The 13,000-hectare Kapiti plains ranch, located in Machakos County, southern Kenya, was acquired in 1987 by the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases—a predecessor of ILRI—to produce good-quality, disease-free cattle for research purposes, mainly the improved control of East Coast fever and African animal trypanosomiasis. The ranch is wholly owned by ILRI and registered under Kenya Company Laws as a public limited company. The ranch is home to 2,500 cattle (mainly of the local Boran breed, with a few Boran-Friesian crossbreds); 1,200 sheep (a mix of Dorper, Kenyan Red Maasai and some crossbreds); and 250 Galla goats native to northern Kenya.
Kapiti ranch is located in Kenya’s semi-arid lands (550mm average rainfall) at an altitude of 1,650–1,900m above sea level. The soils of the ranch are mainly black cotton (in the plains) and red cotton (in the ridges); and they support diverse savanna grasses: tussock-forming Themeda (commonly known as kangaroo or red oat grass); Panicum (switchgrass); Chloris (windmill or finger grass); Pennisetum (fountain grass); Cenchrus (African foxtail grass); Setaria (foxtail or bristle grasses); Acacia (whistling thorn); and Balanites trees.
Though the ranch’s pasture is usually adequate for its livestock farming, during the dry season water continues to be a major constraint to efficient production. Four boreholes and nine water pans (the latter largely dependent on rainfall) currently supply the ranch with water. A new water pan has just been completed, opening up an area with good-to-excellent pasture.
Kapiti is home to various wildlife, including giraffes, gazelles, antelopes and zebras, as well as predators such as hyenas, lions, cheetahs and leopards. Owing to various infrastructural developments in the neighbourhood (highways, Konza Technology City), Kapiti has become a safe haven for wildlife. This presents unique opportunities to include wildlife in research projects.
Kapiti’s newly renovated farmhouse is now available for group retreats and workshops and to scientists conducting research on the ranch. Situated in delightful surroundings, the charming traditional-style farmhouse can accommodate up to 18 people in 9 bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. It offers one large and one small meeting room and a fully equipped kitchen. Workshops of more than 18 participants can also be organized.
Other infrastructure on the ranch includes offices, spray races, a newly designed cattle crush, two cattle yards, the second with an attached laboratory, as well as various permanent structures and mobile cattle enclosures (bomas) for housing livestock at night. Staff housing is available.
Significant research activities are being undertaken at Kapiti Research Station, these include addressing livestock productivity through the bioscience and intergrated science programs.
For example, some of the vaccine work undertaken at Kapiti includes activities on malignant catarrhal fever, a disease caused by wildebeest calving season which affects cattle, foot-and-mouth disease, and Rift Valley fever which is a viral zoonotic disease which can affect humans. Some of the genetics research activities include selection and crossbreeding to improve sheep productivity between the indigenous Red Masaai and south African Dorper as well as some trypanotolerant activities. Kapiti's vast lands are being used in climate change activities, and these include assessing nitrogen loss pathways in semi-arit livestock systems in east Africa, the video links below provide more information on these activities. Additional work is being undertaken to determine drought tolerant Bracharia varieties.