Making a kill from urban farming

It is difficult to believe there is a profitable agricultural enterprise inside this enclosed homestead in Seguku. The farm is located in an urban setting on less than 20 decimals of land. The same space is also occupied by nine houses, most of them for rent. Many people in urban areas have this kind of space, but regard it as useless. Not so for Dr. Jolly Kabirizi who has converted a small piece of land into a gold mine.

There are currently five cows at the backyard farm, all Friesians for milk production. Initially, Kabirizi was rearing over 20 goats. “I would have taken my cows to the village where I have bigger land. However, I wanted to live with and monitor their development,” she says.

Kabirizi is a qualified forage scientist and has a PhD in animal science. She works with the National Livestock Resources Research Institute in Tororo district, one of the research institutes under the National Agricultural Research Organisation. Her office is based at the National Crops Resources Research Institutes in Tororo. She says even if one buys the best fertilisers, but fails to supervise the farm, one will not get the best out of the venture.

 How she started

The farm was set up in 1990 with one cow donated by the Heifer Project for Women Farmers in Mpigi district. Unfortunately, the cow was poisoned three months after she received it. “I did not give up, I later purchased another cow on credit from an organisation funded by European Development Fund to improve my household income and nutrition through dairy cattle farming,” she says.

Kabirizi was able to pay back the loan using earnings from milk, three months after the animal had calved. And that is not all, she has been able to sell at least two cows every year. In addition, she has donated three heifers to women groups in Mpigi and Masaka. Being an agriculturist, it was diffi cult for her to teach farming without having a model farm. “I had to set up a place where I could invite people for practical lessons,” Kabirizi says.

 Milk yields

According to Kabirizi, milk yields depend on many factors; including the season, feeds and feed management, stage of lactation, parity and breed. Average milk yields per cow at peak period, three months after calving, is 20 litres from a crossbreed Friesian cow and 15 litres from a jersey cow. She feeds her cows on only hay (dry grass).

She also feeds them on nutrient blocks that enhance milk production. “I always make sure I offer the animals the best feeds in terms of quality and quantity,” Kabirizi says. She planned her venture in such a way that every time there are two milking cows. “At the moment, I get 40 litres of milk per day,” she says. Good management and giving cows the right feeds is the key to improving the quality and quantity milk.

 Supplementing feeds

 “Napier grass (Elephant grass) fodder is the basic forage for the cows and goats, but I always make sure there is hay for emergency,” she explains. The grass and hay are always supplemented with a source of protein and energy to give the cows a balanced diet. Milk yields largely depend on the genetic potential of the cow, the feeds and feed management system and disease control. “I keep animals that give high milk yield to help me recover the cost of production,” she says.

Many people do not believe they can effectively rear five cows under zero grazing, feeding them on specially prepared grass. There’s something not right. “I make my own hay. I mix my own concentrates, which comprise of maize bran, cottonseed cake, calliandra leaf hay, mineral powder and poultry litter. Kabirizi supplements her animals with banana peelings and brewers’ mash.

The peels are supplied by children and an old woman and this earns them some income. She purchases brewer’s mash once a month from Jinja. It costs sh60,000 per jerrycan. The mash is covered with a polythene sheet and kept in an airtight container to prevent it from rotting. Kabirizi’s farm has become a model one. Visitors come from all over the country, to learn how to rear cows in a small space.

Among those who visit are high ranking government offi cials and top city businessmen, who are turning to agriculture. She does not charge any fee for her training. She says the best day to visit her farm is Saturday. She trains farmer groups and individual farmers at home during weekends.

Together with her fellow staff, she has assisted the President to establish pastures at Rwakitura farm. “Because of land shortage, all my animals are kept under a zero grazing system.

I make sure the place is always clean and disinfected,” she says. Some of the manure is transported to the elephant grass and banana plantation fi elds and some of it is sold or given to other farmers. “I am also working on how to use manure to make poultry feeds. I control diseases by ensuring regular vaccination,” Kabirizi says

Ready market

Kabirizi sells all her milk from a small room, equipped with a refrigerator at her home. A litre costs sh1,500. From 40 litres, that is a daily income of sh60,000 or sh1.8m per month. “I have customers who travel about 3km to pick milk from my farm. I put a lot of emphasis on quality. I do not allow workers to add water to the milk,” Kabirizi says.

She ensures quality and quantity by encouraging customers to give her feedback on the milk they receive. Although she is a senior civil servant, earnings from the enterprise have supplemented her income. “I have been able to educate my children. I have three children and they are all graduates from Makerere University and are now employed,” she says. She also gives two litres of milk every day to two orphans whose mothers died during childbirth

Three things to know about the farm               

At Kabirizi’s farm, the motto is ‘a farmer’s foot is the best manure’. It means good management with regular supervision is the key to a profitable farming enterprise.

The farm was started in 1990 with one cow donated by the Heifer Project for women farmers in Mpigi distric.  The first cow died of poisoning

She is currently rearing five cows and two calves. However, since the farm’s establishment, over 20 cows have passed through it.

Challenges Kabirizi faces at the farm

Three things to know about the farm. The farm was started in 1990 with one cow donated by the Heifer Project for women farmers in Mpigi district. The first cow died of poisoning. She is currently rearing five cows and two calves. However, since the farm’s establishment, over 20 cows have passed through it. At Kabirizi’s farm, the motto is ‘a farmer’s foot is the best manure’. It means good management with regular supervision is the key to a profitable farming enterprise.

 Feed shortage

Feed shortage during the dry season is a major constraint in all small-holder dairy cattle and goat production systems. There is a need for the Government to provide funds to research institutes to commercialise hay and nutrient mineral blocks production. Many farmers in urban areas want to rear animals, but lack land to plant pasture. One can maintain an animal on grass hay and crop residue, but supplements like protein and energy sources such as calliandra leaf hay and nutrient block, must be available.

High cost of inputs

Many farmers have given up on farming because of the high cost of inputs. Recently, the price of maize bran increased from shs 350 to shs 700 per kilogramme. The high cost of fuel has increased the cost of milk production. Kabirizi spends at least half of the gross earnings on buying the feeds for the animals and paying the herdsman who takes care of the cows.

Sub-standard inputs

Some unscrupulous feed millers mix maize bran with sand or saw dust. A farmer recently lost her cow when she offered maize bran mixed with saw dust containing nails. One has to be very careful with the source of inputs.

Expensive artificial insemination

The cost of insemination is high. Some technicians charge over shs 50,000 per insemination. Sometimes it is difficult to get an inseminator to inseminate the cow at the right time.

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