If you are thinking of starting a dairy enterprise, good preparation is the critical factor determines whether you succeed or not. Even before you decide which breed of cows to keep, you need to think of its feed requirements, how this feed will be produced or sourced at the lowest cost.
Dairy farming is an interesting enterprise that can bring profit and satisfaction to a farmer. If not done well, it can bring frustration and an endless cycle of losses. There are many stories of success. Similarly, there are many stories of investors who have been fleeced by brokers and would be service providers who have little or no experience in dairy farming apart from their desire to make quick money through sale of animals, fodder and other dairy goods and services.
There are three important factors to consider for a dairy farm to be successful; Feeding, Management, and genetics.
Quality feeding means providing the animal with a balanced diet to maintain key bodily functions such as growth and reproduction, and to support milk production. Inadequate feeding can turn cows with very production potential to give as little milk as local breeds whose milk production potential is known to be genetically low. For example, a 20kgs per day cow ends up producing less than 5kgs.
Quality management comprises all the routine requirements, including housing, to make the animal comfortable and free of pests and diseases. Keep your animals in a comfortable and safe environment. Bad housing exposes the animals to elements that as cold, injury causing accidents, pests and diseases causing pathogens, and end up compromising returns of your investment.
Quality genetics involves improving the genetic potential of the animals in order to produce high volumes of milk. The business of dairy farming is milk production, hence, it makes economic sense to rear animals that have the potential to produce a lot of milk. Farmers are advised farmers to use semen from proven bulls and supplied by certified artificial insemination technicians and providers to progressively improve the genetic potential of their dairy animals. The use of village bulls of unknown pedigree does not guarantee improvement of the cow’s genetic potential to produce milk. It is a gamble that usually proves too expensive in the long run.
You need adequate space to keep your dairy animals; for feeding, watering, sleeping, milking and exercise. Land can be bought, inherited or leased. The production system to be adopted depends largely on the available land for keeping the animals and/or for fodder production; zero grazing for places with small parcels of land, semi-intensive in places in places with greater land availability where animals can be grazed during the day and kept in a stall or during. The choice of the production system has implications on the infrastructure to be set up. However, more dairy farmers are now opting for intensive systems where the animals are providing with all their feed, which is produced on the farm or sourced from other farms.
So, where do you start?
Often, people starting out on dairy farming can’t make up their minds what to do first; buy the animal, build a cowshed or plant/buy fodder. Of course, without the dairy cow, there is no dairy farming. However, your cow will need to be fed and watered. Therefore, make sure you have adequate fodder before the animal lands on the farm.
If you have enough land, establish your fodderbeforehand. Boma Rhodesand Napier grasses are widely used in Kenya. Other local grasses are used provided it is harvested and conserved when the nutritional content is highest. Your cows will need feed supplements like dairy meal, which are sourced outside the farm. Keep space cash for this.
Water is another resource that is often overlooked.A dairy animal needs clean drinking waterat all times. In fact, water should be made available so that the animal drinks as much as it wants. In addition, water is an important requirement to maintain high standards of cleanliness in a dairy farm.
Choice of breeds
Different breeds have different demands and your level of preparedness is crucial. You got to make sure their nutritional needs will be met because it is not just about the initial cost but the subsequent upkeep of the cow. Many dairy farmers fail here because they go for a cow without making the necessary arrangements for its upkeep. A high milk producer will require high levels of management. On the other hand, it would be meaningful to go for a cheaper cow (preferably crossbred) that goes well with your level of management.
With all this, you definitely need a plan.If you do not plan to succeed, then you are planning to fail.