Why is good calf management important?

There is a popular phrase from my grandmother that to know a “good” family, you observe the “appearance” and manners of children as parents acts may be deceiving. She observed that in many cases, you will meet smartly dressed, sometimes fluent and well behaved parents. However, if you are to conclude if they make a great family, my grandmother reasoned that you have to visit them at home, observe the manners of the young ones.

So how is this relevant to dairy farming?

Good calf rearing practices falls short in most dairy farms in Kenya. While calves are the future of a dairy farm, most farmers put emphasis in the milking herd, since they are the productive group in the farm. Milking cows will always therefore get the best quality fodder and concentrates to produce as much milk as possible. Calves only become relevant when they have grown into heifers and are ready to be inseminated.

Two years ago, Moses Yagan, a farmer from Baringo County in Koibatek Sub County was an example of such a farm. Moses’s focus was on his milking cows too much that he sometimes forgot that his calves existed. The result is the calves’ growth rate was much low that they were served at an average of 3 years. The calves suckled directly from the mothers after milking which meant he could not tell how much milk, if any the calf consumed. His calves did not have pens meaning they spent the night outside leading to a mortality rate of up to 80%.

So what was the impact of this on his farm?

  • Serving calves at 3 years instead of the recommended 15 months means Moses lost more than one year of milk. With an average production of 15 liters a day, Moses lost 5400 liters a year which translates to Ksh. 243,000 {He sells his milk at Ksh. 45 a liter.}
  • The cost of feeding the cow, health care etc. for one year still remains constant, for a cow that is not in production.
  • Moses is not in a position to raise enough replacement stock. This means, at some point instead of getting income from sale of heifers, he is forced to buy.

When Moses realized where his challenges were he began turning his farm around. In July 2015 he built a separated calf pen for the calves, which reduced deaths as a result of poor hygiene and pneumonia. Immediately the calf was born, they were separated to their new house. Moses then ensured the calf was fed on colostrum the first three days, which was followed by four litres of milk. He also put in fresh fodder, introduced calf pellets and ensured hygiene of both the equipment and the pen was kept to the highest standards. The calves were weighed every week to monitor if they attained the 600grams growth rate a day.

 

Moses has now achieved proper growth rate and all his heifers are ready for service at 15 months weighing 380kgs. Moses is expecting his heifer which was born two years ago to deliver its first calf in August approximately two years after it was born. All the other heifers are now properly taken care of, Moses plans is to start selling extra heifers between Ksh 60,000 – 100,000 depending on age and stage of lactation.

Moses story is a testament that by focusing on calves, a farm makes more money by saving, improves their genetics and has more flexibility to sell extra heifers or expand their herd at no extra cost. Every adult cow was once a calf so good care from day one is important. If you manage the dry cow properly, closely monitor the calving process, and take good care of your calf by proper feeding, housing, maintaining hygiene, you will have a mature cow soon enough that produce a lot of milk. That’s what a good dairy farmer aims for.