In 2005, Mr Jonam Okok, borrowed Sh200,000 which he invested in rice farming on his four-acre parcel of land. He says that he got nothing and had to repay the loan from his salary.
“It is said that you can make about Sh400,000 from an acre of rice. Ask me, that is a fallacy,” says Mr Okok.
Later, he turned to dairy farming, a field he says no one in the region has successfully exploited.
“When it rains, you get pools of water all over this place and it gets very cold. This is tough on dairy cows as they are susceptible to disease, so many cows die,” he says.
In 2007, after doing online research on dairy farming, he bought two heifers from a large-scale dairy farmer in Rift Valley at a cost of Sh140,000.
He started experimenting with different rearing techniques which he had gathered on the Internet. Many of the techniques, he says, have worked in desert countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“I settled on zero-grazing as the weather conditions here are too harsh to allow cows to roam free, especially during the rainy season,” he says.
Dairy farming is an expensive venture, but Mr Okok is lucky to have access to free feeds from the abundantly available rice straws.
The straws are treated with urea to boost their protein content, then mixed with molasses, mineral salts, and salt lick. Calves and milk cows are fed on napier grass planted on the farm.
The two cows he started with have since grown into a herd of 21 which he estimates to be worth Sh1.2 million.
“I once took a loan of Sh100,000 to buy a Friesian cow which died even before calving, but I was not weighed down by that,” he says.
The 56-year-old farmer has insured his herd and pays a premium of four per cent of the worth of each animal, amounting to about Sh60,000 annually, a cost which he says is negligible considering the high cost of acquiring high breed cows.
The four cows that are currently being milked produce an average of 50 litres a day, although he says the output can be doubled. He sells the milk locally at Sh60 a litre, making about Sh90,000 a month, money which he says has seen his four children through school. Much of the milk is consumed in Kisumu and its environs.
According to him, all the knowledge he has on managing his animals, including treatment, are self-taught. He has never attended a field day for farmers due to the demanding nature of his work.
“I am an accountant at a school and the little time I have is dedicated to the animals, but I have learnt so much from the Internet that I hardly even deal with veterinary doctors any more,” says Mr Okok.
He said he stopped using the services of veterinary officers allegedly because of their negligence and poor service.
This and the lack of regular extension services from the Ministry of Livestock, he says, have over the years forced him to be his own veterinary doctor as well as animal nutritionist.
Although he has two farm hands, the school accountant wakes up at 5am to treat the rice straws and leaves instructions on the feeding of the animals.
He keeps three breeds; Friesian, Ayrshire, and Red Poll, a dual purpose breed. He says his land can accommodate 70 cows.