Vet on Call: All you need to set up a profitable zero-grazing unit

Friday June 16 2017

A man carries grass for feeding dairy goats at Mamboleo Showground in Kisumu.

A man carries grass for feeding dairy goats at Mamboleo Showground in Kisumu. Good planning of feed supplies is necessary before starting and running a successful zero-grazing agribusiness. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP.  

By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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Since I started my private veterinary practice in the early 90s, I have seen a lot of changes in the way I receive case reports.

With the ubiquitous information and communication technology, case reporting has changed from personal visits to any of the many forms of instant communication, including mobile phone calls, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook and e-mail.

My geographical area of practice and the mode of service delivery have also changed as technology threatens to consign my veterinary operations to the computer keyboard and mobile phone.

Two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a high school principal from Kilgoris in Narok County. The message read, “Good day Dr Mugachia. I am the principal and teacher of agriculture at a high school in Trans-Mara, Kilgoris. I am a keen reader of your articles, and have passed this readership to my agriculture students as well. Thank you for your incisive and informative pieces. Our school is planning to set up a student-managed zero grazing dairy project, whose aim is twofold. First is to expose our students to better and more improved ways of cattle keeping, bearing in mind that most of my learners come from a community that largely keeps local breeds in a pastoralism method for beef rather than milk production. Second is to create a revenue stream that would be sustainable and reliable for the project and the school at large. We are seeking your advice on a design of a five cow zero grazing unit, preferably a design template we could refer to, vaccination and treatment programme for dairy cattle, challenges we are likely to encounter and possible ways to overcome them, and how best to customise the project to suit high school learners for maximum impact even in the days after schooling,” he concluded.

I was impressed by the teacher’s plan of seeking to change a whole community’s way of livestock production. At this point, I recalled the head teacher who inculcated in me personal hygiene and environmental protection values and practices way back in primary school.

To date, my dressing is incomplete without a clean handkerchief and dropping even a sweet wrapper on the ground is criminal to me.

Zero grazing structures and associated measurements have been published before in Seeds of Gold, May 1, 2015. The article can be retrieved from the link: http://www.nation.co.ke/business/seedsofgold/How-to-construct-an-ideal-zero-grazing-unit/-/2301238/2703492/-/xh6va0z/-/index.html. (Access this article online for the link).

CHALLENGES IN ZERO-GRAZING

My response will, therefore, address the other questions the school principal asked. Any one requiring the design templates for a zero grazing unit can contact me privately on my e-mail.

However, the designs as recommended by the Small-holder Dairy Commercialisation Project (SDCP) of the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries can be obtained from the link: http://www.ruaf.org/sites/default/files/ero%20Grazing%20Housing_1.pdf. The SDCP plans are easy to follow and have useful real life pictures of zero-grazing units.

In zero grazing, animals are kept confined in shelters with demarcated areas for feeding, drinking, sleeping/resting cubicles, walking, keeping the young, fodder chopping, milking, storage and manure dump pit.

A one cow zero-grazing unit should have provisions for the mother cow, its first calf and second calf. It is assumed that the unit will always have three animals taking into consideration the production of one calf per year, removal of bull calves and the annual death rate of the animals.

For the high school principal to establish a zero-grazing unit of five cows, he would need a total of seven cubicles and an equal number of drinking and feeding places.

Cattle in a zero-grazing unit in Kenya are vaccinated just like any other against foot and mouth disease, twice a year.

There are new vaccines that may be administered once a year. Lumpy skin disease vaccine and that against black quarter and anthrax (blanthrax) are given yearly. Any other vaccination would be administered as advised by the County Director of Veterinary Services.

The principal should not worry about treatment of the cow because this is only done when they are sick. Challenges of zero grazing include high labour requirements for cleaning the unit, feeding and watering the cattle, cost of construction, increased risk of udder infection medically called mastitis, poor nutrition where cows may lack some vital elements and stress to the cattle due to confinement.

POOR HYGENE

Poor hygiene may increase the risk of a number of diseases such as pneumonia, foot problems and diarrhoea.

The good news is that these challenges can be managed. Labour requirements can be minimised by good construction, piping of water up to various points of the zero grazing unit and good planning of feed supplies.

Risk of mastitis and other diseases is mitigated by high level of hygiene while balanced adequate feeding and good professional advice will ensure the cows are in top body condition.

To minimise confinement stress, the principal should ensure professional guidance in construction of the unit and minimum commotion such as noise, rapid movements of the confined cows and any activity that unsettles the animals.

No other animals such as dogs, goats and chickens should access the confined cattle. Visits to the unit by people should be minimised.

The high school students can maximally benefit from the zero-grazing project if they are well oriented on the role of animal agriculture in human livelihoods and environmental sustainability.

The principal and other teachers would need to have good theoretical and practical knowledge on dairy farming coupled with expressed passion for milk production.

The students should fully participate in the project to be motivated and gain practical and theoretical knowledge on dairy production. They should be appropriately rewarded for their commitment to the school’s initiative.

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The Clinic

Glenn: Where can I buy a good Ayrshire in-calf heifer in Nandi County? Your articles make my weekends.

I am happy Glenn to know you find the articles useful. You may contact Chirchir on 0727545461 or Patrick Mutai on 0726510738. These two gentlemen are on the ground in Nandi County working with livestock farmers and will be able to assist you get the cow you are looking for.