MasimoOpiya, Director of Comboni Samaritans of Gulu, said the Gulu Country Dairy Farm has been a real blessing for him.
He said he always had a love for animals and wanted to start his own dairy farm. His parents used to farm with Sebo cows and used to tell him stories about it. When the war came they lost everything. His father died, but they survived.
After completing university he started working for the NGO. But the love for animals remained. He wanted to learn more about dairy cows, and spoke to people in the District. Then one evening he saw Dr. Tonny Kidega on television, receiving a reward. He was very surprised to learn that the farm and training centre was right there in Gulu, where he lived as well.
Since he was working full time, the only time he could attend classes was on a Saturday. So he took a series of classes on Saturdays to learn more about animal nutrition and health. He said he found the classes so helpful that he even brought some of his neighbors along for the training.
Masimo says you need to have a passion for cows in order to take care of them. He says sometimes he checks on his animals three times a night. In return, this small dairy business has enabled him to support his children with school fees. Masimo’s enthusiasm for dairy cows did not stop with him. He also told his employers about it and got permission to do dairy farming on behalf of the NGO. They use this project to finance their mission project.
Feed Manager Patrick Kilama at GUCD has been with the farm since its inception in 2012, helping with bush clearing. Today he is the feed manager.
He said there are different feeding protocols for each age group starting with the new born calves. For example, the new born calves get colostrum very soon after birth followed by milk. At the age of 3 weeks, the calf feeder can introduce the calve to concentrates such as sunflower cake, maize bran, and water. From 2 to 5 months a person can start to introduce hay and dry grass to develop the rumen and after that they get silage which the cows will eat for the rest of their lives. The silage ration is mixed with other concentrates to help cows reach their full potential.
Patrick said the feed has to have a pleasant smell, otherwise the cows might not eat it.
With the feed, the cows also need plenty of water to help with digestion and increase milk production. Cows like a consistency in feed, and consistency in the timing of it.
Part of Patrick’s role as feed manager is also ear tagging, dehorning and animal health treatments.
GUCD offers various training modules where future and existing farmers can gain additional knowledge about dairy farming. The one and two day courses focus on making the farm more successful, while the one week course is designed to teach everything from making cow rations, to concepts of barn construction.
Bookkeeping forms an integral part of farming, according to Susan Kidega, who is the bookkeeper at GUCD. “As important as a roof is to a house, so important is bookkeeping to a business.”
She explains that recordkeeping is the pivot of the farm. “It helps with budgeting and cash flow, it tells you whether you are making money or operating at a loss. By keeping good records, the farmer is building trust with lending institutions in the event they would ever need a loan; or a grant or donation. It also helps them to stay compliant with government regulations and helps to evaluate the overall performance of the different departments at the farm”.
The farm won the 2015 Best Farmers Award. Susan said without proper records, it would not have been possible to win this award.
Faith Adong is the training administrator and teacher at Gulu Country Dairy Training Centre (GUCD). According to Faith the training benefits the community and is empowering the small dairy farmer in terms of new knowledge and modern dairy practices. Various training modules are available and varies from four weeks to one day.
Faith said she has seen an increase in the milk production among the dairy farmers who trained at GUCD. “For example, after taking the training, farmers have started introducing silage during the dry season to increase milk production and quality of milk. So now, the milk production stays more consistent over the different seasons.”
The revenue from the increase in milk production of those who received training at GUCD has helped to create wealth in the community. For example, children can now stay in school because parents can afford tuition. In the past many children were chased away from school due to non payment of fees. Parents can now also afford medical care in case of sickness and they can afford to eat three meals.
One farmer who has benefited greatly by the training he acquired at GUCD is Alex Icaya. He purchased his cows after completing the short course training. He said it gave him the confidence to proceed with his idea of having a few dairy cows. He learned how to make and prepare the silage to store for the dry season. He also learned more about cow health and cow comfort.
On whether he would recommend the training to other would be farmers, Alex said he is now assured of a daily income and would definitely recommend it. “In the past I struggled to get milk for my children. I would go to buy from someone and then at times they would be out of milk. Now I get enough milk for my family and I sell the rest. I love working with my cows, it is not a hardship, it is a passion. In the past I would go out and drink in the evenings. I think people drink because they are bored. Now, I stay home and work with the cows and I drink milk,” he said with a smile.
Dr. Tonny Kidega, Manager of GUCD, recently met with a local dairy farmer, Rev. Allan, in the Gulu District to discuss how to increase milk production and reduce calf losses.
Milk production during the dry season is always a concern for farmers, but there are some ways to keep production up by doing certain things, Dr. Kidega explained. One suggestion is to plant supplements during the rainy season, to feed during the dry months. In the training at GUCD, students will learn techniques on how to properly store for the dry months.
Rev. Allan has been a dairy farmer for a while and said her biggest concern is calf survival. Dr. Kidega stated that at GUCD they have not lost a single female calf in all the years he has been running it. He gave the farmer some ideas on how to improve on calf losses. These protocols are part of the training curriculum offered by GUCD. Training is starting soon and various courses are available. See training calendar on website.
Susan Aciro, assistant to the veterinarian at Gulu Country Dairy, said the theory about cow management she learned in school was made more useful by the hands-on experience she gathered during the last 3 years at the dairy farm.
Currently twenty cows are being milked at GUCD. Susan said cow comfort is one of the things that is very important. For this reason she makes sure that the bedding is free of debris, sand is loose, and leveled with a slight slope, so that cows have a comfortable place to rest during the times they are not grazing. She said for the cow to lie in cow manure could be a potential cause of mastitis.
She said when the farmer is milking, he or she needs to be critical and monitor the cow for signs of distress. She said to look and see if the cow is eating well. The water needs to be clean, fresh and cool at all times. When the animal has access to sufficient feed and cold water, milk production will increase.
Classes are starting soon for the hands-on training. If you are interested in learning more, please email the firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since the start of the Gulu Country Dairy Research Farm, every year has been marked by rapid changes. The highlight this year is the milk processing plant. Milk is being packaged in plastic pouches and yoghurt in cups and will be sold at an outlet store in Gulu, as well as at the East Africa Post Primary Games.