To produce quality milk, calves, heifers and fodder, the modern dairy farmer must embrace technology.
These include breeding, milking and fodder-growing technologies, a number of which were showcased at the African Dairy Conference and Exhibition held last week at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi.
A Seeds of Gold team attended the event and samples some of the latest technologies in the sector, which can help you better your dairy farm.
Pipeline milking machine
Agricultural equipment manufacturer and supplier Kentrac Ltd showcased a pipeline milking machine, which, according to the firm’s consultant, Mr Julius Nyagwoka, comes in both mechanical and automated (digital) systems.
The milking machine has three components — milking, storage (receiver unit) and cleaning sections.
The automated machine has an electronic metre for measuring the amount of milk each cow produces while the mechanical one is calibrated and read manually.
For milking, the machine is attached to the cow’s teats as its pulsator helps in ‘prompting the animal to release the milk’.
An interconnection of tubes passes the milk through the meter, which measures the produce as it goes to the collection tank, where it is held before it is transferred to the cooler.
The machine milks a cow every three minutes, and when done, it automatically detaches the teat caps from teats.
When the milking process is done, the system cleans itself in readiness for the next milking session.
You may have seen your cattle scratching themselves against trees, walls, fences or other abrasive surfaces. This is a natural behaviour for livestock and when they cannot find somewhere to scratch against because there are no surfaces to do it, they tend to get stressed, which in turn affects their milk productivity.
A cow brush comes in handy, according to Juliet Nyaboke, a sales engineer at Kentrac Ltd, as the behaviour plays a key role in contributing to the cow’s welfare, hygiene and overall relaxation.
The brush is a cylindrical motorised appliance fitted on a mount. It has brush-like overhangs which can scratch the animal, removing parasites, old hair and dead skin scales.
The appliance is normally mounted on a wall in the cattle’s resting area where the animal can readily access it.
“Surfaces such as walls, trees or fences where most cows sometimes scrub themselves could contain nails or protruding sharp objects which can harm the cow in the process,” she says, adding that the massaging effect provided by the brush soothes the cow, releasing stress and tension.
Mobile irrigation system
Good quality dairy feeding involves providing the animals with 70 per cent forages and 30 per cent concentrates to produce a total mixed ration.
However, some farmers do not achieve this because the cost of livestock feeds is high, consequently taking up to 70 per cent of the total cost of milk production.
In Kenya, the situation has been exacerbated by a prolonged dry spell that started in 2018 and still persists to date, disrupting fodder production.
Well, smart farmers do not have to rely on the rains to grow fodder as showcased by a Danish company, Fasterholt, at the exhibition.
On display at the firm’s stand was a mobile irrigation system that has hosepipes stretching from 50 metres to a kilometre.
Titus Ndegwa of Fasterholt noted that the irrigation system does not require power to work.
“It is a four-wheeled trolley on which a hose is coiled round a reel. It needs only one or two workers to operate it as it irrigates fodder crops as well as coffee, tea and vegetable farms,” said Ndegwa.
One end of the hosepipe is connected to the water pump, and the other end is fitted to sprinklers. The trolley is then pushed to the furthermost point on the farm, according to the length of the hosepipe, then water is pumped.
“As the machine runs, pumping water through the pipe into the sprinklers and to the plants, the winder automatically recoils the hose, consequently towing the system towards the pump. The system eliminates the need for fitting many sprinklers on the farm as it slowly moves watering the plants along its way across the farm,” he explained.
Ndegwa noted one can irrigate up to 10 acres of fodder per day, as the machine moves gradually and sprinkles a diameter of 20 to 100 metres at a time.
Large-scale farms normally have many animals and consequently a larger number of calves, which also have to be fed.
In such situations, a calf-feeding trolley is useful. It consists of a tank and an engine mounted on a three-wheeled trolley, which can easily be moved around the farm.
The milk is put in the tank, which has automated settings to ensure it attains the required conditions for feeding the calves, just the way it comes from their mothers’ teats. The milk should neither be too hot nor too cold for the calves.
The appliance also has a pump that helps in dispensing the milk in set amounts required for each of the calves’ feeding buckets, just like a fuel dispenser at a petrol station, according to Juliet Nyaboke of Kentrac.
The trolley also has an agitator, which is used to mix the food in case milk powder and water are used instead of normal milk.
Computerised mating programme
Dr Nathaniel Makoni, the managing director of African Breeders Services-Total Cattle Management Ltd, displayed a computerised breeding programme that uses artificial intelligence.
One feeds into the system a set of data containing the ideal qualities of the calf he wishes to get.
These include good body structure, appropriate foot angle, right feet and legs score to minimise attack by mastitis, and right udder attachment.
This information is then matched with the breeds that the firm has in its database. The system then picks the most ideal bull semen for the farmer, eliminating the probability of human error.
“As a farmer, it is not enough to just settle for any sexed semen, but that which is able to make the farmer achieve objectives of his enterprise,” said Dr Makoni. According to him, the system affords the farmer unbiased genetic progress, curbs inbreeding, selects calving-ease bulls, enables herd performance ranking and makes culling easy.
Alcohol milk gun
A good number of farmers aggregate their milk before delivering it to processors. The milk is expected to be of good quality but some farmers deliver produce that is rejected due to contamination.
Farmers can avoid this predicament by arming themselves with an alcohol milk gun to test the freshness of their produce.
Samuel Njonjo of Delsey Holdings Ltd, which supplies dairy equipment, notes the gadget is ideal for milk cooperatives that run collection points.
“Milk goes bad quickly if not refrigerated for a few hours while some farmers contaminate their produce by adding things like margarine. When the collector mixes all the different farmers’ milk for delivery to the processing plant, it becomes difficult to know the culprit,” says Njonjo.
The milk gun contains an opening to let in milk on one end, then in the middle, there is a can-shaped part in which ethanol is held, and on the other end, two sprouts through which the ethanol and milk exit in equal proportions and collected in a glass beaker then stirred to check its state.
“Milk that is not fresh turns thicker immediately (appears like sour milk) unlike fresh milk which retains its state,” he says.