There are five major dairy breeds that are considered the best milk producers in the world.
These are Ayrshire, Guernsey, Jersey, Holstein Friesian and the Brown Swiss.
Locally, we have other breeds that are reared for milk such as the Sahiwal, Fleckvieh, Boran and the East African Shorthorn Zebu, which is popular among average smallholder farmers and pastoralists.
The Holstein Friesian or Friesian is arguably the most desired dairy breed in Kenya and other parts of the world.
However, most farmers lack basic information about the breed and may commit their hard-earned money without considering the merits and demerits of the breed.
A good Holstein Friesian cow should exhibit the following characteristics:
- Distinctive black and white markings on its coat. The intensity and distribution of the markings vary from animal to animal. A few cows may, however, be white or red.
- Mature cows usually weigh about 500 to 650kg and stand 4.8 feet tall at the shoulder.
- They have short horns
- They are humpless
Of the five most desired dairy breeds, the Holstein Friesian produces the highest amount of milk per lactation. A pedigree cow produces between 8,500 and 10,000kg of milk per year. Good Holstein Friesian cows have been recorded to have had between 12 and 15 lactations.
A Holstein Friesian’s milk also has the lowest butterfat content (2.5 to 3.6 per cent) and protein (3.2 per cent) when compared with the other four major breeds. These percentages are important for a consumer population that is getting increasingly aware of what is contained in their diet.
Some processors also prefer milk with low butterfat and may even offer to pay more for such milk. Butterfat content is an inheritable trait.
Such information about the animal you choose should be available from the breeder’s records.
Holstein Friesian calves have an average birth weight of 25kg (female) and 30kg (male) after a gestation period of nine months. They have a fast growth rate and on average calve for the first time from the age of 26 months.
This guarantees quick returns for the farmer as he doesn’t have to wait for too long before getting some rewards. The male calves are not only good for breeding but are also valuable for beef and are powerful draught animals.
Though regarded as adaptable to a wide range of environments, the Holstein Friesian has presented challenges to many farmers in Kenya.
They do not have good heat tolerance and so do not do well in areas with high temperatures like lower Eastern Province, the Coast, North Eastern and upper parts of the Rift Valley.
They, however, flourish in cool areas of Central Province, Naivasha, Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Kisii and western Kenya.
These areas also are mostly green throughout the year, providing adequate pasture for the heavy-feeding Holstein Friesian (it requires 40 to 70kg of fresh feed daily and 60 litres of clean water).
They, however, score highly in that they can either zero-graze or graze on controlled fields.
Their shelters should be bedded with sand, straw, or some type of mattress. These need to changed regularly to ensure high levels of hygiene.
The farmer also needs to be very keen on pest and parasite management as this breed is highly susceptible to vector-borne diseases like East Coast Fever and trypanosomiasis.
With proper care and the right environmental conditions, the Holstein Friesian’s output is quite impressive.
Locally, pedigree Holstein Friesian can be obtained from Manera (Delamere Estates) in Naivasha, Kalro Naivasha, Agricultural Development Corporation Katuke Complex in Kitale, Kisima Farm in Njoro, University of Nairobi Farm in Kabete and Gicheha Farm in Ruiru, among others.
Dr Muchunguh is a livestock expert, drmary[email protected]