nyeri, Embu and Malindi, teaching them animal husbandry, management of pests and diseases and balanced feeding programmes to increase milk.

His target in three years is to milk over 100 cows, getting an average of 25 litres from each.

Gabriel Kwendo, a dairy technologist and fodder expert from Egerton University, says proper feeding in terms of proportion and quality and good disease management will help make a farm profitable.

He advises farmers to keep feeding records, as they assist in indicating what feeds have the highest yield potential, as well as health records to help track which disease a cow may be suffering from.

“Before one ventures into commercial dairy farming, they should engage a processor to have their milk delivered on time to avoid post-harvest losses.”