Feature: Kenyan livestock keepers use data to boost management of herd
INTERNATIONAL –With his walking stick on one hand and his phone on the other, John Kaigwa, a Kenyan dairy farmer admires his herd of cattle lazily licking the last grains of maize meal germ they had been served with a few minutes ago.
The 68-year-old farmer has a soft spot for cows. Having been born and brought up in a dairy farm, Kaigwa watched his father make a living from livestock.
He resolved at an early age to own cattle and has for the last 25 years earned a living from them. "I grew up with cows around me, my father was a serious dairy farmer and this is all he did for a living.
Through the animals, he was able to feed and educate me and my eight siblings. I admired his passion in what he did and I knew one day I would follow his footsteps," said Kaigwa as he glanced at a message on his cellphone.
The message from Digicow, a mobile phone application he has been using for the last six months to manage his herd of 82 cows is right on time to remind him some of the animals are due for vaccination.
Kaigwa said the app has helped him run his venture more efficiently as most of the decisions he makes are based on real-time information that can be accessed on his cellphone.
"Having spent my entire life looking at cows, I thought I knew almost everything about them but after I discovered the application, I realized a new world I didn't know existed. The app helps convert information into knowledge. Since I started using it, I have become a better farmer than I was," said Kaigwa.
Peninah Wanja, founder of Digicow, said that many Kenyan farmers continue to make losses because they lack proper data and information on simple issues such as the right time to vaccinate their herd.
To enjoy the benefits of the app, says Wanja, a farmer is required to provide information about the herd for instance on milk production and depending on the data provided, they get feedback on whether the animal needs a change in diet. The platform also connects farmers to professionals such as feed experts and veterinaries.
"When I was growing up, my mother had two cows which I used to milk. I loved the animals but I didn't like the way we managed the farm. We also didn't get a lot of milk from them since they were not fed well, " said Wanja. "This early exposure inspired my love affair with agriculture. When I went to college, I studied agriculture and became a qualified extension officer. In this role, I discovered that the major challenge farmers face is lack of information to enable them to make profitable decisions. This is what inspired me to come up with the app," said Wanja.
Kaigwa says since he started using the app, his milk production has gone up by about 300 liters per day as he is now able to know when his cows are underfed and the kind of feeds to give them at different times of the day.
"Milk production goes hand in hand with what the animals are fed. Poor quality and inadequate feeds affect milk production. One of the key things the app does is that it points out some of these issues and gives an explanation as to why they are happening. It also helps in managing data on individual cows which is a crucial aspect in dairy farming," said Kaigwa.
Wanja said the use of data promise greater fortunes to farmers and revealed that about 4,000 farmers have enrolled on the Digicow platform.
She said the use of technology and associated data analysis is the next scientific breakthrough for the dairy industry.