12 June 1998

Farm tasks all at once on Kenyan slopes

While you were battling with the spring planting and spraying, spare thought for those of us who have had to plant, spray, harvest and make hay all at the same time.

We live at 2430m (8000ft) on the northern slopes of Mt Kenya on a mixed farm of 14,000ha (34,580 acres). With 1000 sheep, 2500 cattle and approximately 4000ha (9880 acres) of cereals under cultivation each year. Because of the two main rainy seasons we have two planting and harvest seasons. In March we were trying to harvest 1000ha (2447 acres) of grain – mainly wheat with some oats and barley – and plant 2000ha (4940 acres) at the same time. We were also, courtesy of El Nino, trying to bale the biggest hay crop in living memory with three ancient balers which seemed to break down by rotation. Added to which there was all the ploughing, soil preparation, and spraying that goes with planting 2000ha (4940 acres) for harvest in August/September. The Bateman 80m (262ft) sprayer has more than paid for itself over the 8000 hours it has done in just over two years. It has eliminated the need for costly air spraying and gets the job done in half the time of conventional sprayers.

Six Ford tractors do the cultivation and planting and three lorries bring the grain from the field into the wheat store which has a capacity for just over 2000 tons. Five Brazilian made Massey Ferguson 3640 combines cope with the gathering of the crop on sometimes alarmingly sloping fields.

All this machinery adds up to one big headache for the farm engineer who also has all the other vehicles to keep in order. With the nearest spare parts 25 miles (40km) away and the Massey dealer a 3-hour drive, an ability to make do and mend and a sense of humour are a must.

We enjoyed typical March pre-rain weather: Hot days with a strong northerly wind getting up around mid morning to blow until dusk. The nights are cool but not cold and the only problem is the dust which gets into everything. The difficulties of farming at this altitude and in this country are often outweighed by the pleasures of getting out and about in spare time and enjoying the spectacular scenery and wildlife that Kenya has to offer.

Gillian Sadler

Nanyuki, Kenya.

One extra thing that you can do with one of Grandads ring feeders, says

TR Buchell-May of Godshill, Isle of Wight. This one produced more than 300lbs of runner beans and you can get-fed up with eating them!