In April, a Smart Farmer team set out on a big mission. We wanted to find out why we were hearing so many voices of discontent about dairy farming.
Though it is widely believed to be a highly profitable venture, many farmers have often complained about having low or stagnant returns despite owning ‘good quality’ cows and efforts to boost productivity.
Some have watched investments worth millions of shillings go to waste, leaving them frustrated and dejected.
Some people have also given up and sold their cows after failing to reap the high returns they had anticipated. We also wanted to find out why there is such a huge disparity in milk production between Kenya and the developed countries.
We, therefore, packed our bags and went to Uasin Gishu County accompanied by nutritional experts from Evonik East Africa, and visited more than 10 farms in the one-week span.
We have since compiled our findings and will also share the two major sticking points we noted, which include, poor quality feed and poor calf housing and hygiene, and will give expert advice on how to deal with them.
We will also give you in-depth information on your animals’ feed needs. Our findings Poor quality feeds and management Feeds play a central role in the wellbeing of dairy cows. They constitute 60 per cent of a litre of milk.
Some 25 per cent of it is derived from the breed and health of the animal, and the rest is accounted for by other aspects.
However, we discovered that many farmers have challenges with the quality and lack knowhow in management.
The low milk production by most of the farmers we visited was blamed on poor feeding of the animals by the experts.
Many small-scale farmers let their cows graze and with the addition of salt for livestock often bought in kilos from shops and at times, a little maize meal flour fed during milking, this seemed to be enough.
There was ignorance on the right nutrition and quality of feeds for their animals. While many knew about concentrates such as dairy meal they lacked knowledge on the right amounts to feed and gave astandard two kilogrammes regardless of milk production.
There was also a lack of knowledge on when to give the concentrates, and thus, their cost of feeding was not commensurate with the milk production. Most farmers continued to give dairy meal when the cow was dry and did not need it.
Large-scale farmers were facing with decreased milk production, coupled with increased costs of raw materials for feeds.
Many were pumping in more protein-rich raw materials in the hope of increasing milk production only to suffer losses.
The feed formulations they were using were based on the assumption that dairy cows require at least 17-18 per cent of crude protein, in addition to other ingredients such as energy, starch, fibre, minerals and vitamins for optimal milk production.
Unfortunately, many do not test their feeds in the lab and end up with too much protein in the daily ration. While protein-rich feeds such as sunflower, cotton seed cake and more recently canola, are extremely important in the feed formulations for dairy animals, when taken in excess, they can cause problems such as reduced fertility.
(Read more on proteins and amino acids in the sidebar in the following pages). Since the topic on feeds is wide, we have decided to start from the very beginning on the nutrition and feeds your animals require and in subsequent editions, talk about the different feeds in detail and methods of feeding to ensure maximum milk production.
Understanding your cow’s nutrition
To be a smart farmer, it is important to understand your cow and what it requires. Successful dairy management requires proper planning and knowledge.
You can keep cows either on free range or zero grazing, but meeting their dietary needs is a must. Feed rations for dairy cows must have forages, concentrates, vitamins, minerals, salts and water. (A ration is the amount of feed for a cow in one day.)
Calves, young heifers, pregnant cows, and new mothers all require different combinations and you should provide for this in the daily rations.
A mature cow takes about three per cent of dry matter of its body weight in a day. If your cow weighs 400 kilos it will need 12 kilos of quality fodder.
A bale of hay weighs about 15 kilos and is sufficient for the cow. But if it wants more give it. Use what is available and affordable. Just because your neighbour uses soya does not mean you have to use it, too. He might have a good, affordable source of soya while you don’t. Seek the advice of an animal nutritionist on how to control the cost of your feeds, without compromising the health of your animals.
Forages include grass, Lucerne, Napier grass, banana leaves and stems and more recently, canola. Different forages have different nutrients levels. They make up a huge chunk of animal feeds. Cattle get most of their energy from forages.
According to experts, too little energy in the diet will cause the animal to lose its body condition and become thin and weak. For milking cows, yields will drop.
A cow will use a lot of energy during digestion and for milk production. Pregnant cows may become ill after calving.
Read more in Issue 40