Agricultural policies in Kenya aim to improve farmers’ livelihoods. With projected climate change, these policies are short of mechanisms that promote farmers’ adaptation. As a result, smallholders are confronted with a variety of challenges including climate change, which hinders their agricultural production. Local knowledge can be instrumental in assisting smallholders to cope with climate change and variability. In this paper, we present empirical evidence that demonstrates local knowledge, perceptions and adaptations to climate change and variability amongst smallholders of Laikipia district of Kenya. A Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) calculated for one station is compared with smallholders’ perceptions. Data was collected using qualitative and quantitative methods in Umande and Muhonia sub-locations. Qualitative data included 46 transcripts from focus group discussions and key informant interviews. Quantitative data is derived from 206 interviewees. We analyzed qualitative and quantitative data using Atlas-ti and SPSS respectively. According to smallholders’ perceptions, climatic variability is increasingly changing. Local perceptions include decreasing rainfalls, increasing temperatures, increasing frosts and increasing hunger. The PDSI shows a trend towards severe droughts in the last four decades, which is in accordance with farmers’ perceptions. Smallholders use a combination of coping and adaptation strategies to respond to variability, including, among others, diversification of crop varieties, migration and sale of livestock. Significant relationships exist between drought perceptions and some adaptations such as migration and sale of livestock. Farmers have an in-depth knowledge of climatic variability, which they use to inform their coping and adaptation strategies. Knowledge of climatic perceptions and adaptations are vital entry points for decision makers and policy makers to learn how and where to enhance the adaptive capacity of smallholders in rainy and drought periods.