Robert's Daily Dairy Routine

01/08/2012 12:55 BST | Updated 30/09/2012 10:12 BST


The moon still casts a silver glow over Legetio when Robert Ndeno gets up to milk the cows. Every morning at 6 am the 24-year-old 'shamba boy' makes his way across the dew-soaked grass to the small wooden hut behind Samuel Yator's house where he sets a fire to warm a pot of water.

First he douses her udders with the warm water before smearing them with cream "so that they will be soft."

The hens awake about 10 minutes later and emerge from their coop to cluck about the yard, poking the ground in search of maize. By now the water is warm enough and Robert decants it into a plastic jug which he carries to the milking parlour - a row of wooden pens mounted on concrete.

He begins by coaxing the first of three cows into a pen and tying its hind legs together. "We are tying like this because she's kicking," he explains.

Then he reaches for two of the teats and begins tugging them in turn, angling the jets of warm milk into a bucket that starts to slowly froth and foam.

He started working on the farm six weeks ago. "I was doing nothing at Calicho," he says in reference to his hometown. "Someone told me there was a Mzee [old man] in Legetio who wanted a boy working for him so I decided to come and now I'm here."

Unable to afford secondary school fees he finished his education after form 8, the final year of the primary cycle. By that stage his father, a truck driver, had run off with another woman, abandoning his mother with five children, so continuing education was out of the question anyway: he had to go out and earn money.

He likes working on the farm, he says as he unties the first cow. She backs slowly out of the pen, making way for the next one. As he ties her legs he continues: "But I want to go to train myself up to be a driver." Now he's saving the money he earns for the instruction course.

When he's finished with the cows he brings the container of milk back to the hut, where Mr Yator will pick it up and weigh it.

The Mzee gets up at about 7 am to collect the milk, vapour still rising off it in the cool morning air. Beside his house there is a weighing centre where 20 local farmers bring their milk each morning for collection by the Kenyan Co-operative Creamery.

Some of them arrive with heavy containers strapped to their backs; others come on bicycles, a few on motorbikes.

As the chairman of the farmers' group, Mr Yator records the weight of their daily produce. At the end of the month the creamery will give him a bulk payment which he will then distribute accordingly.

The farmers pour their milk through a sieve into a bucket before testing it with a thermometer "to certify," Samuel says, "that it is milk, not water." Then it's transferred to large drums to await the man from the creamery.

He arrives on his motorbike a short while later and the drums, five of them, are lashed to the bike. A quick exchange of documents between himself and Samuel - today 120 kilos of milk were collected - and he's off, disappearing down the dusty dirt road.

And tomorrow, at 6am, Robert will get up to milk the cows.