Animal feeding / AVCD / Cattle / Dairying / East Africa / ILRI / Kenya / Livelihoods / Livestock / Value chains

From grass to glass, knowledge to upgrade: How village-based dairy advisors are transforming smallholder systems in Kenya

Lilian Ochieng from Usaha village in Siaya County cleaning her cow’s udder in preparation for milking

Just through feeding her cow on Brachiaria grass and proper maintenance, a smallholder farmer in western Kenya has improved her milk yield more than two-fold.

It is about 5:30 pm and Lilian Ochieng just heard her cows’ loud moo — a sign that they want to be milked–she confidently heads toward her cow pen.

Lilian, a smallholder farmer in Siaya County in western Kenya, puts down a bucket, guides one of her dairy cows to the milking pen and sits on a stool beside it. She washes her hands, then the cow’s udder with warm disinfected water after which she dries the udder with a clean towel. She starts milking the cow as her last-born son watches on, maybe to learn a thing or two.

‘This is the very cow that used to produce as low as five litres of milk a day. Today I milk up to 13 litres a day,’ she proudly says as she gently handles her crossbred Guernsey dairy cow.

In 2014 when the cow calved, Ochieng milked twice a day, at 6:30 am and 5:30 pm getting only 3 litres and 2 litres, respectively.

‘In the past I did not routinely have my cow’s health checked, I only invited the veterinarian when I had some extra money in my pocket or when I realized it had been long since it had been checked,’ she explains.

Back then, Lilian’s cow would take 24 months between calving[1], instead of the expected 12 months[2] that a properly managed cow takes.

‘I never paid that much attention to my dairy cow, all I knew was that it needed to have a shed, feed on Napier grass and drink water once a day. There was no day I ever bought mineral salts for my dairy cows,’ she says.

Many farmers in western Kenya commonly complain that they invest in dairy cows with huge expectations of increased milk productivity, only to milk far less than they expect. So what is Ochieng’s secret that has seen her milk production increase more than two-fold to 13 litres a day?

FIPS VBDA Lillian Ochieng from Usaha village, Gem Sub County in Siaya County chopping the fodder grass brachiaria into smaller pieces to minimize waste

VBDA Lillian Ochieng from Usaha village, Gem Sub County in Siaya County chopping the fodder grass brachiaria into smaller pieces to minimize waste

‘The secret lies in proper feeding with improved fodder and supplements such as mineral salts as well as deworming, tick control and proper housing,’ explains the smallholder farmer. ‘I learnt this when I was trained as a village-based dairy advisor (VBDA), and now I am reaping the benefits!’

Leveraging peer learning among smallholders

The VBDA model is a private-sector led extension approach based on trained and commercially-oriented village dairy business advisors providing extension advice, while also acting as agents of input suppliers. This model not only maximizes on the power of knowledge sharing among farmers but also empowers farmers to intentionally reach out to others and extend their knowledge. Over 128 self-employed VBDAs, including Ochieng, have been recruited and trained in four counties of Siaya, Busia, Vihiga and Homa Bay.

This approach has increased access to improved fodder varieties–such as Brachiaria, disease-free Napier varieties, Desmodium and Caliandra–for the VBDAs who also share the planting materials with other farmers.

‘As a VBDA, I reach more than 100 farmers in a season. I provide them with planting material for fodder crops and offer spraying services to control the ticks. I also link the farmers with veterinary service providers so that they can also increase their milk production like me,’ she said.

VBDAs have also empowered farmers to plant dual-purpose maize varieties which upon maturity provide both grain for the household and fodder for the cattle.

Out of the 13 litres of milk Ochieng gets per day, she uses 4 litres to feed her calf, 3 litres for her home and sells the rest to farmers within the village. She makes Ksh 360 (USD 3.60) a day from selling the remaining 6 litres at Ksh 60 per litre. She saves most of the money for school fees and for treatment of the cattle.

She keeps two dairy cows and a calf, on her one-acre farm in Usaha village, Sidindi Ward in Siaya County. One of the dairy cows is in calf and not providing milk. She is hopeful that with the new knowledge she has gained her farm’s milk production will reach its full potential.

Farm Inputs Promotions Africa (FIPS-Africa) is an implementing partner in the dairy component of the Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development Program (AVCD) whose goal is to increase milk production and productivity and to improve on household nutrition across nine counties in Kenya.

[1] Fifteen months to come on heat plus nine months of pregnancy

[2] Three months to come on heat plus nine months of pregnancy

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