Kisumu farmers eye increased milk yields

Monday, December 16th, 2019 20:28 |
Lucy Okwiri, a dairy farmer in Muhoroni sub-county, tends to her herd of calves born out of improved dairy breeding system. Photo/PD/NOVEN OWITI

Farmers and agricultural officers in Kisumu have projected increased milk production following ongoing implementation of an improved dairy-breeding programme.

Many dairy farmers have embraced Fixed Time Artificial Insemination (FTAI) in efforts to upgrade the quality and productivity of livestock, especially  milk output.

This is a technology where the cows are injected with hormones and are served  (Artificially Inseminated-AI) within a predetermined period. 

The indigenous cows are then inseminated with semen from bulls of improved dairy breeds. The process starts with selection of the cows then pregnancy tests before the animals are inseminated instantly, with semen collected from proven bulls of improved breeds. 

Subsidised charges  

The accelerated breeding system introduced by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in collaboration with the county government aims at improving cattle breeds and boosting dairy productivity. The AI services are offered to farmers at subsidised rates.

Lucy Okwiri, a dairy farmer in Ngere Kagora village in Muhoroni sub-county, is betting on the new technology to improve her animal breeds and milk production.

Already, she has five quality calves born out of the programme from a stock of four crossbreed dairy animals.

Okwiri ventured into dairy farming in 2009. She milks about 20 litres daily but hopes to double the yield when the FTAI breeds mature. A litre goes for Sh60 at the farm.

She pays Sh1,500 for the AI services and says  that farmers can now easily access AI services locally. “I expect to boost milk yields once the FTAI breeds  are fully-grown,” says Okwiri.

Farmer Benta Atieno of Muhoroni has also benefited from the cattle breeding interventions. 

Although  she had a large herd of indigenous cattle for household milk and manure production, she is keen to acquire improved breeds to allow her venture into dairy farming.   

“The FTAI technology is timely since I was already exploring other options of acquiring quality breeds.  But given subsidised support, my animals will become  superior.

As a first time beneficiary, I look forward to a double milk output. Ordinarily, my indigenous cows produced very little milk,” says Atieno.

Millicent Ojwang, an animal health assistant and extension officer at Osiepe Practicals (a community-based organisation), says only a handful of farmers used to ask for the AI services but now the story has changed.

“Many farmers are now asking for the new technology following sensitisation trainings,” she says.

Ojwang says farmers under Osiepe Practicals are routinely mobilised for the FTAI  and vaccination sensitisation meetings.

The farmers are also trained on proper management of dairy cattle to make them good producers.  “They spend much less on treating their animals under FTAI and this has helped them grow economically,” she says.

Local challenges

To address the challenge of scarcity of feeds especially during dry weather, Ojwang says the farmers now produce feeds at their homes by planting Brachiaria grass.

Julius Githinji, a field coordinator at ILRI says the agency is working with smallholder farmers through dairy cooperatives to accelerate the rate of livestock breeding in the region.

By using Brachiaria grass, farmers realise more biomass,  feed their cows and improve milk productivity.  

“We want farmers to consume more milk at home and give it to children aged six to 23 months. Any surplus milk can be injected into the cooling process facility,” says Githinji.

The value chain agricultural programme is being implemented in Kisumu, Homa bay, Migori, Siaya and Busia counties, which use mostly indigenous cattle.  “The objective is to help farmers realise more income from the milk and also practice dairy as a business enterprise,” says Githinji.

According to the 2018 annual report from the county Directorate of Veterinary Services, 900 AI services were done through FTAI concept with conception rates of about 40 per cent.

The report says normal AI services also were on the increase,  up to 1,446, brining the total to 2,370 inseminations, an  windication that farmers are embracing new technologies in their farming systems.

In the programme of cattle breeding ILRI provided hormones to synchronise indigenous heifers using the FTAI concept.

Evans Odhiambo, the county’s Acting Director of Veterinary Services, says the uptake of AI services was initially low, but with the ILRI partnership, better figures are being recorded.

“Soon Kisumu, just like other counties which were considered non-dairy areas, will be in vantage position in milk production,” says Odhiambo.

County Director of Livestock Production John Likoko says Kisumu suffers a chronic milk deficit and relies on imports from neighbouring counties. Kisumu produces 33 million litres of milk annually.

On average, cows produce eight litres per cow daily, but the county plans to double this through the on-going interventions.

The annual per capita consumption of the county is at 28 litres, way below the minimum recommended national average at 110 litres.

Worse, most farmers keep local zebu breeds (183, 800 animals last year) while grade cows are estimated at 21, 700. He attributes low milk productivity to the poor quality animals.

“The zebu cows have lost performance over time due to inbreeding which has seen significant reduction in milk yields,” he adds.

Likoko cites unreliable weather patterns that result in a scarcity of feeds during dry spells and the rearing of traditional cattle as major hurdles. “The county is sourcing and distributing proven quality dairy cows to selected farmers groups to boost quality herds.

The county government is also assisting farmers’ cooperatives to set up hay barns to enable them access feeds during dry seasons. And  in partnership with USAid, a 10,000 litre capacity milk chilling plant will be soon be constructed in Muhoroni.

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