On the outskirts of Nakuru town, in Rongai, the maize is looking greener and healthy, an indication that farmers would this time round get a bumper harvest.
Maize is the main farming activity in the region, as the rest of Rift Valley, but the first sign of vibrant dairy farming is a milk bar at the Mangu Shopping Centre.
Our destination is Mangu village, some one-and-a-half kilometre away from the centre.
We are in the area in search of Joanne Nyakonyu, an agribusiness entrepreneur. Joanne runs a dairy cattle salt-lick processing agribusiness.
She is making the salt on a canvas material from several ingredients when we arrive.
“I do it manually currently after my mixer broke down. I have taken it for repair,” says Joanne.
The whole process starts at a grinder standing not far from her, which she uses to finely grind the ingredients before mixing them to end up with Milele Protein Lick that she packages in 1kg, 3kg and 5kg packs.
Joanne, 27, is the managing partner of Vanko Enterprises, which she co-owns with Vandrose Arithi, a friend.
Listening to her, one may believe she has knowledge in livestock production, but she is a 2014 BSc Information Technology graduate from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat).
Arithi, on the other hand is a University of Nairobi graduate, having studied Bsc in Operations Management. He works at Jkuat.
“I studied IT and even worked at a university as a technician but I was frustrated by employment especially because the pay was low and irregular,” she recounts. “I quit two years ago and venture into business.”
Initially, the duo thought of starting a printing business. They would after all have ready clients from the students they served at the universities.
“But this turned out to be expensive because we had to import machines from China, pay goodwill for business premises and raise three-month rent, among other expenses,” recalls Arithi
The total capital required, he adds, was over Sh600,000.
“We feared this business would exhaust our savings, leaving us unable to cater for rent, electricity and other expenses.” They dismissed it.
After racking up her brains, Joanne floated the idea of venturing into agribusiness. She had after all, grown up in a family that generally loved farming.
“I explained to Arithi that I lived in an area where dairy farming is common, meaning that we would have a ready market for dairy cattle lick,” she says, adding, “All we needed was to offer a better product better than what is offered by big manufacturers.”
After consulting several livestock experts from Egerton University and the county, the duo decided to make salt lick, specifically for dairy cattle.
Their initial capital was Sh600,000, which they spent on buying raw materials, paying for licences, buying a grinder and a mixture, among others things like canvas.
Over time, they have perfected their knowledge through seminars organised by the government’s Department of Livestock in areas such as Kabarak, and Tomato, Rongai, Dumberi and Njoro Dairy Cooperatives.
The difference between their salt lick and that made by big companies, Joanne says, is that theirs has plant-based proteins.
“There is a farmer who manufactures oil from rapeseed, and sells the by-product as animal protein. So we approached and started sourcing the by-product from him as a base for our salt,” she says.
They settled for the by-product because it is high in protein, and research shows it boosts production in dairy cattle.
Another reason why they went for it is that their market research showed none of the manufacturers uses it to make the salt lick.
Besides the plant protein, other ingredients the two use are macro-nutrients and ground rock salt.
They get the macro-nutrients from agrovet shops while she sources the rock salt from Magadi.
The plant protein and rock salt take a lion share of their formula when making the product, says Joanne, choosing not to disclose the exact ratios as that is their business ‘secret’.
A kilo of Milele Protein Lick goes for Sh200 with 3kg and 5kg retailing at Sh600 and Sh850 respectively.
KNOW WHAT MARKET NEEDS
On average, the company sells between two-three tonnes of the salt lick a month. Their main market is in Meru, but they also sell in Kiambu, Njoro, Molo, Nairobi and Nakuru. The salt is delivered to agrovet shops and dairy cooperatives for sale.
The salt lick first hit the market in October 2017 after several tests and sampling with dairy farmers.
Before venturing into the business, Arithi says one needs to have a registered business and take samples for clearance with Kenya Bureau of Standards.
It is also ideal to register the formula with the copyright board and the Kenya Association of Manufacturers.
While Arithi, who still works at the university, doubles up as the marketing and finance director, Joanne concentrates on production.
When she has many orders, she hires up to three casual labourers.
The duo dream of owning a big salt lick factory, where they would use electric-powered machines like mixers and grinders, which are faster than what they currently use.
Joanne weighs and packages the salt lick in their Nakuru establishment. Besides the plant protein, other ingredients the two use are macro-nutrients and ground rock salt. PHOTO | RACHEL KIBUI | NMG
Though the business is much better than employment, Joanne says they still face challenges in convincing new clients, some of whom still believe that quality must come from renowned manufacturers.
Three months since he started using Milele Salt lick, Silas N’torithi, a farmer in Meru, says he has no regret. His dairy cow, he adds, improved production by six litres daily, from 10 to 16.
Dr Nicholas Kuria, a veterinary surgeon based in Nakuru, says to succeed in such a business, one must know what market needs and meet the demand.
Also, one should work with with livestock experts for technical advice, and possible links to markets.
“You do not have to have studied on livestock to succeed, most large-scale salt lick and even animal feed producers are not necessarily livestock experts, but have rather invested in research.”
What happens when animals don’t get salt
The animal experiences decreased urine production as the body attempts to conserve trace elements like sodium and chloride.
This also leads to loss of appetite and weight loss.
The animal’s ability to utilise nutrition from feed decreases, meaning that it takes more feed to meet nutritional needs if the animal is still eating.
Animals develop a craving for salt. You may even see them eating or licking things like wood, barn dirt, rocks, and places where they or other animals have urinated.
In this case, the animal is simply trying to meet needs for sodium and other minerals.
There is decrease in milk production and fermentation process in the rumen doesn’t happen properly.
The minerals provide essential elements such as phosphorus, sodium, calcium, iron and zinc.
For a lactating cow, salt must be given. Sodium helps control the blood’s pH levels, and chloride helps in digestion and keeps the blood acid levels balanced.
Salt is made up of sodium and chloride, but it’s also an ideal carrier for a variety of essential minerals.