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Besigye’s farm overcomes drought through hay, silage improvisation

Mugisha Besigye tending to his cows

While most potential dairy farmers would want to acquire big chunks of land before taking off, MUGISHA BESIGYE thinks otherwise. Arthur Matsiko visited the 68-year-old retired magistrate who has discovered a secret in hay and silage.

In Buyuki, Nama sub-county in Mukono district lies Besigye’s dairy farm which consists of at least 160 Friesian and Ayrshire cows.

Despite the blazing January midday sun that forces many into a shade, Besigye is walking through the gardens of exotic pastures which he uses to make hay and silage for his cows.

The farm comprises various structures and paddocks containing cows on zero grazing and free range systems. Meanwhile, about a dozen visibly energetic men are busy either washing milk cans or cleaning the milking area while others are feeding the cows, cutting grass or taking care of the calves.

Although the natural grass on his farm is dry, he says his cows have never felt any bad impact of a dry season.

“With modern technology, you do not need a big chunk of land to establish a commercial dairy farm. You can feed more than 100 cows on less than 20 acres of land using hay and silage,” he says.

Hay refers grass that has been cut, dried, and stored for use as animal fodder, particularly for grazing animals such as cattle, horses, goats and sheep. Silage is fermented, high-moisture stored fodder which can be fed to cattle, sheep and other such ruminants (cud-chewing animals).

The difference is that whereas hay is kept dry, silage is kept with moisture. To demonstrate this, he grows grass for hay on 20 acres and maize for silage on five acres.

Besigye had always been captivated by dairy farming in the mid-1980s while working in Bushenyi as grade one magistrate. In 1996 while working as a magistrate at Nakawa court, he bought two cows which he reared at his residence in Mbuya. When the cows multiplied to seven, he was compelled to look for land for extensive dairy farming.

In 2000, he went all out to start preparing for life after retirement. He bought 50 acres in Buyuki at Shs 20 million and took all his cows there to start Kaganga farm. Indeed, Besigye retired from civil service in 2007 to fully focus on his cows.

“When people retire, they usually suffer. After retirement, therefore, you need a reasonable source of income,” he says.

The land he bought was a jungle with no palatable grass. Thus, he cleared the shrubs and planted exotic grass. His aim was to counter the dry spells that usually leave cattle dead in many parts of the country. Looking at his cows, you will realize how Besigye has tamed dry seasons.

“With exotic grass, you make hay because the dry season is continuing until probably late February,” he says. “So, the animals will be fed on hay and silage.”

MANAGING THE FARM

Although he still lives in Mbuya, the father of four goes to Mukono daily. “Just like any other business, your presence is required if you must operate a successful commercial farm,” he says.

Indeed, we did not sit in one place for this interview because he was monitoring whether the workers were doing their respective work. To those who have farms but leave them for workers to manage, Besigye says such people never go far because he believes workers have a limit.

The machine that chops grass and maize to make silage

He adds that most people do not regard farming as an occupation, and, thus, end up losing the investment due to poor planning and management. During the milking session, Besigye was taking notes of how many litres each cow produced. (Each cow has a name and number.)

MAKING MONEY

Besigye says people who claim there is no money in farming are those that simply do not invest in it; and when they do so, they lack proper management.

Over time, he has expanded Kaganga farm from 50 to 120 acres due to the multiplication of cows to more than 150. In a good season, Besigye’s cows produce at most 500 litres of milk daily.

Until 2014, he had been selling milk to a middleman, who would also sell it to various clients including Uganda Christian University. However, Besigye realized he could do better by opening up a dairy shop in Mukono town, which sells 300 litres daily on average. To retailers, he sells a litre at Shs 1,000 and Shs 1,500 to consumers.

Besigye inspects his hay store

Besigye has a section of bulls which he uses to fertilize the heifers and for sale. A mature bull costs Shs 3 million whereas one for rearing costs between Shs 800,000 and Shs 1.2m. For the heifers, one will part with Shs 3.5m to get one from Besigye’s farm.

After realizing the need for value addition, Besigye has installed electricity, water and machines for a ‘cottage industry’ for making yoghurt and packing milk that would have a longer shelf life. This project, he believes, shall start by June.

CONTINUITY

Once his value-addition project becomes a success, Besigye says he will not be bothered with what happens to his farm when God calls him.

“Farming is a hobby and you cannot force anybody to take it up,” he says, adding that the onus will be on his children to utilize the land as they wish.

How Besigye makes hay and silage 

HAY

  • Cut three-month-old grass
  • Dry it for about at least three days – depending on the weather
  • Tie it using a machine
  • Keep it in an aerated store
  • As long as it is dry, it can be stored for as many years as possible

SILAGE

  • Grow maize until it is ready for harvest
  • Harvest the whole maize plant (the stem, leaves and cob)
  • Dig a pit and spread some grass in it
  • Chop the harvested maize with a machine
  • Pour it in the pit and cover with polythene to avoid aeration
  • Give it two months to ferment
  • Open and feed the animals

matsiko@observer.ug

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