Jamhuri ASK grounds in Nairobi was the place to be last week for any discerning livestock farmer.
The showground hosted the annual Kenya Livestock Breeders Show, now in its sixteenth year.
The event brought together livestock breeders, buyers, farmers and industry players from as far as Uganda and Tanzania.
While the event’s biggest highlights was the animal parade and livestock auction, there was more, including best practices in livestock breeding, new breeds, making feeds, pesticides and cow management techniques.
One of the things that caught Seeds of Gold’s attention was cattle breeds kept by few farmers or whose semen is least sought after yet they have huge potential when reared for milk, meat or used for breeding.
These animals, which are available locally, and were on display at the show are Brown Swiss (dual purpose), Aberdeen Angus, Hereford and Charolais (beef breeds).
If you want to keep cattle for beef or improve the local breeds like Zebu and Sahiwal, then you need to consider the Aberdeen Angus.
This cattle is naturally polled, therefore, you do not need to dehorn it. They can be black or red in colour, although black is the dominant colour, white may occasionally appear on the udder.
Like most beef cattle, angus beef breed is very tolerant and can survive in semi-arid areas such as Naivasha and Laikipia. They also have superior feed conversion.
They are very adaptable, good natured and mature extremely early and have a high carcass yield with tender meat, which is why they are kept for beef production.
In Kenya currently, while some farmers like the Morendat Farm, keep them for meat, they are used for crossbreeding to improve beef quality of local breeds such as Zebu, Boran and Sahiwal.
The typical Charolais is white in colour with a pink muzzle and pale hooves. They are born with horns, therefore, dehorning is necessary for easy handling.
Although white is the dominant colour among the cattle breed, there are now Charolais cattle being bred black and red in colours.
Charolais are medium to large framed beef cattle with a very deep and broad body. They have a short, broad head and heavily muscled loins and haunches.
In Africa, the largest population of the breed is found in South Africa followed by Kenya, mainly in farms in Laikipia and others such as Kabarak Farm Ltd and Morendat.
Charolais are hardy animals that can adapt to various climate conditions. They can graze on pasture that many other breeds cannot use and gain weight and muscle rapidly. Charolais bulls can weigh up to 1,130kg and cows up to 900kg.
Wafula said the ADC farm breeds Hereford, Charolais, dairy-crosses (crossbreed of different cow breeds) and Brown Swiss.
While they have Charolais and Hereford cows, he says they only offer a little milk to support the calf.
“Hereford and Charolais breeds produce very little milk so they are only kept for beef production. They can survive anywhere across the country, both in highlands and lowland areas.” He said an in-calf cow goes at Sh120,000, and a young calf at Sh15,000.
“Through embryo transfer, we have been able to have offspring of Charolais, Hereford and Jersey and Ayrshire which have turned out to be good milk producers.”
According to Dr Mugachia, for farmers to adopt the beef cattle, they need to change the believe that good beef animals only come from the rangelands in the North.
“You can get a cross from a Hereford, Charolais or Aberdeen and raise it for meat production with very good results.”
Ronald Kimitei, a livestock specialist at Egerton University, advised against crossing exotic breeds like Charolais beef cattle with a Friesian cow to have a dual purpose animal.
“It is good to cross the indigenous animal with the exotic one because the former are resistant to diseases, and can survive in harsh weather conditions while the exotic ones have more body mass, grow faster and give higher yields. Therefore, you will have these traits in one animal when you cross breed the two.”
Reared by the Agricultural Development Corporation and introduced in the country some six years ago, the greyish cow, which is native to Switzerland, has the potential to boost dairy farming in semi-arid areas.
“This cow produces 27 to 30 litres of milk a day. Its milk butter content is second after the Jersey breeds,” Joseph Wafula, a handler, pointed out.
The cow’s greyish colour helps to resist extreme solar radiation enabling it to survive in semi-arid areas. It is a dual-purpose breed that produces milk and considerable amount of beef.
Wafula, a dairy clerk at the ADC Suam Ochards in Kitale where the cow is bred, said that the breed is not a heavy feeder yet it gives good quantity milk.
“This cows weighs up to 700kg and you can also choose to zero-graze it or allow it to graze by itself,” he said.
To produce more milk, Wafula said they feed every cow on 2kg of dairy meal, 4kg of hay, salt-lick, desmodium, and mix their feeds with molasses to make it more palatable.
An in-calf pure breed of the animal goes at Sh120,000, and its semen is available at Kabete and ADC Kitale at Sh1,000.
Dr Joseph Mugachia, a veterinary surgeon, said one can specifically crossbreed the Brown Swiss with a Friesian, and still get a good breed that may work as good as Guernsey or Jersey.
Hereford is black or brown with a white head, crest, dewlap, or underline. These cattle are known for their vigour and foraging ability. They are also very docile breeds, thus, allowing easier handling than other cattle breeds.
Like the Angus, Herefords are mainly bred for beef. Like most beef cattle, they are foragers, thus, require a lot of rearing spaces such as a ranch.
Some farmers in the country, particularly in Laikipia, Nakuru and Naivasha, however, keep them under zero-grazing system.