Cattle rearing is a tricky business. Miss a day when a cow is in heat, and your herd doesn't expand. Have the wrong (or no) market information and you may lose money when selling off your cattle or its products. To make cattle rearing predictable and profitable, farmer and entrepreneur Su Kahumbu created iCow, a mobile phone service that gives a myriad of information and advice to cattle farmers.
Mutige is three months' pregnant. Her owner, Michael Ruchu, is delighted, predicting that his cow's offspring will produce up to 25 liters of milk each day.
"Its father was a very good bull, and I am expecting Mutige to give me a very good heifer," says Ruchu.
Mutige was inseminated artificially, using key information from a mobile phone service called iCow. Ruchu's three goats are also registered with iCow.
Ruchu, whose one-hectare farm is about an hour outside Nairobi, gets regular advice from the mobile phone service. The iCow team has a file on Mutige. They keep track of all stages of the pregnancy, texting instructions on what to do at what time.
"OK, we'll take the cow calendar, which is conventionally two discs that sit in a card. When your cow is impregnated, you line up certain things on the disc and it will tell you when you need to do your pregnancy diagnostic test, when to need to start milking her if she is a lactating animal, when you look and see if she is coming on heat, etc. I said, 'we can digitize that into a telephone system so that farmers that do not have access to this, we can actually send them information," iCow creator and farmer Su Kahumbu explains.
Kahumbu launched iCow last year aiming to help small-scale farmers via texts, or SMSs, delivered via mobile telephone.
"Farmers sign up to a three, SMS-a-week system with their authority once they have registered," Kahumbu adds. "We then send them information on good practices around feed, nutrition, animal health care, calf care, etc."
It is also an effective networking tool, as farmer Michael Ruchu discovered.
"Some people who are staying at Nairobi, through iCow, they just called me in my telephone number asking me whether I can supply them - they have seen me somewhere, and they took that number from iCow informing me, 'You are selling goat milk?' I told them, 'Yes, I do sell.' [And they said] 'Oh, we want some liters of goat milk," Ruchu notes.
Kahumbu says a survey conducted seven months after iCow's launch showed that 42 percent of farmers on the system reported earning higher incomes as a result of more information.