How you can earn more from dairy farming

Choice of semen for artificial insemination and type of feed have a huge impact on the volume and quantity of milk your cow will produce during its lifetime.

Improving quality milk from your cows

Selective breeding and proper feeding is the key to high milk production, a prominent Nakuru County commercial dairy farmer says.

Mr Edward Njuguna, of Jasho Dairy Herd farm, at Ol’Rongai in Rongai constituency, adds: “The kind of semen you use in artificial insemination and what you feed your cows, determines the volume and quality of milk you expect from your herd.” According to him, about 60 per cent of the productivity is due to selective breeding, while the rest is dependent on the feeding programme. Each of Mr Njuguna’s Holstein cows produces between 30 and 50 litres of milk a day. The farmer spends between Sh4,000 and Sh7,000 on high quality gender selective semen imported from Europe or America, where pedigree Holstein Friesians are bred.

“I carefully select semen that upgrades my breed. It must have attributes that increase milk production by 3.0 (litres), boosts herd longevity and health,” he says. He first ventured into commercial dairy farming 16 years ago, with only four cows on his 10-hectare farm at Ol’Rongai. With a capital of Sh100,000, the farmer was able to buy each four HolsteinFresians at Sh15,000 in 1997, build stalls, plant fodder and Columbus grass on nine hectares and maintain a six-month feeding and health check programme. His herd has grown to over 35 cows, and he is now a much sought-after farmer, not only by the public and private agricultural organisations, but also by farmers in other countries. “I receive farmers from all over Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, the US and United Kingdom. They come for success tips. I only charge them Sh200,” says Mr Njuguna. The use of AI, Mr Njuguna notes, keeps the herd healthy and prevents inbreeding, which reduces milk production.

100,000 – Capital, in Kenya Shillings, that Edward Njuguna raised to buy four HolsteinFresians at Sh15,000 in 1997, build stalls, plant fodder and Columbus grass on nine hectares and maintain a six-month feeding and health check programme“The worst mistake I can ever make is to let my cows run into a bull. This way, you are attracting diseases, encouraging inbreeding and are unaware of the type of bull. That is the beginning of a journey to five to 10 litres of milk per cow per day,” says the farmer. His choice of semen varies, depending on the ability to boost milk production by not more than 3.0 points at one calving or lactation to prevent the cow from mastitis. However, it must be able to maintain a high butter content of about 4.3 percent and 40 percent protein. This makes his milk a variable ingredient to all types of milk products, including whole, skimmed, non-skimmed, cheese, butter and yoghurt. He also maintains a 420 calving interval (days) to allow the heifers a comfortable resting period for a maximum upgrading and high milk production. Mr Njuguna keeps his herd on a daily seven-kilogramme Total Mixed Ration, which is composed of silage, hay, dairy meal concentrate and green chop. Every cow gets 70 litres of water daily. “I determine the quantity and quality of the nutrients my cows should take to produce the volumes of milk I want.” He ensures that at least 40 percent of the content is protein, 17 per cent starch, while the rest is made up of minerals like sulphur and phosphate, which are equally crucial for milk production. He maintains a high dry matter of 40 per cent for the green chop, which supplements the little starch provided in the hay and silage.

The worst mistake I can ever make is to let my cows run into a bull. This way, you attract diseases, encouraging inbreeding and you are not aware about the type of bull it is

“You do not feed cows to their satisfaction in total disregard of the nutrients contained in the feed. You feed them to produce milk and stay healthy,” he says. Columbus grass and the fodder he planted save him 90 per cent of the total spent on feeds, as he only buys the dairy meal concentrate. To give the cows more time for milk production, he feeds them twice daily at three-hour intervals. “Cows should spend more than 14 hours resting and chewing cud. This is the time they produce milk. I spend about five hours feeding them while the rest of the time they spend producing milk,” Mr Njuguna says. Unlike when he used to be paid Sh4 per litre in 1997 upon delivery, he now gets Sh34 for every litre of milk. Mr Njuguna delivers 400 litres daily to a milk processor form an average of 15 cows daily. To ensure proper care and maintenance of his cows, Mr Njuguna says he allocates each cow an amount of money daily to cover for feeding, medical and other emergency costs that may arise. He also sprays them weekly to fend off ticks and ensures they get a health check every two months. Njuguna says that to get into the business, one needs a starting capital of more than Sh500,000. Holsteins and Friesians cost between Sh150,000 and Sh200,000, and starting with at least 10 cows is cost efficient. One needs a six-month feeding programme at Sh9,000 per cow. Other costs include the zero grazing stall at Sh10,000 and AI, health, labour, and water costs, at Sh200,000.

“A proper six-month breeding and feeding programme can cost over Sh500,000, depending on the breeds, number, availability of feed, water and labour,” says Mr Njuguna, who began reaping profits in the first month. The key to success, according to the farmer, is maintaining a comprehensive fixed management strategy. A herd must be reared in dry, clean, comfortable and draught free stalls to provide them with a good environment and time to produce milk. Feeding troughs must also be easily accessible

Does your cow have an ID, is it registered?

Giving your cows proper identification and having them registered could add to their value and promote good herd management During a recent visit to a farm in Githunguri, Kiambu County, I learnt about the importance of registering livestock (dairy) with the Kenya Livestock Breeders Organisation (KLBO), and keeping identification and other records. Mr and Mrs Njenga, the owners of Mwongera Farm, keep 110 cows and without having proper records, they risked losing so much. It was because of this that they had invited a livestock officer, Mr Julius Mutea, to conduct a survey and give them a comprehensive report on the dos and donts of rearing dairy cows. One of the goals of the dairy industry is to improve the basic identification system for the national herd through registration. However, according to Mr Mutea, an executive member of the Kenya Animal Genetic Resources Centre (KAGRC), not many farmers know the value of registration.

“Although it is believed that properly identified cattle are more valuable, little research shows this benefit because many farmers have not registered their herds with the KLBO,” notes Mr Mutea, adding that documenting the superiority of properly identified cattle will help promote good herd management. Mwongera Farm did not have sufficient records and so the officer had to take the farm manager and his staff through how to do it.

Mr Mutea says a farmer needs to have identification for cows (herd) and keep good records. This information is what is used to register a cow or herd. It is also important for breeders (livestock farmers) to buy identified cattle as this could reduce risk enormously. “The registration gives bankers the necessary financial information to justify appropriate lending,” he explains.

Identification marks

Animals should have identification marks to easily distinguish them. Mr Mutea says animals should be identified in line with the Kenya Stud Book (KSB) rules, a standard established by the KLBO. The method of identification should be either:

  • Ear tattoo: This method is common with sheep, goats and pigs. The animals should have a light skin for the dye to remain visible. The method can be applied on calves of large stocks with light skin colour. On maturity, the tattoo should be supported with an ear tag, notch or brand.
  • Ear notching: The method can be used for all breeds.
  • Photos or sketches: This should show the right and left sides of the head. The method can be used for all breeds.
  • Branding: A farmer can do either freeze or iron branding. Iron branding is common in ranches, while some dairy breeders use freeze branding. Freeze branding is clear when applied on the dark skin of Friesian cattle.
  • Ear tags: The method is common with dairy cattle, goats and sheep. Ear tags come in different sizes, colours and materials. For small stocks, one can use metal clips or small ear tags. Farmers should be ready to replace the tags once the animal loses them. “Since ear tags are common with dairy producers, the information should be standard with one reference or the name of the animal in the farm record,” says the livestock officer. He explains that the tag should give the name of the cow, the identification number, date of birth, the sire (father) and the dam (mother).

The identification number should have three important items,

  • Year of birth
  • Farm prefix letters
  • The number at birth, for example, 09JR01 would be interpreted as follows: 09 as the year of birth (2009) of the calf, (JR) JR Farm, prefix letters 01 to mean first calf born in that year.
  • The number at birth and farm prefix are displayed on the tag’s front, while the date of birth can be displayed at the back of the card.

Such a tag, though simple, will help farmers to make an immediate decision even without referring to other records at the farm office. The inseminator, on the other hand, can use the information on the tag to avoid inbreeding the cow.

The information is also important for the new buyer, as it will help him maintain the cow’s identification both at the farm, and on recording its offspring with the KLBO. Armed with this information, you can now register your cow with the KLBO, who will keep your record in the Kenya Stud Book.

The name of the cow by Nyara Security (sire) and Ivaini Ndulu 14th (Dam) born on Security born on February 14 by Sire Thunder Security and Ndulu. A farm without the herd prefix can replace the prefix letters by / or – When tagging the first heifer Makogi lelmet born on 12 January 2008 by a sire: Madaraka Tinderet Sabaki and dam: Makogi Patricia.

Cow card:

A typical cow card should show the following:

  • The cow details on the front: It should have the farm’s name at the top, the cow name, identification number, date of birth, the KSB registration number, the breed and the cow’s parents.
  • Service records summary: It is recommended that the service records be maintained on the front side if the cow card. This should show the date of service, the bull used, date when confirmed in-calf, expected date to calf, actual date of calving, sex of the calf, identification number of calf and any necessary remarks. The service record should always be maintained and updated. It should also be in line with the AI (Artificial Insemination) certificates issued.
  • Production summary report: It is important to maintain the lactation summary at the back of your cow’s card. The report should show lactation number, age of cow at the start of lactation in months, total production and the end of lactation and total days in milk.
  • Health Records: A simple summary of the animal’s health should be maintained. The record should show date the animal was ill, diagnosis, symptoms treatment and remarks. This will help the farmer decide the way forward. If the cow’s card is well maintained, the records are important when one is confirming the information submitted for recording the cow’s offspring. This information is useful when valuing the cow or herd. It should be noted that most of the buyers would be eager to see this record before they decide whether to buy the animal or not.

Cost of Project:
4 in-calf heifers @Sh150,000 = Sh600,000 Construction cost Sh50,000 Farm equipment Sh50,000 Miscellaneous Sh15,000 Capital invested = Sh715,000 Less income cost=Sh715,000/ Sh576,000 (Sh48,000 for 12 months) PBT (Payback Time) = nearly 1.3 years.

Cost of producing a litre of milk:
Sh19 a day. Sh19x4 cows=Sh475x30 days=Sh57,000 a month. Milk production @25 litres x 4 cows per day = 100 litres. Cost of milk per litre @35×100 x 30 days =Sh105,000. Gross income per month less production cost: Sh105,000-Sh57,00 Milk production cost=Sh48,000 per month.

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