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Common mistakes dairy farmers make

By Francis Njonge
An accountant Peter Ng'eno's wife Fancy and some of their hybrid cow during the interview at his home in Bomet. ON 25/07/2017(Jenipher Wachie)

One big mistake is failing to feed new born calves colostrum in the first few hours of life

1. Buying cows without consulting a qualified veterinarian

Many farmers take the word of the seller as gospel truth while buying cattle and end up disappointed. The right way to buy cattle is by first having a qualified veterinarian do a health check and Breeding Soundness Examination on the cow. The vet checks for diseases, fertility, does pregnancy diagnosis and assesses body condition. It is at that point that the professional can recommend for the purchase and possibly even guide on the estimated cost of the cow.

2. Keeping cows in inappropriate structures

Inappropriate cow sheds may predispose cows to diseases and conditions such as mastitis and or lameness, heat stress and other form of injuries. All these eventually result in economic losses in the farm. When constructing structures for a dairy farm, consult an expert to give guidelines regarding the industry standard ways of building structures.

3. Rearing unsuitable breeds of dairy cattle

Some farmers fail in dairy farming simply because of keeping dairy breeds unsuitable for the area where the farm is located. The animals therefore fail to perform well due to factors such as climate, feed availability and prevalence of certain diseases in a particular area. Farmers should select breeds that can adjust well to the prevailing environmental conditions of the farm. An expert advice is important.

4. Poor record keeping

Most small scale farmers operate without regularly updated records therefore losing the opportunity to properly analyse performance of the farm and to identify factors that affect profitability. Farmers should have Health, Production, Reproduction and Nutrition records among others.

5. Feeding cattle fresh green fodder and little dry matter

Most farmers still feed fresh green fodder to their dairy animals. Some of these fodder has up to 90 per cent water and therefore means the animals are fed on mostly water. Farmers should dry their fodder before feeding cattle so that at the end of the day the animals take the recommended amount of dry matter, which will be combined with other feed requirements like vitamins and mineral plus other requirements to make the feed balanced.

6. Administering drugs to cattle on their own

When a farmer administers drugs to his/ her cows, there is a high probability of an overdose or an under dose, the former resulting into poisoning and the latter failure of the treatment and possible antibiotic resistance. Only qualified veterinary personnel should administer drugs.

7. Rearing cattle as one group

When farmers keep lactating and non-lactating cows together, it means not meeting the specific nutritional needs of the individual animals and thus production is low. Cattle have different requirements depending on age, production and reproduction levels. For a dairy farm, the animals should be kept in separate groups including: calves, heifers, in calf heifers, lactating cows, dry cows, maternity group and bulls. This ensures that the different groups are fed according to their needs.

8. Failing to feed new born calves colostrum in the first few hours of life

Colostrum is the first milk produced soon after birth. It has antibodies that protect the calf against diseases and their absorption in the digestive tract occurs for a limited period which is significantly reduced 12 hours after birth and is very low after 24 hours. Calves should therefore be fed colostrum adequately in the first 12 hours of life to boost their immunity against diseases early in life.

9. Drying animals for less than 60 days

During pregnancy, it is recommended that the cow is not milked for at least 60 days and this is called drying off period. If drying is done for less days, it affects the subsequent lactation period negatively. The dry period should last for about 60 days irrespective of whether the cow is still producing a lot of milk or not. This helps the cow to build up body reserves to meet next production, regenerate alveolar tissue (milk synthesizing tissue) and save nutrients for the fast growing foetus during the last phase of pregnancy.

10. Feeding cows with high levels of calcium during the last two months of pregnancy

Feeding cows with minerals high in calcium during the last 2 months (dry period) of pregnancy hinders the ability of the cow to mobilise calcium from the body when it is needed. This usually results into a condition called milk fever, which might be fatal if not treated promptly. Cows in the dry period should be given minerals that are very low in calcium or have no calcium at all. These minerals are readily found in the market.

[The writer is the Dean, School of Natural Resources and Animal Sciences at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology]

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