In Summary
  • Planning for changes in a dairy herd is one of the toughest things a farmer has to face. This may involve starting with new dairy animals, keeping your current herd, replacing culled or culling without replacing unproductive ones.
  • The barn should allow for future expansion, be affordable, simple but structurally sound to provide dairy animals with maximum comfort, health outcomes and safety.
  • Improper nutrition can lead to lower quantities and quality of milk. Thus, if possible, work closely with an animal nutrition expert to help you in planning for accurate feed projection; work with available feed resources and pasture as well as fodder establishment.
  • Animals with records attract premium prices especially when registered with the Kenya Livestock Breeders Organisation.

Dairy farming has gained currency across the country, with many keeping the animals under the zero-grazing system.

However, what does it take to keep a dairy farm profitable? Here are 10 things to keep in mind.

Good cows and herd grouping

Planning for changes in a dairy herd is one of the toughest things a farmer has to face. This may involve starting with new dairy animals, keeping your current herd, replacing culled or culling without replacing unproductive ones.

This decision is important but acting without a proper plan can add huge costs to your business. To begin with, select animals with high-quality genetic merits to keep in your herd guided by records or a livestock expert.

The candidates should be evaluated based on dairy strength and udder traits. With the right herd, clearly categorise the animals into groups based on age, health or physiological status to facilitate tailored management to increase performance.

Cow comfort

Not every dairy farmer has a cow barn but it is a good idea to invest in one. The barn should allow for future expansion, be affordable, simple but structurally sound to provide dairy animals with maximum comfort, health outcomes and safety.

The structure should also be worker-friendly. The structure should further have proper ventilation for fresh air flow, allowing enough light and adequate space for rest and access to feed and water.

Other structures to consider include a crush, a hay store and silage pits/bunkers.

Feeding and nutrition

Having the cattle grouped makes it easy to understand their nutritional requirements. Decide on the feeding regime, that is, the time of feeding and types of feeds – silage, hay or Total Mixed Ration.

Improper nutrition can lead to lower quantities and quality of milk. Thus, if possible, work closely with an animal nutrition expert to help you in planning for accurate feed projection; work with available feed resources and pasture as well as fodder establishment.

Growing own fodder helps in controlling quality and lowers cost of production. Planning will help you estimate how much land you need and what roughages to have such as maize for silage, Boma Rhodes for hay, desmodium, calliandra, lucerne, Kikuyu grass, and brachiaria grass.

During purchase or storage, remember that mouldy or contaminated feeds can transfer dangerous toxins to milk.

Quality feeds also help to prevent wastage, encourage optimal feed utilisation and conversion into growth and milk.

Minerals and water are an important part of a dairy cow’s diet. To be able to produce saliva and milk, cows need a lot of fresh and clean water. Water is the cheapest feed, so plan well for it.

Herd health

A healthy herd is a happy herd, and it makes a happy farmer. Good animal health helps the cows explore their performance to full potential.

It is prudent that you develop a disease and parasites control programme with your veterinarian, which involves routine vaccination, deworming, dipping and spraying activities. Also invest in general farm biosecurity and personal protective equipment when carrying out disease-prevention activities. It is usually less expensive to prevent than treat a disease.

Reproduction and breeding

Cull cows that have consistent records of abortions and still births and possibly replace with progeny-tested ones.

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