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Swiss cattle breed excites dairy breeders at ASK Show

By Stephen Rutto
The Simmental or Swiss Fleckvieh is reddish in colour with white markings, and is kept for milk and meat.

 

There he was: The gorgeous beast — the well toned skin is wine red, it is neatly horned and with good muscling, large frame and heavy dewlap. Record shows he weighs around 1,300kg, and average body weight of the cows is around 700-900kg.

Meet — Simmental cattle breed — the showstopper cattle at this year’s Eldoret Agricultural Society of Kenya International Trade Fair.

As curious eyes gazed at him, he just looked back with stern sharp eyes oblivious of how attractive he was. By the way, most of the Simmental cattle have pigmentation around the eyes, which help reduce eye problems.

Curious livestock farmers and show goers flocked the Elgon Downs Farm’s stand to admire this breed that has fascinating qualities.

“Compared to other similar breeds, the Simmental cattle have excellent grazing abilities and good growth rates. They are easy to handle and have a good feed conversion and efficiency...,” says Elgon Downs Farm veterinary manager Haron Kimutai.

The Kitale-based farm, managed by the Kenya Seed Company crossbreeds Simmental cow breeds from Switzerland with Kenya’s Borana beef breeds to produce a breed of beef cattle that thrives in the temporal climate.

Superior qualities

Simmental breed, also known as Swiss Fleckvieh is a Swiss breed of dual-purpose cattle. It is reddish with white markings. Kimutai explains that vets in the farm breed the Simmental-Borana crossbreeds with Friesian cows to produce high yielding breeds.

“The three-way cross breeds have resulted in disease resistant cows breeds, producing high quality beef as well as good quantities of milk,” Kimutai tells Smart Harvest at the farm’s stand at the agricultural show.

He says mature Simmental bulls of between eight to ten years weigh up to 1.2 tonnes, noting that bulls used for breeding would weigh about 800 kilogrammes, but rises to 900kg when not actively involved in breeding.

The farm, the vet says, keeps 600 cows resulting from the three-way breeding and sells them during the agricultural trade fairs and also at the farm.

“Our main market is the Nairobi International Trade Fair but we also sell cows to local beef traders and farmers who come to ask for breeding bulls. A breeding bulls fetches Sh150,000 while a steer fetches Sh140,000. But during the ASK show, we sell through auction,” says Kimutai.

What Simmental cattle known for

The Simmental breeds has historically been used for dairy and beef, and as draught animals. They are particularly renowned for the rapid growth of their young, if given sufficient feed. Simmentals provide more combined weaning gain (growth) and milk yield than any other breed.

Expert opinion

Dr Moses Olum, a researcher at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) says a Simmental-Boran crossbreed can do well in slightly hot areas of Kenya.

Dr Olum says the cross breed can withstand higher temperatures, but cautions that the cross breed needs high quality feeds for optimum production.

“The cross breed is a more demanding breed because it can’t withstand free range system like the pure Boran breed. It is a good breed for Kenyan livestock farmers,” he says, adding that it is more expensive to acquire Simmental breeds and to crossbreed.

To meet feed needs, the Kitale based farm feeds their cattle on Rhodes grass, Lucerne Hay, Maize Stover, Congo signal, Elmba Rhodes, Columbus grass – all feeds produced by Kenya Seed in its seed production business.

Dr Olum says adoption of the crossbreed will help meet demands in the beef industry. The breed, the vet notes, is also more resistant the East Coast Fever, a major killer of indigenous cows in Kenya.

Other Show highlights

Another highlight at the show was Uasin Gishu’s Baraka Dairy Farm which displayed its latest innovative value addition. Dominic Bett, a director of the farm says they process their milk and sell it in form of geese and yoghurt.

Baraka farm according to Bett, is exhibiting for the first time at the Eldoret show.

“We are exhibiting for the first time this year and are hoping to expand our market. We also expect other dairy farmers to learn from us how to add value to milk,” Bett says.

Bett says his farm also produces sour milk popularly known as mala to increase profits after milk prices fell in the last three years.

Modern chuff cutters

As expected, farm machinery were also on display at the annual agricultural fair. To meet the animal feeds demands, machines companies in Eldoret are assembling modern chaff cutters custom made for rural livestock farmers.

Amon Kigen, a marketing official at Spring Valley Machinery says the firm imports chaff cutter parts from India and modifies by mounting petrol-powered and electricity-powered engines, producing affordable machines.

The assembled chaff cutters which cost between Sh35,000 to Sh40,000, according to Kigen, chops 600Kgs of green matter and 300Kgs of dry matter per hour and are lighter, making it easy for a farmer to move it around the farm.

Chairman’s views

Eldoret ASK show chairman Radcliff Nangalama, says the number of exhibitors increased from 115 last year to 123 exhibitors this year.

Nangalama says among the new exhibitors include Baraton and Kibabii Universities who showcased their best agricultural training opportunities for established farmers and agriculture students.

Need for diversification

He says during this year’s edition, farmers from maize producing counties in North Rift and Western will be trained on diversification to minimise losses that have hit them over the years because of over dependence on one crop.

“We are educating farmers on need to embrace other high value crops. We are also partnering with Smart development works (SNV) from the Netherlands to train farmers on modern farming techniques on food storage, silage making and value addition,” Mr Nangalama says.

With maize crop facing various challenges, there was a clear indication that more grain farmers in North Rift were yearning for alternatives to survive the harsh times. Frustrated maize farmers flocked the National Cereals and Produce Board in search of answers with regard to subsidised fertiliser.

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