After moving to his home on the outskirts of Nakuru town four years ago, John Ngunjiri went into goat farming, keeping some five milk animals on his eighth-acre.
Soon, however, several flats were built in the neighbourhood, making it harder for him to continue keeping the animals in the environment.
“I sold them and moved to chickens because neighbours were always complaining. Again, getting feeds for the animals became a little harder,” he said.
Rapid population growth, shrinking land sizes and increased urbanisation are some of the things that are taking a toll on goat farming, livestock experts and farmers have observed.
Other challenges include lack of quality breeding stock and semen for dairy goats, poor record-keeping, cartels in the industry and poor funding for research by the government.
There are also uncontrolled outbreaks of diseases, leading to massive deaths, lack of goat-specific products, high transportation cost of bucks from one county to another and lack of extension services.
These challenges, which were discussed at the recently held Animal Production Society of Kenya Scientific conference in Nakuru, have weighed down on the sector, leading to diminishing production despite a majority of farmers going for hybrid animals.
The meeting brought together farmers who are members of the Dairy Goat Association of Kenya (DGAK), researchers and experts in animal production.
The consensus at the event was that goat farming is facing a bleak future unless measures are taken to correct what is ailing the industry.
Some of the goat breeds kept in Kenya are Toggenburg, Oberhasi, Galla, Small East African Goat, Alpines and Boer. Most farmers keep Alpines and Toggenburgs mainly for milk.
Charles Nyairo, a goat farmer from Kisii County, said that at the farm level, most goatkeepers, unlike their cattle counterparts, do not maintain records, making it harder to do breeding and know the output of the animals.
“Many farmers do selection for breeding without records? This is like picking the best out of the worst? Even if the milk quantity is small, farmers need to keep records,” said Nyairo, who further decried lack of extension services at the grassroots.
Lack of quality genetic material has slowed down the production of pedigree goats, leading to declined milk production, the conference was told.
“The genetic material that farmers are using today was imported from South Africa many years ago. Farmers are reusing the same bucks for breeding and this has resulted in inbreeding, low production and stunted growth in animals,” he said.
Many goat farmers are, therefore, losing their animals, a situation that is discouraging other potential farmers to join the production line.
“Farmers who cannot keep a cow due to their small land sizes or cost of feeding the animal would prefer to keep a goat but with no genetic materials to improve their herd, that is proving to be a tough task,” said Nyairo.
A majority of farmers are also not aware of mastitis in dairy goats, whose prevalence in areas such as Thika is estimated to be more than 50 per cent.
“Farmers need to be trained on how to tackle the deadly mastitis through good dairy husbandry and clean milking practices,” said Nyairo.
Farmers further cited lack of supplement feeds for dairy goats, which are not manufactured in large quantities as compared to those of cows.
“Feed manufacturers should know that most dairy goat farmers have embraced zero-grazing. Therefore, they also need dairy meal for their animals,” said Alex Adagala, who has been keeping goats in Vihiga for close to 30 years.
Adagala added that farmers need to be taught how to construct simple, affordable but quality structures that protect the animals from pests, diseases and vagaries of weather.
More lessons are also needed to help farmers know how to eliminate odour in goat milk, which puts people off.
According to experts, while having a buck in the same pen with the doe contributes to the odour in goat milk, the produce has a high amount of lactic acid which multiplies faster especially if the milk is stored in temperatures above 380C. This affects the flavour and smell of milk.
Therefore, once milking is done, the milk should be promptly cooled to about 170C. This is necessary to stop enzyme action and prevent lipolysis (the breakdown of fats and other lipids to release fatty acids), which contributes to the goaty flavour (smell) of milk.
He said goats kept under zero-grazing feed on napier grass, Rhodes grass, Kikuyu grass, maize and hay.
They also love lucerne, calliandra, leucena, desmodium, mulberry, sweet potato vines, cotton seed cake, sunflower cake and soy bean cake for proteins, feeds that are, however, harder to come by.
According to statistics from the Ministry of agriculture, as at the end of 2018, the total population of goats in the country was 15 million out of which 400,000 were dairy goats. This was an increase from 13 million in 2016 but most of the animals are kept for meat.
Dr Mugo Njeru, a dairy goat expert, advised farmers to form associations so that they can easily access supplement feeds which are expensive.
“Currently, a dairy goat farmer is required to buy a minimum of three tonnes of weaner pellet at agrovets, which is expensive for them,” said Dr Njeru.
He called for a review of the lengthy procedures one has to go through to acquire a permit to import semen if the pedigree goat population is to increase.
“The process of obtaining a permit to import semen can take between one and two years. We must address this to expand the goat enterprise,” said Dr Njeru, noting that there are few value-added goat products in the market, such as pasteurised milk, yoghurt and cheese.
Last year, the county government of Meru put up a Sh10 million goat milk processing factory but due to lack of enough produce, the facility is underperforming.
“We are processing 3,000 litres a week, which is below capacity, yet demand for the produce in supermarkets is rising. Not many people are keeping goats for milk,” said Dr Njeru.
Goat milk has been associated with the sick and children suffering from malnutrition, a fact that has also hindered its consumption.
Besides, the price of the commodity is too high as it costs up to Sh300 per litre in supermarkets.
“Sh300 is more than the daily wage of the poor farmers. Many people buy half a litre, which is shared by the spoonful, just like medicine,” said Dr Mugo.
He observed that the price of the milk will come down if production increases as there is huge demand of the produce due to its medicinal value.
“The government must help farmers increase production to sell huge volumes and that way the goat enterprise will expand.”
Dr Douglas Indeche, who heads the Eastern Africa Agricultural Productivity Project at the Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation (Karlo), said the government is setting up an artificial insemination centre for goats at the Animal Health and Industrial Training Institute-Ndomba in Kerugoya, Kirinyaga County.
“This facility will facilitate easy access to goat semen,” he said.
Mwangi Warui, a member of DGAK, Nyeri, who breeds Toggenburg animals, said that last year, he sold goats worth Sh8 million, a sharp drop from Sh21 million in 2017.
Active dairy goat farmers’ associations are also in existence in Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Kisumu, Vihiga, Kiambu and Nakuru counties.
“The decline is mainly due low demand for the animals for dairy purposes as farmers grapple with various challenges in the sector. In Nyeri, farmers have no cold rooms to store the produce and sell it later,” he said.
Dr Joseph Kiura from Kalro’s animal research centre in Naivasha said research work is being done on goats to boost milk production among small-scale dairy farmers whose production averages two litres per animal, a day.
Many benefits of goat milk
Goat milk is superior to a cow’s because it is high in calcium and amino acids such as tryptophan, which are necessary for development of healthy bones.
The milk also has a higher percentage of fatty acids, about 35 per cent, against 17 per cent in cow milk, which makes it more nutritious.
Goat milk is also easier to digest because its fats are smaller compared to a cow’s.
The milk is also naturally lower in cholesterol and therefore safer to consume for people who are checking both their cholesterol intake and their waistlines.