Dairy farming is an important part of Kenya’s agricultural industry and economy. With a suitable climate and geography for raising dairy cattle, Kenya has developed a robust domestic dairy sector. Proper management practices are crucial for operating a successful and productive dairy farm in Kenya. Here is an overview of the best practices for managing a dairy farm in Kenya.
Feeding Dairy Cattle
Proper nutrition is essential for optimizing milk production and maintaining healthy dairy cows. Here are some key feeding practices for dairy cattle farms in Kenya:
1. Provide High-Quality Forages
Cattle are ruminants meant to eat fibrous feeds like grasses and hays. Quality forage should make up the majority of a dairy cow’s diet. Forage crops commonly used in Kenyan dairy rations include:
- Napier grass – A popular fodder crop due to its high yields and nutritional content. It should be harvested before maturity for optimal feed value.
- Rhodes grass – A resilient grass suited for grazing and hay production. It remains productive even in dry conditions.
- Maize silage – Silage made from the entire corn plant provides energy and fibre. It should be well preserved to retain nutritional value.
- Lucerne hay – Alfalfa hay is high in protein and makes an excellent forage for boosting milk production. It requires proper curing to avoid spoilage.
2. Include Supplemental Feeds
While forages should form the basis of the diet, supplemental feeds help provide additional nutrients needed for high milk yields. Common supplemental feeds include:
- Dairy meal – A commercial concentrate blend of grains, soybean meal, vitamins, and minerals. It provides energy, protein, and micronutrients.
- Brewers grains or wheat bran – By-products that provide energy and fibre.
- Mineral mix – Provides essential trace minerals like copper, zinc, and selenium.
- Molasses – An energy and palatability booster when added to dairy meal.
3. Feed a Balanced Ration
Work with a nutritionist to formulate balanced rations for lactating and dry cows. Lactating cows have higher protein and energy needs. Rations should contain sufficient roughage as well as concentrates to support milk production. Feed should be adjusted based on milk yield, weight, and body condition.
4. Provide Free-Choice Minerals
In addition to formulated mineral mixes, provide free-choice minerals to ensure adequate trace mineral intake. Offer cattle free access to loose or block mineral supplements specially formulated for dairy cattle. Include macro-minerals like calcium, phosphorus, sodium, magnesium, and sulfur as well as micro-minerals like copper, selenium, zinc, and iodine.
5. Ensure Access to Clean Water
Water is the most ESSENTIAL nutrient for dairy cows.
You should strive to provide unlimited access to clean, fresh water at all times. Position multiple water troughs near feeding areas. Monitor daily water intake – high producers (e.g., Holstein Friesian, Fleckvieh etc.,) need large volumes of water for milk production.
6. Adopt Strategic Grazing Practices
For dairy operations using grazing, pasture management is key. Use rotational grazing to prevent overgrazing and allow forage regrowth. Divide paddocks into smaller sections so that cattle receive fresh pasture frequently. Provide post-grazing mowing and resting periods for paddocks. Irrigate and fertilize pastures to encourage plant regrowth.
Breeding Dairy Cattle
Employing sound breeding and reproduction practices is vital for achieving consistent calving and milk production on a dairy farm.
Here are some tips:
1. Monitor Cycling and Breed at Optimal Time
Track estrus cycles and breed cows 60-120 hours after the onset of heat for best conception rates. Watch for signs of estrus like mounting, restlessness, and changes in mucus. Or use aids like tail chalk or pedometers to help detect estrus. Timed artificial insemination programs can also be implemented.
2. Select for Genetic Merit
Choose genetically superior sires and semen that will complement and improve the traits of your herd, such as higher milk production, stronger physique, and increased fertility. Select bulls from artificial insemination companies tested for quality semen and health.
3. Maintain Appropriate Calving Intervals
To maximize lifetime productivity, aim for a calving interval of 12-13 months. Most cows should conceive within 80-115 days post-calving. Heat detection efficiency and health factors will influence successful rebreeding. Cull cows with poor fertility.
4. Provide Adequate Transition Nutrition
Several weeks before and after calving are crucial. Avoid overfeeding energy pre-calving. Ensure balanced rations with extra calcium post-calving to support lactation and prevent milk fever. Manage body condition score – Thin and overly fat cows have lower fertility.
5. Keep Detailed Records
Closely monitor breeding and births. Maintain breeding records like heat dates, artificial insemination dates, expected calving dates, sire information, and calf births. Use records to make herd management decisions that support fertility.
6. Employ Strategies to Improve Fertility
Consider special feed supplements, timed artificial insemination protocols, estrus synchronization plans, early disease detection, and treatments to prevent embryonic loss. Work with veterinarians to troubleshoot low conception rates.
7. Provide Maternity Care
Monitor late gestation cows for signs of calving. Keep maternity pens clean for calving. Assist with difficult births if needed. Monitor new mothers and calves for health issues. Provide colostrum immediately after calving to transfer immunity to the newborn.
Healthcare and Herd Health
Preventing and controlling disease is essential for profitable dairy farming. Good cattle health promotes growth, fertility, and milk productivity. Here are tips for healthcare and herd health management:
a. Vaccinate Against Major Diseases
Work with your veterinarian to vaccinate cattle against prevalent infectious diseases in your region. Common vaccines include those for clostridial diseases, brucellosis, anthrax, lumpy skin disease, foot and mouth disease, etc. Follow proper protocols for timing and administration.
b. Control Internal and External Parasites
Parasite infections negatively impact growth and milk yield. Use strategic deworming to control gastrointestinal worms. Prevent external parasites like ticks, mites, and flies through sprays or pour-on treatments. Avoid resistance by rotating parasite control products.
c. Meet Nutritional Requirements
Feeding balanced rations tailored to different groups of cattle prevents many herd health issues related to malnutrition. Provide proper nutrition to calves, heifers, dry cows, and lactating cows. this supports immunity, growth, fertility, and productivity.
d. Establish Biosecurity Measures
Limit the introduction and spread of contagious diseases on your farm. Isolate and test newly purchased cattle. Use foot baths at entrances. Clean equipment between groups. Keep calving areas separate from the adult herd. Restrict visitor access. Properly dispose of medical waste.
e. Provide Proper Housing
Ensure cattle housing keeps animals clean and dry. Reduce overcrowding. Design housing to allow natural behaviours like resting and eating. Good ventilation, sanitation, and drainage help maintain healthy environments.
f. Detect Illnesses Early On
Catching diseases early allows for prompt treatment and prevention of spread. Watch for changes in health like decreased appetite, drop in milk production, coughing, diarrhoea, etc. Monitor temperature, rumen function, mastitis checks, and other health indicators. Implement strategies for managing chronic conditions like lameness, mastitis, and metabolic disorders.
g. Maintain Herd Records
Keep detailed health records on each animal including treatments, vaccinations, tests, production data, ancestry, breeding, calving history and more. Use records to inform management decisions related to health and culling. Computerized systems help track extensive herd data.
h. Work closely with Veterinarians
Establish relationships with trusted large animal veterinarians. Consult veterinarians for establishing preventative healthcare protocols, diagnosing sick cattle, creating treatment plans, performing surgeries and more. Veterinary oversight helps safeguard herd health and welfare.
Facilities and Equipment
Proper facilities and equipment make dairy cattle management more efficient and comfortable for the animals and farm workers. Here are some key considerations:
- Well-ventilated barns with space for resting and feeding
- Maternity pens for calving
- Calf hutches or pens with outdoor access
- Free stall barns with sand or mattress bedding
- Fans and misters for heat stress prevention
Milking Parlors & Equipment
- Herringbone or parallel milking parlours sized for herd
- Automatic take-off units for efficiency
- Milk pipelines to transfer milk to the tank
- Bulk tank for chilled storage
- Milk pumps, filters, monitoring systems
- Regular maintenance and cleaning
- Corrals and crowding tubs for gathering herd
- Sorting alleys and pens to separate groups
- Loading chutes and ramps for transport
- Headlocks or stanchions to restrain animals
- Scales to monitor growth and production
- Silos for fermented fodders like corn silage
- Hay barns to store bales
- Grain bins to store concentrates
- Bulk tanks for liquid feed ingredients
- Generators or solar power for electricity
- Refrigeration and cold storage
- Equipment for manure removal and composting
- Office space for record-keeping
- Worker facilities like kitchens and bathrooms
- Perimeter fencing around grazing areas
- Cross-fencing to divide pastures into paddocks
- Watering troughs spaced throughout pastures
- Shade structures, natural or artificial
- Laneways for moving cattle between pasture and barn
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most popular dairy cattle breeds in Kenya?
The most popular dairy breeds in Kenya include Holstein-Friesian, Ayrshire, Guernsey, Jersey and Sahiwal. Holstein-Friesians make up about 80% of dairy herds due to their high milk production. Crosses of European and Zebu breeds are also common.
What vaccines should be given to dairy cattle in Kenya?
Recommended vaccines for Kenyan dairy cattle include anthrax, blackleg, lumpy skin disease, foot and mouth disease, brucellosis, clostridial diseases and rabies. Veterinarians may also advise vaccines for Rift Valley fever, bovine viral diarrhoea and leptospirosis depending on the region.
What is the average milk production per cow in Kenya?
The average milk production per dairy cow in Kenya is about 7-8 litres per day. However, average yields vary significantly between small-scale farms with indigenous cattle and large dairy operations with specialized breeds. Some commercial farms achieve averages of 20-40 litres per cow daily.
What types of housing do smallholder dairy farmers use in Kenya?
Most smallholder dairy units house animals in simple wood-post structures with roofs made of metal sheets or thatch grass. Mature stock may be tethered in sheds or small paddocks. Free-stall barns are less common but provide more comfort and freedom.
What are the common dairy cattle feeds used in Kenya?
Kenyan smallholders typically use on-farm-produced fodder and crop residues. Napier grass, Rhodes grass, sweet potato vines and maize stalks are commonly used forages. Commercial farms have more access to grains, dairy meal, silage, hay, and other purchased concentrates.
How can dairy farmers improve milk quality in Kenya?
Key practices for improving milk quality include cooling milk immediately after milking, proper storage and transport, maintaining cleanliness in the milking area, routine equipment cleaning, testing for mastitis, sanitary milking procedures, and producing animal feed free from contaminants.
What are some innovations shaping the Kenyan dairy sector?
Innovations like improved cattle breeds, hydroponic fodder production, milk ATMs and cooling tanks, solar-powered milk chillers, mobile milk testing labs, and online marketplace apps are transforming smallholder and commercial dairying in Kenya.
Proper dairy farm management requires knowledge and application of best practices in nutrition, reproduction, health, facilities, and procedures. By following the latest recommendations for the Kenyan dairy industry, farmers can improve productivity and efficiently produce quality milk.
Key practices include strategic feeding and grazing, breeding management, veterinary health programs, robust herd data collection, comfortable housing, and well-maintained equipment.
Dairy producers should work closely with nutritionists, veterinarians, and dairy experts to implement science-based management plans tailored to their herds and farms. Adopting industry best practices allows Kenyan dairy farmers to increase farm output and incomes while maintaining high standards of animal welfare.