He was a carpenter and his clients liked his products. But he was earning little money, so he decided to go into farming. Bruhan Ssekaggya told Fred Muzaale how this decision paid off.
I am Bruhan Lugoloobi Ssekaggya, 35 years of age, and I am the proprietor of Lubus Mixed Farm and Information Centre, which is in Ntooke village, Kayunga sub-county, Kayunga district.
On my farm, I have five enterprises that comprise 26 cows under zero grazing, fish, coffee, bananas and vegetables.
Before I started farming in 1998, I was a professional carpenter; I have a diploma in carpentry and joinery from Ahmed Seguya Memorial Institute, which is in Kayunga.
I did carpentry for two years prior to turning to farming. I loved the job because despite the little money I earned, I got many compliments from the customers on my high-quality products. This made me feel contented.
But in 1998, I started dairy farming after realising that the demand for milk in my area was high. Using Shs800,000 I saved, I bought 10 indigenous calves at Shs70,000 each from farmers in the area.
I started with these breeds because the money was not enough for crossbreeds or Friesians. Then I constructed sheds for the calves to sleep in but reared them on free range system since I had not grown pastures to feed them on under a zero grazing system.
At almost three years, the cows started producing milk but I was disappointed by the quantity. Each cow was producing one litre of milk a day. This was too little, given the amount of capital I had invested and was spending.
At one point, I thought of going back to carpentry. But in 2003, I went to Kenya after receiving information that the farmers there had good dairy breeds.
My intention was to learn how they look after their dairy cows for the high yields. I visited several farmers, who advised me to use artificial insemination to improve my indigenous breeds.
When I came back, I contacted veterinary officers, who carried out the artificial insemination at Shs10,000 each.
After a gestation period of nine months, the cows produced crossbreed calves, which also matured and produced other calves. These cross breeds, giving me 10 litres of milk per cow per day.
As I continued using artificial insemination on the cross breeds, I got better dairy breeds which will could give me 40 litres of milk per cow per day.
More lessons from Kenya
I now had breeds whose output was good but needed a lot of care, which I did not know. In 2008, I went back to Kenya where I visited farmers in Kitale, Eldoret and Nakuru. This time, my focus was on care and management.
While there, I realised many farmers had a big number of dairy cows on a small area, as small as a 50 by 100 feet. I was surprised to find that on such small piece of land, farmers had up to 40 cattle under zero grazing.
When I came back, I bought seven acres of land on which I utilised a 50 by 50 feet piece to construct sheds for 15 cows under zero grazing.
Because I used locally available materials like wood and iron sheets I did not spend much on on the construction. Also, I plant pastures on two acres, namely, Boma Rodes, Bricaria, alfalfa, calliandra, Desmodium and Napier grass.
While there was increased milk production, the market was limited. I opened a shop in Kayunga town from where I sell my milk. In doing so, profits increased because I could store the milk for two days in the freezer.
I feed the cows only on hay and silage, which I make on the farm. I feed the cows on dry grass because it has a dry matter which ruminants need a lot. Because they eat dry grass, they drink a lot of water; so I established a water source at the farm.
Because they are zero grazing, the cows rarely get ill. I spray them only once a year to avoid ticks because they hardly ever have them.
To guard against the effects of drought or dry seasons, I have set up an irrigation system on the farm, which covers about five acres of the farm.
The irrigation system, which cost Shs13m, is used to water the banana, coffee and vegetable gardens when there are no rains. This enables me to grow crops throughout the year.
To boost milk production, I also feed the cows on molaplus livestock microbes, which I buy from Kenya at Shs100,000 per jerry can. This increases milk production by five per cent.
From selling milk, I earn Shs9m from each cow in nine months. After the cow gives birth, I milk it for 10 months and stop milking it when its gestation period reaches seven months.
Each cow has its own record file that shows its age, lactation period, disease infection. Record keeping helps me keep track of each cow’s milk output and related matters.
In all by persisting and improving the dairy production, I got capital to start the other enterprises to diversify my income.
I set up a half-an-acre banana plantation, five fishing ponds, a vegetable garden on a quarter an acre and a coffee plantation. There is also a bio gas plant, which uses cow dung as a source of energy for cooking and lighting.
How to make hay
Grass is the cheapest source of livestock feed and ruminant animals depend on it as a major source of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Hay is a popular form of forage preservation, particularly with smallholders. It is made from fresh grass with a moisture content of 80 per cent.
And through a drying process to a moisture level of 20 per cent, it can be stored effectively.
Grasses or legumes can be used to make hay. Maize, alfalfa, caliandra, beans, desmodium, Bricaria are some examples.
A farmer should cut the grass before it fully flowers. This is because at this stage, they are very nutritious for animals.
After cutting it, the grass should be left in the sun to dry partially. Then, it should be placed in a shed to be air dried.
This allows the hay to remain soft thus being palatable to the livestock.
The drying can last two or more weeks depending on the weather.
When dry, it should be baled and stored in a shed for future use or can be fed to the animals.
The hay can also be mixed with molasses or salt to make it more palatable to the animals.
Going beyond the dairy farm
Before digging the fish ponds, I took the water samples for measurement of its pH. I then hired local labour to dig the fish ponds and stocked them with 27,500 tilapia fish seed, which I bought from Soni fish farm in Jinja.
The fish I bought were sex-reversed fish, which means that that they do not reproduce. This is because if you put fish that reproduce in a pond, they can become many, which can lead to food and oxygen shortage. In total, I spent Shs20m on the ponds and buying the fish seed.
I feed the fish on cow dung and fish pellets. I buy fish pellets at Shs23,000 a kilogramme from Ugachick. I throw in the pellets and cowdung four times a day when the fish is still young but when they are mature, I feed them once.
After eight months, the fish was ready for sale. I sell a kilo of fish at Shs7,000. Most of my customers of the fish come from Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan although I also sell to local customers.
From this activity, I earn about Shs100m a year.
For the coffee, I grow elite and clonal types. I mulch the coffee and use cow dung as fertiliser in the garden. I also have a nursery, which has over 20,000 seedlings. I charge Shs500 for ten seedlings.
My main customers are districts and local farmers. From this venture, I get about Shs20m a year.
On my farm, I also train farmers on modern farming practices as regards coffee and the other activities that I carry out. However, most of them are interested in dairy.
I charge them only Shs10,000 per person. I do not charge them a lot because I want many framers to come and learn from me.
This is because many farmers who are interested in farming do not know what to do in order to get high yields from their projects.
On my vegetable garden, I grow tomatoes, cabbages, dodo, nakati and jobyo. I use the cow dung as a fertiliser. From this one, I earn about Shs2m in three months. I am able to grow vegetables all year-round because I apply irrigation during the dry seasons.
Advantages of keeping cows under zero grazing
When a farmer practises zero grazing his/her animals rarely get sick because they do nOt mix with other animals. This in a way cuts a farmers’ costs on treatment of the animals.
Another advantage is that zero grazing is that since animals are confined in a shed they do not eat other people’s crops.
Additionally, a farmer can graze over 50 heads of cattle on a small piece of land, which means it ensures optimal land utilisation. Because of this, a farmer can practice zero grazing in an urban area.
Because the animals are in one place, a farmer can easily identify those which are sick and treat them quickly.
But a farmer practising zero grazing should ensure that the cow sheds are clean all the time. This means that the cow dung should be removed every day. In addition, the farmer should have a reliable source of water because the animals need a lot of drinking water since they feed on dry pasture.
Achievements and future plans
With the proceeds from my business, I have been able to build a nice house for my family and take my children to good schools. I am also known among farmers because whoever comes to consult informs the others about what I do and they also come and learn from me.
Despite the achievements, I also face a number of challenges which include lack of a reliable market for my coffee seedlings. This leads to some of it to dry up in the nursery, which leads to losses. The other challenge I face is fluctuating prices of milk. During rainy season, the milk supply is high so its prices goes down.
Future plans: Among the things I want to do is adding value to the milk and make cheese, ice cream and yoghurt. This would increase my profits. This would also necessitate increasing the number of cows.