15 years ago our herd produced up to 25 liters per day on average, whereas they only produce
between 12 to 15 liters per day today (depending on the season). Better and better genetics
were introduced into the herd every year while the production declined steadily and steeply.
Some years ago I read somebody’s quote in a dairy magazine “To achieve the maximum
production level is vanity, while to aspire an economical production level is sanity”. I did not fully
understand the truth about this sentence then...
Yesterday I read through a journal of a group of dairy farmers who travelled to South Africa on
a Dairy Tour. They visited a dairy farmer who had a large Jersey herd under extensive grazing
and management conditions with a herd average of 7,000 liters whose finances were very sound.
The next day they met a Holstein farmer boasting a herd average of over 14,000 liters, under a
very intensive feeding and production system. This actually was one of the world’s highest
producing Holstein herds. Astonishingly (or not?) this farmer was close to financial and economic
collapse. This very much describes our own situation. While years ago we had one of the best
producing herds in Kenya our financial situation is better today with only half the average
production! And this despite highly inflated prices for all kind of inputs (feeds, drugs, fuel, etc.)
compared to the only moderately increased prices for all dairy produce.
Through sheer economic necessity many of the extremely expensive concentrate feeds and
additives had to be replaced by cheap and locally available roughage (natural pasture grass, maize
stover, etc. ). Not only did our purse profit from these changes but the cows thanked us through
much better fertility levels and improved general health (No more feet problems as sole ulcers
and less mastitis, too).
The only real drawback from this changed situation is that we are now no longer able to tell the
true production potential of our cows, which both greatly impairs their sale value and also makes
selection for milk yield virtually impossible.
What to do???
The following idea, which still has to be implemented (we are planning to do so from November
2014) will allow us to reap all benefits from both production systems without greatly impairing
the farm’s profitability. We will try to feed and manage our first calf heifers for the first 100
days of their lactation in the best way possible to us, without considering economic viability. So
hopefully this will enable them to display their full genetic potential and additionally prime them
for a lifespan of high production for those future owners who wish to pursue the more intensive
Below management regime is what we followed when our herd still produced 25 liters on average,
so it is suitable for getting your cows to produce those extra liters of milk. This might still make
economic sense if the price and demand for your milk is real good and you can obtain concentrate
feeds cheaply. If your cows don’t respond with increased production you should consider other
factors as housing (cow comfort), disease management (a sick cow can’t produce well) and genetic
potential (many cows, in particular those with a high percentage of indigenous blood, simply can’t
produce a lot of milk).
100 Days Test
Steaming-Up: All heavy in-calf Heifers should be accustomed to the people, new environment
and feeds they will encounter once they have calved. This includes training them to enter the
milking-stall without being scared, accepting being touched by their future milkers and
getting used to spending time on a slippery concrete surface closely packed with older herd
mates. This “steaming-up” period should begin one month prior to their due calving date at
Three times milking: After being born the calf should be removed immediately prior to having
suckled it’s dam and three times a day milking should commence at once and the calf bottle-
fed the colostrum. The more often per day you can milk her, the more milk she will give
overall. Never let the cow become accustomed to foster her own calf as this might impair her
milk let down later on. Although sounding cruel this method is much more cow-friendly than
leaving the calf to suckle for the colostrum period. By the end of that time dam and calf will
have fully bonded and both will cry their hearts out for days when finally separated...
Feeding: Animal nutritionist will study this subject for years prior to their graduations and
whole libraries are filled with volumes of books detailing feeding particulars... This paragraph
won’t be able to summarize all this information and knowledge and won’t pretend to even
scratch it’s surface, but these few practical thoughts can get you a long way nonetheless:
For all the fundamentals please consult: How to boost milk production in cows, Practical
considerations in feeding dairy cows and Formulating home made rations for dairy cattle
Roughages we use include natural pasture, green and as standing hay, napier grass, maize
stover and silage made out of all these
Forages with a good protein content used are leuceana leaves, gliricidia leaves and stems,
cassava leaves and stems, mucuna and natural occuring wild legumes
Concentrate feeds used include dairy meal (I still believe Mombasa Maize Millers’ “Faida”
brand is the best locally available product), cotton seed cake, sim-sim cake, maize germ cake,
maize germ meal, wheat bran, wheat pollard and molasses
Adding some yeast product and mycotoxin binder to your ration will greatly improve
digestibility, reduce heat stress caused by the cow’s metabolism and even help to absorb
some unwanted or even poisonous contaminants. “Alltech Biotechnology (K) LTD” and “Cooper
K-Brands (LTD)” supply such products on the Kenyan market. Other necessary or useful
additives include a suitable mineral premix and urea (only for the more experienced!)
(Unless done by an expert...) Never attempt to increase the concentrate part of a cow’s
ration to over the amount of roughage provided and this must be strictly calculated in terms
Try to utilize as much as possible locally and readily available ingredients to mix a ration of
sufficient energy and protein content. Abrupt changes to a cows diet will harm her, adding or
removing ingredients should always be done gradually. It is wiser to use lower quality feeds
that can always be provided than high quality inputs that alternate with non at all when
regular supply can’t be guaranteed
Chopping all roughage to about 1” size will greatly improve intake (more food has space in your
cow’s rumen), reduce leftovers (as stalks) and enable you to mix all ingredients together
Total mixed Rations: To make a cow eat as much as possible her food must taste nice to her!
Masking the taste of less palatable ingredients (like many high protein feeds or minerals) by
mixing them under very tasty material will make a cow eat more overall than if all feeds are
presented separately. This is one of the main reasons for adding molasses to rations.
Mixing all ingredients together will greatly improve utilization of less digestible material with
high fibre content while reducing chances of causing stomach upsets (acidosis, diarrhoea,
etc.) caused by rapid intake of excessive starch and sugar
Present fresh food to your milking cow as many times per day as feasible, but at least twice,
always removing left overs before refilling the trough. This will help to maintain a good taste
and also prevent heating and nutrient losses. Refusals/leftovers of 10% of the original
amount presented are optimum. This will guarantee each cow, even the weaker one, has eaten
to her full satisfaction while minimising waste. These leftovers can still be utilized by
offering them to dry cows or bulls. Never feed rotten or mouldy food to your cows!
A suitable and sufficient moisture content of the ration will guarantee speed and ease of
swallowing (ever tried to swallow plain dry wheat flour yourself???) and will keep all
ingredients glued together to prevent sorting and digging for the more favoured particles
Feed trough design is also very important: Provide sufficient feed trough space so all cows
can eat simultaneously without having to fight. Food trough floor should be smooth and easy
to clean and at least 8” higher than the floor on which the cow is standing. Otherwise she
can’t access the feeds at the bottom of the trough. Add some type of railing to prevent cows
from stepping inside the trough (which contaminates the food with dung and makes it
unpalatable) or falling/being pushed in (which might even prove fatal to the cow!)
Use your common sense (or better cow sense....) and spend some time each day watching your
cows while eating. Many shortfalls in your feeding regime will become obvious if you just
spend this little extra time with your herd!