Milk production is the most important economic activity of a dairy farm. The amount and quality of milk produced determines the profitability of the farm. As a dairy farmer in Kenya, maximizing milk production should be your key focus area.
With good practices, it’s possible to get upwards of 30 litres per cow per day. However, the average in Kenya is 6 litres per cow per day indicating huge room for improvement.
In this post, we discuss various tips and strategies to help you optimize milk productivity in your dairy farm.
Nutrition is by far the most important factor when it comes to milk production. The quality and quantity of feed given to the cows directly impact milk yield.
Here are some nutritional best practices:
Provide a balanced ration – The cow’s feed should contain the right proportions of roughages, concentrates, minerals and vitamins. Work closely with an animal nutritionist to formulate a balanced ration using locally available feed resources. The ration should meet the nutritional requirements for maintenance, growth, pregnancy and milk production.
Offer high-quality forage – High nutrient forages and fodders should form the bulk of the ration. These include legume hay, Napier grass, oats, lucerne etc. The forage should be harvested at the right stage when nutritional quality is optimal. Proper drying and storage are also key to preserving nutrients.
Supplement concentrates – In addition to roughages, include concentrates in the diet such as dairy meal, cotton seed cake, maize germ etc. Concentrates provide extra energy and proteins to support higher milk production. Give 2-4 kg concentrate per cow daily in two feeds.
Provide clean drinking water – Water is the cheapest feed ingredient yet extremely important. Ensure cows have unlimited access to clean drinking water at all times. This aids in feed digestion and milk production.
Mineral supplementation – Mineral deficiency can limit milk production. Provide a mineral mix supplement or fortified salt licks to meet mineral needs. Important minerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, chloride, sulphur and trace minerals.
Feeding best practices – Apart from diet formulation, also observe good feeding practices. Feed cows at consistent times every day. Ensure feed is fresh and free from contaminants. Keep feed troughs clean. Grouping cows by production level allows tailored feeding. Record feed intake for each cow.
Proper management of the dairy herd is key to achieving optimal milk productivity. Some key tips include:
Breed selection – Choose breeds that are high milk producers and well adapted to local conditions e.g. Holstein Friesian, Ayrshire, Guernsey, Jersey. Avoid breeds with very low milk production. Crossbreeds can combine high yields and adaptability.
Improve genetics – Use artificial insemination (AI) with semen from top bulls with progeny records that demonstrate the ability to transmit high milk production genes. Avoid inbreeding and only breed from healthy, high-producing cows. Cull chronic low producers.
Supportive housing – Cows need housing that minimizes heat stress, cold stress, and injuries while allowing comfort and ease of movement. Well-ventilated sheds with comfortable resting areas are ideal. Easy access to the milking parlour is also important.
Animal health – Prevention of diseases through vaccination and parasite control is critical. Ensure high standards of hygiene and sanitation in cowsheds. Work closely with a vet to promptly treat any illness or injuries. Internal and external parasites significantly affect production.
Record keeping – Keeping individual animal records on pedigree, milk production, breeding, feeding, health etc. allows making data-driven decisions on management for each cow. It aids in identifying low producers for culling or nutritional interventions.
Competent staff – Hire competent and adequately trained staff with a good attitude towards animals. Train them on the best practices in dairy farming. Treat staff well to minimize turnover.
Technology and Mechanization
Technology and mechanization aim to make dairy operations more efficient, convenient and productive. Some options to consider include:
Milking machines – Milking machines are a must-have for large herds, ensuring complete milking in a short time. Consider pipeline milking systems that deliver milk directly to the storage tank. The milking parlour design should allow smooth cow traffic.
Bulk milk coolers – Milk should be cooled to 4°C within two hours of milking to limit bacterial multiplication. Invest in bulk milk coolers with capacity for your peak production and extra room for growth. Ensure reliable power supply and backup systems.
Clean running water – A plentiful availability of clean water is necessary in the milking parlour and housing area for hygiene, cleaning equipment and watering animals. Install boreholes, pumps and overhead water tanks as needed.
Feeding equipment – Use feed mixing wagons, total mixed ration wagons and conveyor systems for efficiently preparing and distributing cattle feed. This minimizes wastage while saving labour.
Manure equipment – Collecting, storing and disposing of cattle dung is important for cleanliness and hygiene. Use trucks, loaders and conveyors to handle and dispose of manure efficiently. Composting can produce organic fertilizer.
Automated monitoring – Automated systems are now available to monitor milk yield, cow health and estrus cycles leading to early intervention. Pedometers can track animal movement to detect illness and heat onset.
Precision agriculture – Use GPS, GIS, satellite imagery and drones to map and monitor field biomass production. This allows for optimizing forage crop yield and quality for silage making.
Record-keeping software – Maintain digital records in the cloud on all aspects of herd management. Specialized dairy management software integrates all farm activities for analysis and planning.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the lifespan of a dairy cow?
The average productive lifespan of dairy cows is around 5-6 years. With good care and management, cows can often remain productive for 8-10 years.
2. How long is the optimal dry period for dairy cows?
A standard dry period of around 60 days allows the cow’s body to rest and regenerate before the next lactation. Dry periods of 40-70 days are considered optimal.
3. What is the cost of artificial insemination for dairy cows?
In Kenya, the typical cost of artificial insemination ranges from KES 1,000 to KES 1,500 per procedure including semen straw and inseminator fees. Fees may vary depending on the source of your semen and location in Kenya.
4. Should dairy cows be housed indoors or grazing outdoors?
A combination of both works best. Some grazing provides exercise and sunlight but housing allows resting and protection from weather extremes. A covered yard connecting to pasturelands is ideal.
5. What is the purpose of maintaining records for a dairy herd?
Accurate records help make data-driven decisions on nutrition, breeding, culling, health interventions etc. for each animal. It provides key information for optimizing productivity.
6. How can dairy farmers access training and technical support?
Farmer field schools, agricultural extension services, university programs, online resources and mentorships help provide training and support for smallholder dairy farmers.
Increasing milk productivity requires paying close attention to nutrition, health, genetics, reproduction, staff, equipment and technology.
Adopting best practices along with constant monitoring and improvement will help maximize production over time. Work closely with advisors including nutritionists, vets and farm management experts.
With good management, most farms can potentially double their average yields. The investment required will pay back many times over, through higher revenues and farm profits.