The Ex Lewa Dairy Co-op

Katy White, UCVM Veterinary Student and VWB Intern
Julia Nguyen, OVC Veterinary Student and VWB Intern

The internships with the Wakulima Dairy group are a joint initiative of Veterinarians without Borders and Farmers Helping Farmers, an organization of globally-minded people from Prince Edward Island partnering with Kenyan farmers and families. This project is also supported by the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre.

This week we had a change of scenery and spent three days in the region of Ex Lewa visiting dairy farms in the area. The community began as a settlement project back in the 1970s. Farmers Helping Farmers volunteers have been visiting and doing work with the Ex Lewa Dairy Co-Op and their farmers since 2010.  Currently, the Ex Lewa dairy has 300 members actively selling milk and they collect an average of 1600 L of milk per day which is sold to the larger Meru Central Dairy. The Ex Lewa Dairy is much smaller compared to the developed dairy operation we are used to working with in Mukurwe-ini. Though there are fewer farmers in Ex Lewa, the practice of producing milk as a source of income is growing. They have great potential in being able to profit from dairy farming since farmers have large plots of land, therefore the ability to grow good quality forages for their cows and even make silage for the dry seasons.

Blog 8 - image 1Image 1: The vast fields for farming in Ex Lewa contrasted the dense green hills in Mukurwe-ini.

Blog 8 - image 2Image 2: Julia discussing mastitis prevention and cow comfort with Leah translating during an on-farm seminar.

We spent our days in Ex Lewa visiting dairy farms, making small improvements to cow stalls, and holding seminars for interested farmers. Most farmers in Ex Lewa are grazing their dairy cows, which presents management challenges and animal welfare concerns. We centered our seminars on the benefits of changing to a zero-grazing system. Zero-grazing systems allow the farmer to control the environment of the cows. They can ensure that the stall is kept clean and comfortable, preventing mastitis and increasing milk production. They can also ensure that the cows are given ready access to high quality forage, and are offered free choice water. Cows that are out grazing during the day have an inconsistent diet and water access is limited. The farmers here are doing well with the system they have but by making the switch they would see a big increase in their milk production. We were very impressed by the interest farmers have expressed in dairy farming. They are obviously very active in trying to improve their milk production and so by implementing some of the small changes we recommended they are likely to see large benefits.

Blog 8 - image 3Image 3: Julia discussing the minor changes farmers can make to their cows’ resting stall to improve cow comfort. In the photo, she is demonstrating the “knee test.” We ask farmers to fall to their knees within the stall to test if the stall base is too hard (knees get hurt) or too dirty (knees get wet).

Blog 8 - image 4Image 4: We made changes to this cow stall. First, we removed end boards to ensure enough head lunge space for the cow. Then, we adjusted the neck rail based on the cow’s height and position within the stall to prevent the cow from passing too much waste at the back of the stall. And finally we ensured the stall base, had soft tilled soil with straw bedding on top of it, to provide cleanliness and comfort for when the cow is resting.

Blog 8 - image 5Image 5: A group photo after a successful seminar! We also distributed dairy handbooks to the newest members of the Ex Lewa Dairy.

We billeted at a dairy farmer’s home, her name is Mercy Makena. She has a very warm and welcoming home. What made us very happy to learn is how well she is managing her cows. She is very knowledgeable about many of the topics we discuss on our on-farm seminars. She works very hard to make sure her cows have access to water and forage all the time. We made minor changes to her cows’ resting stalls by removing end boards and adjusting the neckrail, and after one day she informed us the cows were seen resting more throughout the day! This made us very happy to hear and she was very grateful for our work and recommendations. We even recommended her as a demo farm to the chairman of the dairy, as she will make a good role model for other farmers in the area. With only two cows she is an excellent example of how good care of two cows can be much more profitable than mediocre care of many cows. One morning we saw how much she is excelling when we took her milk to the local milk collection site about 1 km away. All the farmers in the village take milk to the same collection point so we met many of the farmers in the area. Mercy was among the top sellers in terms of kg/cow/day. Her hospitality and love for dairy farming has made our stay in Ex Lewa a great experience, as well as increasing our love for Kenyan food!

Blog 8 - image 7Image 6: One morning, Katy and I walked the full milk can to the collection site. This is one of the ten milk collection sites for the dairy. While waiting for the milk truck, we greeted other children and farmers bringing their morning haul to the collection site.

Blog 8 - image 6Image 7: In these photos, milk is being weighed, recorded and then pooled into larger cans.

Blog 8 - image 8Image 8: Mercy Makena, our lovely billet host, dedicated mother of two girls, and passionate dairy farmer!