Common Dairy Cattle Breeds in Kenya: Kenya has over one million small scale dairy farmers keeping over 70% of the 3.5 million dairy cattle and producing a total of 4.2 billion litres of milk every year.  Apart from providing milk for consumption, hence improving the nutritional status of the rural population, the dairy enterprise has been estimated to earn farmers over one hundred billion shillings annually from milk sales as well as providing employment to over 350,000 people at farm level and over 400,000 people in the informal and close to 50,000 people in the formal marketing sector.

Apart from the cash and employment, milk consumed at home provides an important source of animal protein to supplement the other foods. The cow has been used as a bank where cows and heifers may be sold at a short notice to provide cash for school fees, hospital and investment. Due to deterioration in soil fertility, manure is gaining popularity as an important byproduct for improving soil fertility to boost crop production.

Despite the fact that most dairy farmers have good quality exotic cows, milk production is low despite their potential. This low productivity has been attributed to:

  • Poor management especially inadequate feeding
  • Poor health management
  • Poor breeding management that leads to long calving intervals.

Dairy cattle in Kenya are commonly reared under three production systems:

  • i) Zero-grazing: The animals are housed and the farmers bring all the feed and water to the The zero grazing results in higher milk yields per cow (15-30) litres/cow.
  • ii) Semi zero-grazing: the animals are confined but released to graze at least for a few hours per day.
  • iii)    Open range: Here the animals are grazed in open fields throughout the day and given water and minerals in the gazing field.
  • iv) Majority of the smallholder farmers practice zero and semi-zero

Whatever system a farmer chooses it is important to plan properly for feeding.

Dairy cattle breeds

The common dairy cattle breeds include the following:

1. Friesian

Purpose: Milk production

Potential yield: 40-60 litres milk/day

Average body size: Large (500-550kg)

Description: Black and white short haired coat, short horns


  • High milk production potential with low butter fat content of about 3.2%
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Note: Milk production will depend on level of feeding and other management.


  • Heavy feeder (requirements high (90-110Kg fresh forage/day) Susceptible to diseases, susceptible to milk fever
  • Susceptible to high temperatures
  • Large amounts of water (min 60 lts/day, more for heavy yielders)


2. The Ayrshire

Purpose: Milk production. Ayrshire milk is referred to as “the ideal drinking milk”; it is  not  excessively  rich,  not  lacking  adequate  fat,  and  it  possesses  desirable quantities of proteins.

Potential yield: 30 litres/day

Average body size: Large (average live-weight 450kg)

Description: Body colour: Brown and white patches in almost equal amounts with some cows tending to dark mahogany colour


  • High milk production potential (30 litre/day). The average milk yield from this breed in Kenya is roughly 3,000 litres in 305 days with high butter fat The cow’s milk has moderate butter fat content 4.0%
  • Fairly hardy and adaptable to varied climatic zones.
  • They are relatively resistant to diseases.


  • Feed requirements high (90-110 kg fresh forage/day)
  • Need plenty of clean water (60 litres/day)

3. The Guernsey

Purpose: Milk production. Heifers generally come into milk at about two years of age.

Average body size: Medium (average live-weight 400kg).The cow weighs 450 to 500 kg.


  • The colour varies from yellow to reddish-brown with white patches.
  • They have a finely tuned temperament, not nervous or irritable.
  • Physically the breed has good dairy conformation and presents the visual impression of a plain animal bred for utility rather than good looks.
  • They have an attractive carriage with a graceful walk, a strong back, broad loin, wide rump and deep barrel, strong, attached udder extending well forward, with the quarters evenly balanced and symmetrical.
  • The Guernsey bull has an attractive individuality, revealing ample vigour and masculinity. It has smooth-blending shoulders showing good refinement, strength and even contour.


  • High milk  production  potential  (25  lt/day).2.  Milk  has  moderate  butter  fat content 4.3%
  • Feed requirements: Moderate (65-85Kg fresh forage/day)
  • Guernsey are efficient converters of feed to product, being of intermediate size, Guernsey produce their high quality milk while consuming 20 to 30 percent less feed per pound of milk produced than larger dairy breeds
  • Guernsey reaches reproductive maturity at an early age and can calve at 22 months of age. This provides an early return on investment
  • Guernsey are well known for having the minimum of calving complications
  • Guernsey are adaptable to all climates and management systems and lack any known undesirable genetic recessives.
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4. The Jersey

Purpose: Milk production.

Average yield: 22 litres/day and about 5.3% butter fat.

Average body size: Small – medium (350 Kg)


  • Jerseys in Kenya are typically light brown in colour, though this can range from being almost grey to dull black. They can also have white patches which may cover much of the animal. A true Jersey will however always have a black nose bordered by an almost white muzzle.
  • They have protruding eyes.
  • This breed is well known for milk with high quality – it is particularly richer in protein, minerals and trace elements than those from the larger dairy breeds. The milk is also rich in colour which is naturally produced from carotene.
  • Milk production potential is moderate (20 Lt/day), depending on feeding and management regime.


  • Feed requirements is relatively low (65-85 Kg fresh forage/)
  • Milk has high butter fat content 5.2%
  • It is hardy and adaptable to varied climatic zones
  • The Jersey’s hard black feet are much less prone to lameness
  • They perform well under a wide range of systems and are well-known for their high feed conversion efficiency
  • Jerseys generally produce milk components at a lower cost compared to the other major breeds
  • They stay in the herd longer than any other dairy breed. Their milk has greater nutritional value, plus the highest yield and greater efficiency when processed into cheese and other value-added products
  • The breed has little or no calving problems, greater fertility, a shorter calving interval, and earlier maturity
  • Susceptible to milk fever and tick borne diseases


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