Initially, most dairy farms only focused on maintaining healthy cows by proper feeding and disease-control, routine milking and getting calves for future generation.
However, this is changing as nowadays, building a thriving farm starts with having a solid investment plan, sourcing the right breeds, recordkeeping, disease management, handling fertility-related issues and perfecting all things that make one a good dairy farmer.
To run a model farm, however, does not require magic because every farmer, however, small has the ingredients.
To begin with, recordkeeping is key. The most successful businesses rely on records to influence their decisions. Do your budgeting, manage operation costs, record milk and animal sales, feed
purchases and calculate your income, in short, be financially prudent.
Model dairy farms thrive on good calves as they give a proper foundation. Good calves that can be served as early as 15 months of age are not born, they are made. It all starts with feeding them on
high quality feed sources soon after birth and intensifying management for fast weight gain, remarkable growth rate and later, for early service. Such animals turn out to be the very expensive heifers everyone wants to have.
Get the breeding right. More dairy farms are becoming breeder units, with milk becoming their secondary produce. How does this work? Embracing the latest breeding technologies has made this a
success. Some like embryo transfer may be expensive but at least go for artificial insemination.
Semen from high-producing sires and sexed semen may also be expensive, but to get there, you should try them out. With sexed semen, you will lock out the gamble of hoping to get a female calf. Do the timing correctly to avoid extra costs of inseminations.
The Kenya Animal Genetic Resources Centre (KAGRC) formerly CAIS, provides high quality disease-free semen, most of which is extracted from top-producing animals, well-adapted for the local
setting. Private but licensed inseminators are also alternatives, some of whom use imported semen.
Another area is feeding. Quality feeds help improve milk production and reproduction efficiency, which are the two major goals of dairy farming.
It is cheaper to grow fodder sources like Boma Rhodes, protein sources like calliandra, lucerne, desmodium, groundnuts and sweet potato vines. Due to diminishing land sizes, you can turn to hay and silage or adopt the use of Total Mixed Ration, all known to contribute to high milk production.
Supplementation of the animals with concentrates is also necessary. Commercial dairy meals, mineral blocks and salts form part of supplementation. Maize germ, wheat pollard, cotton seed and fish
meal are some feed ingredients used to make meals at home.
Another secret to ending up with a model farm is training. Educate workers on animal management issues and farm operations. Attend farm exchange visits as frequent as possible to learn new ideas.
Farmers’ workshops, milk processors and agricultural development centres give plenty of information that you need.
Avoid working with quacks. Veterinarians and extension officers provide different perspectives vital enough to take your investment to new heights.
General herd management adds greater value. Stand out with activities such as disease management, sanitation and hygiene and good housing. Under intensive production systems for example, group your animals to make management easy as the cows can get special attention when need arises.
Grouping involves construction of the unit in such a way that there are sheds for lactating cows, calves, heifers, a sick bay and a maternity wing.
Strict de-worming regime and regular control of ecto-parasites is also useful in controlling pests. A farm with good dairy animals restricts access to them for fear contamination.
That is not all, understanding cow signals like body conditions are dynamic for communication with your animals. They help you know the normal cow behaviour, need for adjustments in feeding and other management aspects.
Egerton University will be holding hands on trainings on these important components, each on different occasions, keep reading Seeds of Gold for information.
Opinya is based at Animal Sciences Department, Egerton University.