Part VII: Benefits of Small Scale Farming in Kenya

This is a cow owned by one of our neighbors. Notice that the cow is tied up and is eating grass along the roadside. This is a very common practice. Unfortunately this does not allow the cow to produce much milk. We do what is called “zero grazing” in that we keep the cows in the barn and bring them their food, mostly chopped up Napier (elephant) grass. This gives considerably more milk production.

Almost all small scale farmers in Kenya keep animals with most keeping a variety. Here is the list according to the 2009 census when the Kenyan population was 39,000,000 million:

Exotic cattle (i.e., grade cows from European breeds) = 3,355,407

Indigenous cattle (zebu cows) = 14,112,367

Sheep = 17,129,606

Goats = 27,740,153

Camels = 2,971,111

Chickens (2016 estimate) = 31,000,000

In this Report I want to focus on the two most important ones, cows and chickens.

Cattle: Cattle serve four purposes in the life of the small scale farmer. First the cows give milk which Kenyans, following the British custom, pour in their tea. Not only does this taste good, but it is very healthy for children.

The second use is for meat. Cows in Kenya are all grass-feed as they are not given grain to eat like in the US. Consequently the meat is healthy and not fatty nor do the cows consume food that can be eaten by humans. Here in Lumakanda we pay 320/- for a kilogram of meat ($1.45 per pound). There are four butcher shops in Lumakanda that sell beef. The slaughter house is down the road in Gladys’ cousin plot and one or more cows are slaughtered each day. The person who kills the cows in the kosher way by slitting the throat is always a Muslim. Since Muslins do not eat pork, the butcher shops do not sell meat from pigs. There is a special butcher shop that sells pork and I assume that the slaughtering is done elsewhere by a non-Muslim.

The third is for their manure which is spread on the fields to enhance fertility.

The fourth, and often neglected purpose for keeping cows, is pecuniary – it is not surprising that the Latin root of this word means “cattle.” People keep cows as a easily accessible savings account. If there is a needed large expense such as school fees, health problems, building a house, and so on – a cow can easily be sold to obtain the needed funds. Every Thursday in Kipkarren River near our house there is a cattle/goat/sheep market where anyone can sell their animals. We have used it on occasion. Moreover cows give a much higher return on the savings account – we are receiving 0.05% interest on our saving account in the US and 6.5% on our savings account here in Kenya. A cow will give a calf about once per year and three years after a heifer is born, she can give birth to another cow. A nice full grown cow will fetch from 30,000/- ($300) to 75,000/- ($750). Those Maasai so beloved by tourists who are walking around with 100 cows are grazing at least 3,000,000/- ($30,000) worth of livestock.

Except for bulls who have been castrated to become oxen, there are very few bulls – a female calf is a birth of joy. The reason is that here in highlands of Kenya most farmers use artificial insemination. This means that over time the pure traditional zebu cow become more one half exotic breed, then three quarters, then seven eights and so on. Since the exotic breeds give much more milk, over time the production of milk will continue to increase, no doubt keeping up with population increase.

Many farmers just let the hens run around the yard searching for food, but they return home at night to roost. This is one of our hens with her chicks which we allow outside the chicken house where we keep the adult hens and one rooster.

Chickens: Many small scale farmers keep chickens. Some just let them run around and scratch for food. Others like us build a chicken house for them to stay in and we give them food. We do let them out sometimes in the late afternoon to search for bugs and eat some grass which gives their eggs the dark yellow color. Like cows, chickens have four purposes:

The first is the eggs, while the second is meat. All roosters except one are slaughtered at home for dinner. Unlike beef which is cheap, chickens are expensive. One adult hen/rooster will cost between 500/- ($5.00) and 750/- ($7.50). Just before Christmas when everyone wants a nice chicken for their Christmas day festivities, the price rises to 1000/- ($10.00) or more. When chickens are kept in a chicken house like we do, the manure is spread on the fields.

The fourth purpose of chickens is most interesting. A chicken is the major gift that people give each other. When Gladys’ father was still alive and we visited him, we would often give him a chicken for a present. His custom was to slaughter a chicken to honor our visit, but it could not be the chicken we brought. When relatives come to visit us, they sometimes bring a chicken. Children are also given chickens as presents. Under the custom here the chicken is then the “property” of the child. For example, grandson Brian was given a nice rooster, but we could not slaughter it until Douglas, his dad, came to visit us. This giving and receiving of chickens is a symbolic sign of relationship and friendship.

A neighbor’s goat tied up to eat the grass and shrubs plus a free range hen.

Some farmers also keep other animals – goats, sheep, camels (in the arid and semi-arid parts of Kenya), donkeys, pigs, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, dogs (which live outside and guard the house), and cats. This diversity of animals helps support the small scale farmer and is a great enhancement to his/her quality of life.


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David Zarembka

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