The Business of Dairy Farming – A Case for the Modern Dairy Farmer
Most people are aware that dairy farming in Kenya bears little resemblance to yesteryears. As with other forms of livestock farming, such as poultry farming, beef production and crop farming – small, traditional dairy farms have been steadily pushed to adapt to current measures, trends and maintain high levels of production.
Agriculture contributes to about 33% of the country’s GDP. 8% of this is from dairy farming, where Kenya produces close to 3.43 billion litres of milk annually. Kenya has a population of over 4.5 million dairy cows and these cows contribute 30-40% of the continent’s supply of milk. However, over the years this population has significantly declined at an alarming rate, primarily because of the challenges that modern dairy farmers encounter.
Like today, traditional dairy farmers could not know what threats lay ahead, so they had to learn to anticipate and solve problems. By working and protecting their dairy animals on their small piece of agricultural land, they could keep their families well-fed and create a more stable life.
Despite incredible advances, the challenges of modern dairy farmers are far more complex than in the past. Farmers today still need grit, foresight and good judgment. But now they also need to adopt sustainable farming practices to ensure their survival in the face of COVID-19, challenging economics, climate change and rising consumer demands for claims-based food, including traceability.
Dairy animals are like all other mammals in that they produce milk for the nurturing of their young. To lactate, a dairy cow must recently have given birth. Cows’ natural life expectancy is 20 years or more, but according to Science Direct, the average dairy cow lives just 3 to 4 years, exhausted by constant lactation and frequent disease.
A large proportion of these health challenges in dairy animals can be solved by nutritional supplements. The most common issue is related to the infertility of the dairy animals. Every farmer expects one calf annually to help improve the population of the cattle, but with cases of infertility becoming rampant, this is becoming a major challenge for modern dairy farmers. A decrease in the population of cows results to reduced milk production, further impacting the dairy farmer negatively.
Diseases are another major concern among modern dairy farmers. The most common disease related to dairy farming is mastitis. This is an infection of the mammary glands which is mostly caused by an unhygienic environment. Microorganisms from the dirt infect the cattle’s udder and multiply in the milk producing tissues.
Retention of the fetal membrane is yet another major concern for modern dairy farmers. This occurs when the cow fails to expel the fetal membrane within 24 hours after giving birth. Normally expulsion of the fetal membrane should occur within 3- 8 hours after calf delivery. After birthing this membrane is supposed to come out by itself, if it hangs it attracts pathogens on the uterus resulting to an infectious disease like metritis.
As cows mature more weight is put on the outside walls of the feet. This excess weight results in more pressure on the inner walls of the front feet of the cow. In more serious instances they may lead to lameness, adversely affecting their foot health.
Milk fever is another major concern for dairy farmers – 80% of milk fever occurs within one day of calving. Milk fever is common mostly on cows which produce high levels of milk – over 20 litres of milk in a day. The more milk a cow produces, the more minerals like calcium and phosphorous are lost.
Global Nutrition Solutions (GNS) has formulated a GNS Bovita and Maziwa Block range of products in Kenya; a mineral and vitamin supplement prepared to meet the needs of dairy cattle with a focus on improving milk production, fertility, and the general health of livestock.
For proper fertility, a dairy cow requires minerals like Vitamin E, Selenium and Manganese. Such minerals help to ensure that the animal is coming on heat and can show these signs. A proper fertility results to an increase in the population of the farmer’s cattle and an equal increase in the production of milk.
Minerals offered by GNS Bovita Maziwa help to address issues related to the common diseases affecting the animals. Zinc helps to develop the tissues of the mammary glands so that they remain closed and only open when the farmer is milking the cow. This helps to ensure that microorganisms do not get to the udder and infect the mammary glands. Vitamin A and C are equally important to the farmer because they help keep mastitis at bay by providing strong immunity.
The common case of retained after births is caused by poor supplementation of calcium, phosphorus, manganese and zinc. Calcium helps in muscle contractions of the animal ensuring that the animal gives birth properly and that the birth membrane comes out by itself.
In these modern days, farmers are moving into purchasing quality supplements and minerals to ensure that common diseases which might affect their dairy animals are prevented from occurring. These modern dairy farmers all spend their days in very different ways — and none of them looks like the stereotypical farmer — but they are all working on new ways to solve the same problem: feeding our generation.
That is the key. Feeding our generation is going to take all of us working together. Not only do we need to expand our idea of what farming looks like, but we also need to expand our view of where solutions can come from: agronomists, geneticists, and farmers.