Meeting a cow’s basic feeding needs is key in milk production

          KALRO's Nairobi ASK champion cow.JPG

 This Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization dairy cow was crowned the best in milk production during this year's Nairobi International Trade Fair. The cow produces over 34 litres of milk daily.

Dairy farmers who are keen to improve milk production in their cows have no option but to provide their cows with a balance diet besides proper housing and maintained hygiene which are also basic in dairy farming.


Experts say that a dairy cow needs a basal diet. This diet provides sufficient amounts of nutrients to meet the animal‘s daily basic needs including proteins, energy, minerals and vitamins required. This diet is commonly obtained from pasture grasses, fodder or silage.


“In simple terms, a dairy cow needs a diet that not only fill its big stomach but also nutritional in all aspects. Such diets also provide roughage or fibre and form the bulk of the animal's daily ration,” said Samuel Tangus, dairy farming researcher- Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO).


Fore energy, the expected daily consumption depends on the quality of the feeds, the size of the animal, level of milk production, quantity of supplements given and dry matter content of the feed material. Supplementary feeds such as concentrates cannot replace the basal diet.


“Farmers should know that without sufficient fodder to fill the animal‘s stomach, even the correct portion of the best quality dairy meal will not increase milk production. If given less fodder, the cow uses the feed to maintain its body and cannot increase milk production. Very often, the farmers feed their animals with rotten maize, which is dangerous as it may contain aflatoxin. Aflatoxin contaminates cow‘s milk and is dangerous even for humans who consume it,” explains Tangus.


The KALRO researcher who had one of their dairy cows emerged the best in this year’s Nairobi International Trade Fair says that protein sources include legumes like lucerne, white clover, and bean straw. Fodder trees such as calliandra, sesbania and leucaena also provide protein for animals. Farmers should dry calliandra before feeding the animals as it causes the milk to smell when given fresh to the animals. Research has shown that 3kg of tree fodder and other legumes such as sweet potato vines give the same milk yield as 1kg of dairy meal. Therefore, the farmer can give the cow 12kg of legumes instead of 4kg of dairy meal.

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Dairy cows need mineral licks. The minerals provide calcium, phosphorus and other important minerals that support milk production and other body functions. Pregnant cows especially require adequate amounts minerals to help in bone and tissue development of the calf.


“Never give a dairy cow ordinary table salt as it does not have the required minerals. Vitamins like A, D and E are not produced in the cow’s body and must be supplied in the diet. These help maintain the animal’s health and can be supplied through supplements,” said Tangus.


Finally, a farmer must also have a reliable water source because water comprises more than half the weight of an adult dairy cow. It transports the food the animal eats to body tissues and organs and cools the animal when it is hot. Water should be available at all times so the animal can take as much as it needs. On average, dairy cows need more than 60 litres of water in a day. This helps the animal increase milk production and to maintain its body condition.


Dairy farming according to Tangus is a rewarding venture and all a farmer need to do is proper planning and acquiring good knowledge. This entails enough capital and land for farming depending on the scale.