feeding dairy cow in kenya farmers trend
Photo Credit: ILRI

In dairy production, the feeding programme affects profitability more than any other single factor. The costs of feeding make up 60-80% of the variable costs of milk production. Feeds can be defined as substances voluntarily taken in by animals to provide nutrients such as energy, protein, minerals and vitamins metabolized in the body to maintain the body, produce body tissues and by-products such as milk, meat and eggs. Feeds are made up of organic matter with a little component of inorganic matter.

Without good feeding programmes, the benefits of good breeding and management programmes cannot be realized. Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of dairy livestock production which can be used to enhance animal productivity, and also to reduce the cost of production in Kenya.

Dairy farming is one of the most lucrative agricultural ventures in Kenya. It is important for farmers to not only maintain the health but also ensure the productivity of their dairy cows. Feeding cows is an important aspect of this.

Dairy cows require a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Feeding them a nutritionally complete diet is key to their successful development and reproductive capabilities.

The following feeding strategies can be used to guarantee the well-being and high milk yields of dairy cows in Kenya.

1. Grazing

Grazing is one of the most common feeding strategies for dairy cows in Kenya. This involves allowing the cows to roam and feed on natural pastures. Grazing is relatively low-cost, particularly if the farmer has their own land to graze their cows. A typical cost for leasing land for grazing ranges between Ksh 3,000 and Ksh 15,000 per acre per year.

2. Silage

Silage is a fermented forage that is stored in silos for preservation. It is a cost-effective method that provides the cows with both roughage and protein. The cost of producing silage ranges between Ksh 10,000 and Ksh 30,000 per acre annually.

3. Hay

Hay is dried grass that is commonly used as a feed for dairy cows in Kenya. It is a good source of fiber, especially during the dry season when there is a scarcity of green pastures. The cost of producing hay ranges from Ksh 12,000 to Ksh 25,000 per acre annually.

4. Dairy meal

Dairy meal is a specially formulated mix of concentrates that provides cows with the right nutritional requirements. It is an expensive feeding strategy that costs between Ksh 40 and Ksh 50 per kilogram.

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5. Mineral blocks

Mineral blocks are an important source of minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, which are essential for the good health and productivity of dairy cows. The cost of mineral blocks ranges between Ksh 200 and Ksh 300 per block.

It is important to note that the feeding strategies outlined above are not mutually exclusive. A combination of different feeding strategies can be used, depending on the availability and cost of resources. For instance, grazing can be combined with hay during the dry season, while silage can be used during the wet season when there is plenty of grass.

It is important to ensure that the feeding strategies are tailored to the specific needs of the cows. This can be achieved by consulting with a veterinary professional or an animal nutritionist. They can provide advice on the nutritional requirements of the cows based on their breed, age, weight, and stage of lactation. It is also important to ensure that cows have access to clean water at all times. Water plays a crucial role in the digestion process and helps to maintain the body temperature of the cows, especially during hot weather. The cost of providing clean water to dairy cows is relatively low and ranges from Ksh 5 to Ksh 20 per cow per day.

Other Feeding Options Available

There are feeding options available to dairy farmers in Kenya. For example, some farmers may choose to use by-products from other agricultural crops as feed for their cows. These can include maize bran, wheat bran, rice bran, and cottonseed cake. By-products are less expensive than commercial feed and can be used as supplements to grazing, hay, or silage.

Farmers can also invest in modern feeding systems such as Total Mixed Ration (TMR) or Partial Mixed Ration (PMR). These systems involve mixing various feeds in predetermined proportions to meet the specific nutritional requirements of the cows. They are efficient and can significantly improve milk yields. However, they can be costly to set up and require technical expertise.

It is also worth noting that cows in Kenya may face feeding challenges during periods of drought or disease outbreaks. For instance, during the recent locust invasion in some parts of Kenya, there was a shortage of grass and other vegetation for cows to feed on. In such situations, farmers should seek alternative feed sources and prioritize the most nutritious feeds for their cows.

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Supplements To Boost Feeding Strategies

Dairy farmers in Kenya can also utilize some supplements to boost the feeding strategies that they have chosen. Such supplements include:

1. Yeast culture: Yeast culture contains live yeast and helps to stabilize the pH levels in the rumen, resulting in improved feed digestion and milk yields. It costs between Ksh 250 and Ksh 500 per kilogram.

2. Probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that improve gut health in cows, leading to better feed digestion and nutrient absorption. They are useful in reducing incidences of digestive disorders and medical costs. Probiotics cost between Ksh 5,000 and Ksh 12,000 per 1 kg pack.

3. Vitamins and minerals: Cows need adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals to maintain good health, improve immunity, and increase milk production. Farmers can buy commercial mineral and vitamin supplements to enrich their cow feeds. These supplements cost between Ksh 500 and Ksh 1,000 per 1 kg pack.

4. Molasses: Molasses is a by-product of sugarcane processing and is a source of energy for dairy cows. It is high in sugar and is often added to cow feeds to increase their palatability. Molasses costs between Ksh 45 and Ksh 100 per kilogram.

Incorporating these supplements into dairy cow diets can help to improve milk yields, reduce health problems, and increase the profitability of the farmer.

Protein As A Feeding Supplement

Apart from the feeding strategies and supplements highlighted earlier, dairy farmers in Kenya can also consider using alternative protein sources to supplement their cow feeds. Such sources include:

1. Insects: Insects are a rich source of protein and have been shown to improve milk yields when added to cow feeds. Insects such as black soldier fly larvae, houseflies, and crickets can be fed to cows as a protein supplement. They are relatively low-cost and sustainable.

2. Legumes: Leguminous plants such as beans, peas, and lentils are rich in protein. These plants can be used as fodders, silage, or hay to supplement cow feeds. They are an excellent source of protein for cows and are easily accessible and affordable.

3. Fishmeal: Fishmeal is a high-protein supplement that can be added to cow feeds to improve milk yields. It is a rich source of essential fatty acids and minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. Fishmeal is, however, relatively expensive compared to other protein sources.

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4. By-products: Dairy farmers can also use by-products from other food processing industries such as soybean meal, groundnut cake, and cottonseed cake as protein supplements. By-products are often cheaper than commercial protein supplements and readily available.

It is important to note that alternative protein sources should be used with caution and in moderation. Overfeeding on some protein sources can lead to urinary tract infections and other health problems in cows.

Factors To Consider

High-quality feeds are essential for optimal cow health, milk production, and profitability. Here are some factors to consider when assessing feed quality:

1. Moisture content: Feeds with moisture content above 15% are susceptible to spoilage and fungal growth, which can negatively impact cow health. Dairy farmers should ensure that their feeds are well-dried and stored in dry environments to minimize moisture content.

2. Protein content: Dairy cows require high-quality protein for optimal milk production. Farmers should ensure that their feeds contain sufficient levels of protein and that the protein is easily digestible.

3. Energy content: Energy is essential for cow health, growth, and milk production. Farmers should ensure that their feeds provide sufficient energy levels and that the energy is easily digestible.

4. Mineral content: Dairy cows require mineral supplements such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium for optimal health. Farmers should ensure that their feeds contain sufficient amounts of these minerals.

To ensure high-quality feeds, dairy farmers should:

– Harvest their feeds at the appropriate maturity stage to maximize nutrient content
– Store their feeds properly to prevent spoilage and fungal growth
– Test their feeds periodically to assess nutrient content and quality
– Seek professional advice from animal nutritionists and veterinarians to optimize feed quality and cow health.

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