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Beef Production In Kenya: 90% of beef cattle in Kenya are owned by subsistence farmers and pastoralists. The distribution of beef cattle is influenced by rainfall patterns. Most animals are kept in ranches in the Rift Valley Province in particular in the Nakuru, Trans Nzoia and Kajiado Districts. Larger ranches are found in Kilifi and Kwale Districts in the Coast Province.

Small scale beef farming is carried out in many parts of Kenya. There is growing interest in this beef production sector by investors who wish to carry out meat processing with the aim of exporting the products to Mauritius, the Middle East and elsewhere.

Just like dairy cows, beef cattle have their own specific requirements for minerals in order to reach optimum beef production and reproductive goals. In Kenya, research has shown that forages tend to be deficient in most of the minerals considered essential to livestock production. This exacerbates the already relatively difficult conditions, further compromising animal performance.

But just as in dairy, beef production requires good knowledge and expertise.

Beef Production In Kenya

Beef production in Kenya is mainly practiced in arid and semi-arid areas, which cover about 80% of the countryโ€™s land area. The area supports six million beef cattle and accounts for 70% of the total beef meat consumed in the country. The livestock sector employs approximately 50% of Kenyaโ€™s agricultural labour force which is about 10 million people, and accounts for 4.4 to 5.4% of the gross domestic product. Itโ€™s also the primary source of livelihood for an estimated six million pastoralists and agro-pastoralists that live in the countryโ€™s arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs).

Key contributors in the beef value chains include input suppliers (forage producers), pastoral producers, livestock traders, ranch owners and managers, slaughterhouse, butchery and processor operators, meat packers and exporters. Important service providers, who are not technically value chain actors, include veterinarians and community animal health workers, transportation providers and brokers, who negotiate between pastoralists and traders, and play an important price-setting role.

The value chains are primarily geared toward the domestic market, which consumes approximately 99% of domestic production.

Beef production systems in Kenya

In Kenya, the cattle enterprise is an important source of livelihood for many farmers. However, lack of analytical evidence on efficiency levels of farmers in various production systems constrains policy making on optimal resource allocation. In addition, inability to control livestock diseases, such as Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), has led to low beef supply in Kenya and loss of export markets.

There are four main beef production systems in Kenya.

  • Nomadic pastoralism
  • Ranching
  • Agro pastoralism
  • Feedlot system

Nomadic Pastoralism

Nomadic pastoralism involves herding livestock in search of greener, grazing pastures. This form of pastoralism entails sporadic movement patterns. It is an environmentally sustainable livelihood in arid and semi-arid areas, thus it is a system beef production practiced predominantly in the Northern and Southern (Maasai land) parts of Kenya. Breeds popular in this system are Zebu, Sahiwal and Boran. Natural grass is the main pasture for animals in this system.

Ranching

Ranching is a capital intensive system practiced in both arid and semi-arid areas within a defined unit of land โ€“ a ranch. In this space, it is possible to maintain optimal stocking rates, conserve and preserve pasture and develop livestock support facilities such as dips and water points.

Agro-Pastoralism

This system takes place in semi- arid parts of the country where beef and crop farming are practiced together. Both farming practices complement each other where livestock feed on crop residues and crops benefit from manure and animal draught power. Breeds in the system are mostly crosses of Zebu and Sahiwal.

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Feedlot system

These are units where immature livestock are put on an intensive feeding regime designed to fatten them to a specific market weight prior to being sold. The animals are confined in zero-like grazing units in dairy production and are fed high-energy concentrates. This system of beef production is mainly used high rainfall areas because of abundance of cattle feeds.

Factors that contribute to production of low-quality beef cattle in Kenya:ย 

  • Less milk is fed to male calves as the primary objective of the pastoral production system is milk production for the family and reproduction to maintain the herd
  • There is no special attention given to in-calf cows during their last trimester, leading to calves being born weak, and subsequently exhibiting poor growth rates. This poor feeding of milk, coupled with poor quality feeds available during the dry period leads to loss of weight in the dry season hence extending the age at which livestock reach the required weight,ย 
  • Scarcity of water. Animals trek long distance between watering points in dry period grazing areas leading to weight loss,ย 
  • Poor marketing infrastructure and poor access to livestock markets informationย 
  • Long distance trekking to the markets and water deprivation practice of pastoralists leading to weight lossย 
  • Livestock diseases affecting the performance of the stock and among others.

In order to make a good income, livestock producers should aim to produce good quality cattle that meets the requirement of high-end and export markets. These markets require young animals that attain an optimum weight of 320 kg at a tender age of 24 months. Such cattle meet the quality requirements of tenderness, juiciness, low fat layer and red meat.

Livestock keepers need to improve on quality, if they are to get a good return on their hard work. In order to achieve the desired quality, beef farmers can:

  • The animals from the pastoral systems are put in a feedlot for 3-4 months and fed to gain an average daily weight of 1kg per day so as to attain 320kg at the age of 24 months. The animals subjected to the feedlot system are mainly bulls, culled cows and surplus heifers.ย 
  • Increase the breeding herd and improve the reproductive rate of breeding cows such that each produce a calf once every year. This is achieved by synchronizing mating or insemination so that calving coincides with periods of better feed availability.ย 
  • Supplementing cattle dietary requirements during the last trimester of pregnancy using dry season feed and mineral supplementation, and during lactation phase using wet season mineral supplementation.ย 

Apart from these, there is need to introduce systems that can produce for the market. Such a system requires an understanding of the quality requirements of the market and develops intervention models appropriate for the production environment that meets the quality requirements. Use of feedlots is one such intervention.

beef production-in-kenya

SWOT analysis of the beef production in Kenya

Strengths

  • Expansive land available for beef production in Kenya
  • Diversified agro- ecological zone for variety of breeds
  • Markets available for beef products

Weaknesses

  • Weak policy and legal framework to support the beef production in Kenya
  • Low productivity due to sub-optimum management and occurrence of diseases
  • Weak structures for support services
  • Poor infrastructure and increasing transport costs
  • Weak marketing and slaughtering infrastructure

Threats

  • Droughts and harsh weather conditions
  • Scarcity of fodder and feed for animals especially during dry seasons
  • Presence of trans-boundary animal diseases and poor capacity to control
  • Uncontrolled influx of large numbers of animals from neighbouring countries
  • Widespread cattle rustling in pastoral Areas

Opportunities

  • Develop feeds and pasture conservation programmes to reduce mortality during dry seasons
  • Improve on the control and prevention of trans-boundary animal diseases through a strong publicโ€“private partnership in the veterinary field
  • Scale up price differentiation for different qualities of meat, thus increasing profitability
  • Capacity building of value chain actors to facilitate sustainable beef production business
  • Improve livestock infrastructure to reduce overhead costs
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Beef Cattle That Can Make You Money In Kenya

This cattle breeds are kept by few Kenyan farmers and whose semen is least sought after and they have huge potential when reared for milk, meat or used for breeding.

These animals, which are available locally are Brown Swiss (dual purpose), Aberdeen Angus, Hereford and Charolais (beef breeds). – Daily Nation

ABERDEEN ANGUS

If you want to keep cattle for beef production or improve the local breeds like Zebu and Sahiwal, then you need to consider the Aberdeen Angus.

This cattle is naturally polled, therefore, you do not need to dehorn it. They can be black or red in colour, although black is the dominant colour, white may occasionally appear on the udder.

Like most beef cattle, angus beef breed is very tolerant and can survive in semi-arid areas such as Naivasha and Laikipia. They also have superior feed conversion.

They are very adaptable, good natured and mature extremely early and have a high carcass yield with tender meat, which is why they are kept for beef production.

In Kenya currently, while some farmers like the Morendat Farm, keep them for meat, they are used for crossbreeding to improve beef quality of local breeds such as Zebu, Boran and Sahiwal.

CHAROLAIS

The typical Charolais is white in colour with a pink muzzle and pale hooves. They are born with horns, therefore, dehorning is necessary for easy handling.

Although white is the dominant colour among the cattle breed, there are now Charolais cattle being bred black and red in colours.

Charolais are medium to large framed beef cattle with a very deep and broad body. They have a short, broad head and heavily muscled loins and haunches.

In Africa, the largest population of the breed is found in South Africa followed by Kenya, mainly in farms in Laikipia and others such as Kabarak Farm Ltd and Morendat.

Charolais are hardy animals that can adapt to various climate conditions. They can graze on pasture that many other breeds cannot use and gain weight and muscle rapidly. Charolais bulls can weigh up to 1,130kg and cows up to 900kg.

Wafula said the ADC farm breeds Hereford, Charolais, dairy-crosses (crossbreed of different cow breeds) and Brown Swiss.

While they have Charolais and Hereford cows, he says they only offer a little milk to support the calf.

โ€œHereford and Charolais breeds produce very little milk so they are only kept for beef production. They can survive anywhere across the country, both in highlands and lowland areas.โ€ He said an in-calf cow goes at Sh120,000, and a young calf at Sh15,000.

โ€œThrough embryo transfer, we have been able to have offspring of Charolais, Hereford and Jersey and Ayrshire which have turned out to be good milk producers.โ€

According to Dr Mugachia, for farmers to adopt the beef cattle, they need to change the believe that good beef animals only come from the rangelands in the North.

โ€œYou can get a cross from a Hereford, Charolais or Aberdeen and raise it for meat production with very good results.โ€
Ronald Kimitei, a livestock specialist at Egerton University, advised against crossing exotic breeds like Charolais beef cattle with a Friesian cow to have a dual purpose animal.

โ€œIt is good to cross the indigenous animal with the exotic one because the former are resistant to diseases, and can survive in harsh weather conditions while the exotic ones have more body mass, grow faster and give higher yields. Therefore, you will have these traits in one animal when you cross breed the two.โ€

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BROWN SWISS

Reared by the Agricultural Development Corporation and introduced in the country some six years ago, the greyish cow, which is native to Switzerland, has the potential to boost dairy farming in semi-arid areas.

โ€œThis cow produces 27 to 30 litres of milk a day. Its milk butter content is second after the Jersey breeds,โ€ Joseph Wafula, a handler, pointed out.

The cowโ€™s greyish colour helps to resist extreme solar radiation enabling it to survive in semi-arid areas. It is a dual-purpose breed that produces milk and considerable amount of beef.

Wafula, a dairy clerk at the ADC Suam Ochards in Kitale where the cow is bred, said that the breed is not a heavy feeder yet it gives good quantity milk.

โ€œThis cows weighs up to 700kg and you can also choose to zero-graze it or allow it to graze by itself,โ€ he said.

To produce more milk, Wafula said they feed every cow on 2kg of dairy meal, 4kg of hay, salt-lick, desmodium, and mix their feeds with molasses to make it more palatable.

An in-calf pure breed of the animal goes at Sh120,000, and its semen is available at Kabete and ADC Kitale at Sh1,000.

Dr Joseph Mugachia, a veterinary surgeon, said one can specifically crossbreed the Brown Swiss with a Friesian, and still get a good breed that may work as good as Guernsey or Jersey.

HEREFORD

Hereford is black or brown with a white head, crest, dewlap, or underline. These cattle are known for their vigour and foraging ability. They are also very docile breeds, thus, allowing easier handling than other cattle breeds.

Like the Angus, Herefords are mainly bred for beef. Like most beef cattle, they are foragers, thus, require a lot of rearing spaces such as a ranch.

Some farmers in the country, particularly in Laikipia, Nakuru and Naivasha, however, keep them under zero-grazing system.

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