Guernseys and Ayrshires, which are some of the top dairy cow breeds across the world, years back occupied the pride of place on many Kenyan farms.
Any farmer who did not have either of the cow breeds was deemed to be struggling and was a starter or not doing well. This is because managed properly in terms of feeds, pests and diseases, the cows produce up 40 liters of milk a day at their optimum.
However, most Kenyan farmers are no longer enthusiastic about keeping pure breeds cows in a shift occasioned by climate change.
The farmers are swapping the pure breeds for crossbreeds, which feed less, produce a relatively good amount of milk and are disease and pest tolerant as the east African nation suffers the vagaries of climate change.
“I shifted to crossbreeds of Friesians and Borans to cut my cost of production because, with the current weather patterns, it is no longer viable to keep pure breed animals,” George Onzere, a farmer in Bungoma, western Kenya, said on phone. Now, most of his animals, 9 out of 12, are crossbreeds cow.
Onzere noted that some three years ago, he had 15 Friesian dairy animals that were offering him at least 15 liters of milk each day.
“But these animals were consuming a lot of feeds and I had to have a veterinary doctor on standby because they were prone to diseases. I did not see anything wrong with that until one day I bought a crossbreed of a Guernsey and a Boran cow, which is a local breed,” he said.
From the crossbreed, the farmer was milking just as much milk as he was getting from the pure breeds. A bale of hay is currently going for 350 shillings (3.2 U.S. dollars) from 2 dollars in May after it rained.
It is the same case at Osiligi, a top dairy farm in Kajiado, south of Nairobi, where they have over 30 crossbreed animals kept under zero-grazing systems.
The animals are crosses of Simmental, Boran and Fleckvieh with Ayrshire, Friesians and Guernseys, with the farm milking 15-25 liters of milk a day from each.
“Besides the high cost of production associated with the pure breed animals, milk prices have been on the decline in Kenya hitting farmers harder. It, therefore, does not make economic sense to keep highly demanding animals and sell milk at a low price. Crossbreeds offer the better alternative as they are low cost, hardy and offer just as much as pure ones,” said Peter Odour, a livestock specialist from Egerton University.
In the past two years, Kenya has experienced more dry spells and less rainy seasons, leading to declined fodder. Temperatures in most areas have also oscillated thanks to climate change. Enditem