A new breed of farmers keen on improving conditions for their cows and increase milk yields have invested in cow mattresses, a unique rectangular bedding made of recycled tyres, which is now seeing them reduce cases of mastitis and even up milk production by upto 4 litres a day.
A relatively new phenomenon in the country but which is actively practised in the developed countries, the use of cow mattresses is a departure from the normal antiquated stalls lined with coarse sand, sticky dried manure or stinging saw dust that made life uncomfortable for the cows.
Now having been in the country for just an year, the cow mattresses are recording impressive sales with suppliers like Fildana Limited and Mowning Kenya putting the sales figure at about 60 percent since they first introduced them in the country. “I think the beauty of it is that farmers use it and experience for themselves the benefits. Most of the farmers who we talk to, mostly in open field days, are coming from a terrible encounter with mastitis and other diseases as sheds become uninhabitable especially during rainy seasons,”said Kariuki Manjala the Marketing manager of Fildana Limited.
The mattresses that comes in different inches are predominantly black in colour and are mostly made of recycled tyres which are then treated with anti-fungal and anti-bacterial solutions.
The cheapest is a two inch which goes for Sh Sh3500 while a four inch one goes for Sh7,000. The mattress can only accommodate one cow, but there are unique ones made for calves that can accommodate two calves.
Yustas Mwangangi a livestock farmer in Tala was among the pioneer farmers to purchase the mattresses, having lost two heifers to mastitis. “Veterinarians and livestock officers from the Ministry of Livestock when they came to inspect my cows complained of the deplorable living conditions that the cows were living in. I used to remove the dung in the sheds every morning, but things would become complicated whenever it rained. The mixture of the dung and the rain water would make the sheds deplorable and the cow would sleep in all that filth,” recalled Mwangangi. To rescue the situation, Mwangangi would hire labourers to get twigs and sawdust to scatter in the shed, to at least make life comfortable for the cows. “But that too would be shortlived. The cows would step on them and with the cow dung, it would just be a matter of time before I was back to square one,”he said.
He would later loose two of his highest milk producing cows in three months to what he learnt was mastitis, which he says cost him over Sh15,000 to treat. “The cows could produce upto 15 litres a day and I could pick Sh30,000 every month from just the two of them. I have never recovered from that loss,”he added.
Mastitis which is an inflamation of the mamary glands and udder tissue is a major endemic disease of dairy cattle and is caused by among others poor housing management.
Mwangangi upon learning of the cow mattresses at the Agricultural show last year purchased ten of them for his cows. “They are easier to clean and I only clean them when the cows are grazing outside and lay it to them in the evening. I have seen huge improvement not just in milk production but in the overall health of the cows,”said Bereta Nyawira another farmer who has purchased three mattresses.
Though her cows havent experienced mastitis she says she could tell the cows were restless and tired but couldnt rest or sleep comfortably. “Now they appear to be a bit more blissful healthy which ultimately affects the amount of the milk they produce. I dont know whether there are any other factors but since I got the mattresses, I have noted an increase of upto 4 litres of milk per day,”she said as one of the cows seated in a mattress lazily chews her feed.
Veterinarians who have been advising farmers to look for alternative beddings for their cows from the traditional twigs and sawdust, due to their ability to harm the cows say the mattress has been the best thing that has happened to livestock farmers. They say that the mattresses not only protects against diseases like mastitis but also physical ones like 'Dumb Heifer Syndrome' a condition wher cattle repeatedly injure themselves within their stalls, sometimes to the point of death. “DHS is mostly because of the cows getting angry due to the terrible state of their sheds.
Think of it this way. If you have been tired the whole day and wants to sleep and find your bed either soiled or wet, you will get irritated. That is the exact reaction of the cows, and in the process of them moving across the shed in anger they might injure themselves. We have had such cases where either the cow owner finds their cow dead having strangled themselves or hurt itself. Cows have feelings too,”said Onesmus Awiti a veterinarian in Nairobi.
The mattresses can also be used on sheep, goat, and even dogs.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter