For Sh1300 dairy farmers are reducing death of their calves by a quarter through a newly introduced calf feeder bottle now being used as an alternative to the traditionally clumsy and usually unhygienic finger feeding method which various researches show is responsible for one in four deaths in calves.
Introduced in the market by Poultry equipment suppliers Surehatch Incubators, the calf feeder, a plastic, transparent bottle, with a tit like opening which the calf sucks ensures that the milk is free from any germs that are associated with finger and hand feeding.
Traditionally, majority of farmers have been used to placing a hand on the mouth of the calf when feeding to act as the cow's teat, enticing the calf to drink the milk. “But this has been a very dangerous move healthwise because the farmer does not usually clean his hands and with the calf's health being fragile is prone to diseases,” says Joseph Gitutu the Marketing manager at Surehatch incubators.
Other farmers prefer using containers and pots that are never well sterilized, and with calves particularly being sensitive to smell it becomes hard to get them to drink the milk. “What most of the farmers dont realize is that if they use for example the sufurias they cook with, without rinsing them well the calves pick the smell and are easily put off abandoning the milk,” Joseph further said.
This eventually translates to stunted growth and calf death with a 2012 report by not for profit organization Bridgenet Africa indicating that one in four deaths reported in calves occur as a result of poor feeding especially within the first one month when the calf entirely rely on milk as its food. “So if it doesnt feed in the morning and later in the evening it is starved, and at such a tender age it is only a matter of time before it succumbs to the hunger,” added Joseph.
Bridgenet Africa on a field study in Eastern and Central Kenya stumbled on shocking revelations . In one area in Kandara division of Central Kenya, 200 calves were born in a span of five months. 50 of them did not live to see their third month. “What started as stunted growth saw farmers try all sort of diagnosis including deworming and feeding the calves on water. And although the calves started feeding on roughage at two months, they were so weak they only survived for another month,” said Ken Witto a programme officer at Bridgenet Africa.
Most of the farmers in the division are in a one cow a home programme with a christian based Netherlands organization Featherworld Ministries which gives each family a six months calf. When the calf matures and give birth, the family is supposed to give back the calf to the project to benefit others. But rising number of calf deaths is now threatening the project which has been a boost to majority of poor household who cannot afford a cow, regarded in the area as a form of insurance, or collateral in case of emergency. “I have lost two calves and the project managers had threatened to confiscate my cow. It has taken me so long to know what has been the problem although the veterinary officers said the calves died either of starvation or worms. I wondered where they would have picked worms since their only source of food was milk from the mother,” said Njoroge Kihia who now uses the calf feeder after intervention from Bridgenet Africa.
As cattle grapple with endemic diseases like Calf Pneumonia, Rift Valley Fever and Foot rot, which together claim 2 out of 5 cows, scientists now say any way dairy farmers can prevent deaths not caused by these diseases should be adopted fully. “Cattle feeder is one of the most effective ways of ensuring calves grow healthy at a stage which determines how it will live the rest of its life,” said Johnstone Wanga a veterinary officer.
Farmers interested in buying the cattle feeder can contact:
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter