Zero Grazing Program
Small-scale subsistence farming is the primary occupation in the Sarambei area, but drought is a huge problem. Existing farming practices are outdated and are inadequate in dealing with the harsh climatic conditions.
Dairy farming is the main source of income locally, but yields are much lower than they could potentially be. This can be attributed to the following causes:
|Poor Cow Breeds||The indigenous breeds being used (Zebus) are suited to the climate, but they produce very little milk (less than 1 litre per day).|
|Poor Feeding Techniques||Farmers in Sarambei do not grow grass to feed their livestock, so cows must graze on common shrub-land to find fodder. They can graze up to 15 miles per day and the food they find is of extremely poor quality. The combination of poor quality food and excessive activity results in very poor milk yields.|
|Communal Watering||The cows' only access to water is the local river (7 miles away). While the distance is a problem (more exercise means less milk), the river is also a hotspot for the spread of disease, both from the water itself and from other cattle. Foot and mouth disease is often a problem in the area, and like other diseases, is almost impossible to contain.|
Even in the wet season, such farming practices are problematic; children are forced to skip school to lead cows to pasture and water. In the dry season, droughts can force farmers to either let the cattle die, buy expensive fodder and water, or lead them huge distances on foot (up to 200km) to less arid areas.
The consistently low yields mean that many families cannot afford the basic necessities of life.
The initial idea for this project came from the community itself. Local farmers have seen the benefits of experimenting with new practises in our crop demonstration farm and suggested that we implement a project to show them what they can do to improve their approach to dairy farming.
Our objective for this new project is to show how the use of cross-breeds, water harvesting and zero grazing techniques can improve productivity.
Ultimately we will implement a rolling funding scheme to allow the new practises to be adopted in the community.
|Cross-Breeds||Cross-bred cows (e.g. Boran + Ayreshire) combine hardiness with higher yields.|
|Water Harvesting||Trapping rainwater in ponds provides water security in times of drought; it can be used as drinking water for the cattle and also to cultivate grass.|
|Zero Grazing||By confining cows in a shed and providing them with cultivated grass and harvested water, foraging is not required so more energy goes to producing milk. The risk of disease transmission is also greatly reduced, as well as the risk of losing cattle to drought. We will use different varieties of grass in order to test which is the most beneficial and practical for the area.|
Thanks to the generous funding of Electric Aid (Ireland) we have all of the ground-work for this project in place. Although we experienced lengthy and frustrating drought-imposed delays in getting started, we now have all of the following elements in place:
- Cow shade to house 6 cows (increased from an initial plan for 3 cows)
- 10 acres of 4 different types grass (7 acres of Bomes Rhodes and 1 acre each of Napier, Desmodia and Lucerne)
- 3 in-calf heifers
- 320,000 litre pond to harvest rainwater
The extended periods of drought we experienced while trying to start this project made us realise that this project needs to be made even more robust than initially thought. We secured additional funding from the Civil Service Third World Fund (CSTWF), so we have decided to expand our initial plans to include 3 additional cows (to minimise the chances of individual cow variability) and an extra 300,000 litre pond. This pond has already been dug and is awaiting lining.
We have also recently erected a hay barn (funded by Development Pamoja) which not only stores hay, but also houses a calf pen and a milk-cooling facility.
We are currently eagerly waiting for our 3 cows to calve, where, as soon as the calves are weaned we will begin milking and the project will begin in earnest.
Once the new techniques have been demonstrated, we will provide training and micro finance loans to any local farmers who wish to improve their practises. In this way we aim to increase productivity levels in the area. CSTWF have also generously provided 50% of the initial capital needed to implement a rolling-finance fund to allow local farmers to start using these new techniques.