A Beginner’s Guide to Profitable Dairy Farming: What You Need to Know

[Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

Kenya boasts one of the largest dairy subsectors in Africa and one of the fastest growing. This is in terms of healthy dairy breeds, productivity, mechanization and processing of dairy products. Kenya produces about 5.2 billion liters of milk annually from about 3.5 million dairy animals, with 80 percent of the milk produced by smallholder farmers with up to three animals per farm.

As a hobby

Farmers keep dairy animals as a source of protein and a critical source of cash flow to sell in times of crisis to meet emergencies. Then there is a group of Kenyans who take up dairy farming as a hobby and status symbol. They are willing to invest money in such ventures and do not want to know what results are obtained from such ventures.

Types of dairy systems

Dairy farming can be practiced as a form of intensive farming, also known as zero grazing – something we as humans are practicing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Open field dairy farming

In this case, the animals are tied to a small place and fed there and do not leave for any reason. At the other extreme is open-air dairy farming, where animals roam large areas of land for forage and nutrition. The third is a mixture of the two, where the animals are confined but released at various times to feed. The choice of the type of farming depends on the size of the land, the number of animals and the availability of fodder. In general, intensively produced cows produce more milk due to intensive feeding.

Dairy breeds

Whatever farming system a farmer chooses, it must be profitable and self-sustaining for the business to make sense. To start a profitable business, a farmer must understand the basics. Breed selection is the starting point. This is determined by farm location and feed availability.

The Mighty Frieze

Dairy cattle eat their own feed

To maintain a high-yielding adult Friesian, the animal must be fed between 70 and 100 kilos of feed per day to produce 40 to 60 liters of milk per day, which is the pure Friesian breed standard in the right environment. This breed is restricted to cooler, high potential areas. Friesians have low disease resistance.

Guernseys and Ayrshires

Guernseys and Ayrshires are almost similar in characteristics and are fed more than 50 kilograms of feed per day to produce 30-40 liters of milk per day. They are intended for areas with medium potential; areas between the lowlands and highlands. However, they can live well in both areas. They have moderate disease resistance properties. For low-potential hot areas, knitwear is the breed of choice. This is a smaller breed that can produce up to 22 liters of milk per day with less than 50 kilograms of feed. It is a breed of animal that can be kept in harsh environments due to its hardy nature. If your dream is to produce butter and ghee, then a knitwear with 5.3 percent ghee in its milk is your friend.

Artificial insemination

In Kenya, crossbreeding of dairy animals using artificial insemination (AI) has been promoted, thus leading to the loss of purebreds and local breeds have been improved to dairy breeds through AI. These are sustainable and adapt well to our environment, but with minimal production.

Basic gender

By choosing a good breed, the foundation of every farm is a healthy calf. A healthy calf is the milker of tomorrow and must therefore be raised properly. Good management reduces calf mortality and also ensures heifer development and early production. During birth, keep the calf breathing by clearing its nose to help it breathe, if this fails, hold the calf by its hind legs and rock it upside down several times to help the calf clear its airways. After that, clean and disinfect the navel with iodine solution and help the calf to milk. The first 24 hours of nursing are the most important because the dam’s colostrum protects the calf from disease in the form of antibodies. This colostrum is only effective if taken within 24 hours, when the antibodies can pass through the stomach walls.

Calf care

Kisii Agricultural Education Center Livestock Officer Caroline Kisera with some of her calves. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Separate the calf 24 hours after birth, or at worst a week after birth, to get the most yield. After that, practice feeding the calf with a bottle after milking. A dairy calf should gain 0.4-0.5 grams of weight per day. Generally, weaning or weaning is done at 90 days or about 80 pounds. Feed with colostrum in the first 4 days of life. Feed only milk for the next 20-30 days. The calf can then be fed other feeds such as veal pellets and hay and weaned. A well-fed calf should consume up to 350 liters of milk, starting with a maximum of 6 liters per day before weaning and 2 liters at weaning.

When the barrage dies

Due to unavoidable circumstances, the dam may die during calving, leaving the calf an orphan. When this happens on large farms where the animals calve at almost the same time, feed the calf with another dam or milk from another dam. On large farms, colostrum may also be overproduced and frozen for use by other calves. This colostrum must be thawed gradually at a low temperature so as not to affect the critical components required for the calf. Colostrum is important because it helps the calf’s body fight infections and is also rich in nutrients.

Artificial colostrum

Unfortunately, if the calf does not have breast milk or frozen colostrum, the farmer can prepare artificial colostrum to keep the calf alive. It does not provide antibodies but is nutritionally balanced.

Contains: one egg (source of protein), half a liter of fresh warm water (hydrator), half a liter of whole milk (energy and protein), one teaspoon of castor oil/vegetable oil (energy) and one teaspoon of cod liver oil. (energy). If such a calf is properly housed in a clean pen, usually 2 m2 per calf, weaning can be done gradually at 12 weeks or when it doubles its birth weight. To increase income, some farmers wean at 6-8 weeks and this is known as early weaning.

Feeding a heifer

After the female calf is weaned and properly fed, it becomes a heifer that can be selected and bred as the next milker. For an animal to come into first heat, this is a bigger factor than the age of the animals. Therefore, proper nutrition is important. Inadequate feeding causes young heifers to have difficulty calving, and overfeeding causes fat deposits in the udder, resulting in low yields. The optimal time for the development of the udder is from three to nine months. Do not feed heifers high grain diets during this period. A heifer that calves at 24 months is better productive throughout its life. A mature heifer is at 40 percent of its adult weight, but should be bred at 60 percent of its adult weight—usually around 14 to 16 months of age. A pregnant animal should be spayed three months before calving.

Raising an adult cow

Feeding a dairy cow too little feed can cause a lean animal to produce milk poorly, resist disease, and become in heat and become pregnant. On the other hand, overfeeding is wasteful. A lack of essential minerals such as calcium is also undesirable as it leads to conditions such as milk fever, while insufficient phosphorus leads to lack of heat or silent heat.

A dairy animal needs bulk feed, which makes up 30-70 percent of its diet. What is included depends on the body’s requirements and production. Animals can also be supplemented with grain diets (milk feed) and high protein diets such as Lucerne, potato grapes, among others. A dairy animal should have 17 minerals and three vitamins in its feed to have a healthy animal. These are usually taken as mineral and vitamin supplements, which can be in liquid or powder form. To ensure good productivity, animals should always have clean water throughout the day.


The heifer should be bred first between 14-16 months so that she can calve at 24 months. A calving animal must be in-calf and certified within 90 days of calving. This will ensure that each animal calves once a year and that the heifers are not too old at first calving. This can only be possible with efficient heat detection that allows the animal to be served at the right time. Heat repeats every 21 days, but can vary from 18 to 24 days. When an animal comes into heat, it lasts 24 to 48 hours. The egg is released from heat for 12 hours, and this is the optimal conception time.

This is the reason why the AM/PM rule applies to fertilization. An animal seen in the fire in the morning is given lunch, and an animal seen in the afternoon is given breakfast. An animal that does not return to heat after 21 days, but does after 42 days, is more likely to be pregnant, but loses early and should therefore be investigated before service.

To ensure success the following must be correct – heat detection, sperm handling, insemination technique, animal nutritional status, animal health and animal records. If any of these are not correct, the concept will be every farmer’s dreams.

[The writer is a researcher at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro)]

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