Monday, 31 October 2011

The Future for me is Livestock production

My main objectives are to fully operate a sustainable farming venture. The major project is to have the livestock up and going. This is important since this department is not affected by the weather and market for the produce such that one can have a proper plan with.
Some of the Geese that I currently have

The cows and goats are for dairy production. Hopefully, if all goes as planned, in the next 2- years they should have multiplied and the milk production should not be less than 60 litres. If they happen to delivery young ones that re male, these are to be raised up to an age where they can be sold at a good value enough to acquire heifers and does(she goats)

In the geese section, the aim is to have twenty adult females. There are adequate to ensure that they lay ad hatch enough chicks unlike poultry Chicken) geese tend to stay long before laying and only lay 5-7 eggs before becoming broody. The good thing is that they do have a better market.

 As far as crop production is concerned, I don’t intend to expand. This area is good and high returns but the inputs required are expensive and the market is not stable. Also having the weather affect production really interrupts with work plan in most cases causing delays resulting to losses. But should the livestock production stabilize, maybe during that period in time, factors can be favourable and expanding the crop sector would prove viable.

As for the canines, I plan to use wait until the first set of puppies are ready for sale for me to post them up for sale on this blog as well as get in touch with interested parties via email or sms.

Some of the Sheep I herd

With regard to the livestock, the cows were generally fine until the first week of Sept.

The three heifers were all in calf with 3 months difference in between. The first one caught pneumonia with just 4 days do delivery. It was so bad that it affected the cow’s appetite. Although a vet treated it and it recovered, it developed intestinal digestive complications. This coupled with delivery of the calf meant that the cow become very weak. As it is a dairy animal and its main benefit is milk, after delivery, production was so low that the new born calf barely had enough. However with treatment and specialized feeding, it recovered and the output increased.
The two rotties that were left

The next one(that was due to delivery a month after in October) also became sick. Just a day before it delivered it became fatigued, even the vet did not have a remedy for this. All we did was observe and hope for the best. It delivered on its exact due date but unfortunately the delivery proved to much and 2 days later it died. This being a commercial venture that has taken years to establish turned out to be more of a learning lesson.

 Up to date I have not realized any income besides doing everything right. It adds to the tribulations faced by many farmers even causing many to give up on livestock farming or farming all together. Such a setback deals a big blow by testing one’s patience to the maximum. It also prevents any progress since without any returns one cannot expand the small enterprise. It also gives critics a field day, I have had ‘friends’ and experts pin point to me the problems and what I failed to do or should have done.

One of the German Shepherds
 The canine department is still on its initial stages. This is due to the initial setback. The first batch of German Shepherds got affected by aflotoxin. This was from processed food purchased from a registered company but they did not accept liability. This resulted in the death of 4 dogs (All pure breads). To a small scale breeder who is trying to establish, this was a big drawback. Now the department has shepherd, terriers and rotties(Rottweilers). The terriers and the rotties are mature. The female have delivered puppies. The rotties delivered a set of 6 puppies but 4 died. The 2 that were left are doing well.

 The terries also delivered 6 puppies, all of which are still there. Though this the main aim for breeding .(i.e get pups and generate an income from selling them) it has added to the financial woes. This is because they need vaccines which are vital but expensive meaning more ‘capital’ has to be injected into the already strenuous venture.
Fluffy with its puppies

Such are the obstacles.

Why not Coffee yet I am in a Coffee region?

At the onset of the rains (short) from October, planting of early maturing food crops was done. There include peas, beans, kales and capsicum. This is done to make maximum use of the rain and to ensure they are harvested before the warm dry season of January.

 These crops mature within 3 months.

 Also during the festival holidays of December, there is a demand thus its vital to have them early by then. During this time, its also when the small scale coffee farmers are harvesting.
A coffee farm

Coffee grows on medium highlands, it requires fertile slightly acidic soils, well drained and well spreading rainfall. It takes 4 years of coffee trees to mature and start bearing fruit. Once a year, pruning is done to reduce the number of suckers and to remove the old branches. Application of manure is done twice a year though same farmers prefer to use fertilizers.

Spraying of fungicides is done during the cold season (May – Aug) to protect the crop from blight. Also insecticides are sprayed during flowering to protect the berries from thrips and aphids.
 Coffee being a cash crop only benefits the farmers after a long process of marketing by the Kenya Planters co-op union (KPCU). Since majority of the farmers are not educated, then there is a high level of exploitation.

 The world marked prices for Kenyan Coffee are very high and one would be tempted to think  that those who grow it live comfortably but this is not so. Once the farmers deliver the produce to the co-operative societies, then they have to wait to be paid 4 months later at a price that is a far cry from the actual.

That is why despite having my farm in that would be most ideal for Coffee, I chose not to venture into this as I do not want to be 'enslaved' with no control over how much my final produce should go for.
Some of my farm's  food produce

It is sad that despite most farmers in my region realizing the level of exploitation they are subjected to, they seem to have accepted their fate reducing their lives to a 'hand to mouth' type of living.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Rearing Pure Dog Breeds; From Fresians to German Shephards

Cows take +2 years to start giving returns and since the livestock are under zero grazing to avoid unnecessary contact with outside interaction, I acquired German Shepherd dogs for security.  This is because, there had been cases of theft of not just farm produce in the farm before harvest but also of livestock.
One of the first pure breed dogs that I started with

 Later on, I started getting requests for puppies. Though it was not part of the project, circumstances forced me to consider it as a business venture. I try to liaise with dog breeders from the Capital city (Nairobi) even getting dog trainers for the dogs that I currently have. They do offer some help but since I am young and ‘unemployed’ they at first done take me seriously which can be very frustrating. I sometimes get demoralized due to wasting a lot of time mainly trying to get them to agree with my view points(later they come to accept my views.

  My routine for most days involve waking up by 6am, working from 7am till 6,30pm with only 2 breaks in between. Its quite a demanding task physically.

 With all the farming projects, sourcing and accessing information poses the biggest challenge. Some of this information could be with one’s neighbor but due to lack of the collective acceptance to share information one suffers a great deal instead of learning from other farmer’s mistakes.

Currently most areas have access to the internet and I have learnt that, it’s the best platform to get information. An example is when I started rearing the pure bred dogs. I had no idea how to care for them , what foods they eat, how they live or other special requirements. When I went online, I found all the information I needed although I suffered a bit of a setback with about 3 dogs dying mainly due to the care given.

 I am currently still cultivating the same vegetables but my priority now is on the livestock. I currently have 5 dairy cows, 7 dairy goats, 8 dogs (2 German Shepherds, 2 Rottweilers, 2 Spanish dog breeds and 2 mixes of Rotweiller and G.S), 20 organic chicken and 8 geese.

 I am concentrating on livestock more now as they have a better chance of reliability. They are not affected by cases of bad weather or fluctuating market prices. Furthermore they don’t require a lot of inputs purchase.

Humble Beginnings; Finding Land & Initial Farming Choices

Cultivation is indeed but a simple process. It starts with identification of land that is suitable. What to be farmed is mostly determined by the weather and geographical location.

Kururu River - A river that is next to my farm emanating from Mount Kenya
   As a young farmer, I have a keen interest in both crop and animal farming. I initially started off with crops as with crops as I wanted to put my profession into practice. After my initial research through talking to already established farmers, information from the ministry of agriculture and online, The first problem I faced was finding a suitable land in which to start my farming.
 However, after seeking advice, I was able to acquire a small piece at first for free from my relatives but after two seasons (10 months) a small fee was to be charged. I was hopeful that by then I would be able to see returns from the farm.

 I cultivated vegetables as they mature quickly and have a ready market. Ideally they should be under greenhouses to control pests and diseases but financial constraints could not allow me to build one. I decided to start by cultivating cabbages which I intercropped with maize and beans. That was in the year 2005 march just before the onset of the long rains.

My nieces showing off some of the bananas from the farm
 In 2006, I increased the land size to 3 acres and added tomatoes and French beans to ensure that I was harvesting something atleast each month. At around July 2007. I was able to get 5 more acres and now I had 8 acres. Due to being disappointed by a poor market for cabbages and tomatoes especially during rainy months (Long rains from April to August) and short rains (Nov – Dec), I decided to increase production of baby corn, french beans and regular beans. These do not fetch good profits but they enable one to have continuity.

Indeed farmers do have to work extra hard to achieve or get returns.

 It is then that I realized that there was a scarcity of pure bred dogs in my locality thus it became part of my commitment to serve that need. As vegetable production went on, frustrations started. These were due to the lack of a market price on which one can rely.
Many are the times that my produce went to waste due ‘Flooding’ in the market. There were too many farmers with the same commodity and not enough demand for it.

Since I couldn’t afford to preserve excess, a lot went to waste. This made it difficult to process as the losses caused a huge drawback on my cash flow.

 I started livestock production to try and have a constant line of produce that would not be flooded in the market. Also, animal produce have a more stable market price that one can operate within.
 Towards the end of year 2007 I realized I was having a lot of crop matter that could be used as fodder thus in 2008 I began a small diary project (1 cow and 3 goats).

 This turned out to be a good decision since in the 2nd quarter of the year, farm inputs escalated. I reduced the farm to 3 acres where I could manage without buying fertilizers unlike crops which go for a few months. In a way, the two complement each other; crop and livestock farming. Since part of the excess vegetables are fed to the cows and goats I rear. The manure collected from the animals is used on the farm eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers. It also saves cost of production.

 Indeed a farmer’s main problem is being able to identify a constant market for one’s produce, where to delivery and how much . Most are usually at a disadvantage since communication is poor especially among farmers themselves due to lack of networking. Unlike the marketers(Middle men) who keep each other updated, farmers do not.

Why become a farmer in Central Kenya?

I am a young farmer. It is by professional that I practice agriculture. I am based in East Africa, Kenya in the Central parts of Kenya which are the highlands thus have cool weather and reliable rainfall combined with suitable soils.

 We have an employment problem in the country which has affected all regardless of whether you have a university degree or not. This is part of the reason why I chose to go into farming as a profession. Part of the other reason I choose farming was because Kenya has experienced perennial food shortage in the last 4 years. We simply do not have adequate food production to cater for domestic consumption.

Many of my colleagues do not appreciate farming viewing it with disdain as an option only considered when all else has failed. This means that a lot of useful manpower is being under utilized.

My choice of farming(I initially started with vegetable production and later ventured into livestock) is basically to cover the domestic market. The irony is that Kenya is reknown world wide for its coffee and tea but truth be told, the farmers have nothing to show for it. Thus despite being in an area known a lot for tea and coffee farming.

I choose not to focus on export products as I had seen its effect on the families around me growing up. There is however a new generation of farmers that are now also focusing on other food crops as well as using updated methods of food production. These farmers are in touch with the world market situation. I believe that things will change for the better thanks to the technology that is now available to farmers like the mobile phones and Internet. Now I can be able to compare price rates through an SMS (short Messaging Service) subscription service using my phone. I am also able to go online to get information on best farming practices as well as tips and advice on livestock farming. Thanks to technology all this is now achievable with more to come in a foreseeable future.