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How to feed dairy cows for more milk

ByElijah Ludenyi

Aug 30, 2023
How to feed dairy cows for more milk

Last updated on March 2nd, 2024 at 05:51 pm

How to feed dairy cows for more milk

For a dairy farmer, the ultimate satisfaction comes from a cow yielding ample milk. This goal holds vital significance, particularly in Kenya’s current agricultural landscape, echoing sentiments expressed by Agriculture CS Peter Munya.

So, how can you optimize your herd’s milk output? Alex Gathii, an expert in Dairy Production, Processing, and Marketing, unveils innovative strategies that empower farmers to increase milk production while managing costs smartly.

How to feed dairy cows for more milk

Nutritional Mastery – The Foundation of Yield

Think of a cow’s nutrition as its lifeblood – it fuels growth, reproduction, and milk production. Gathii emphasizes that inadequate nutrition stymies milk production. A balanced diet encompasses proteins, energy, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and water.

These nutrients are sourced from forages (like maize stalks, napier grass) and concentrates (nutrient-rich feeds from grains and seeds). Depending on availability, farmers can adjust forage/concentrate ratios, such as 60/40, 50/50, or 40/60.

Notably, a lactating cow should consume dry matter equal to at least 3% of its body weight, translating to around 18 kg for a 600 kg cow. Keep in mind that feed moisture affects dry matter content. Good forage options include Kikuyu grass, Boma Rhodes, and maize silage, while concentrates like dairy meal and wheat bran offer nutrient-packed options.

Hydration Matters

Water, constituting about 87% of milk, is the bedrock of milk production. Clean water, ideally 80-120 liters daily for an adult cow, is crucial for cow health and productivity. Regularly clean water troughs to eliminate impurities and promote consumption.

Mindful Cow Comfort

Stress isn’t limited to humans – cows experience it too. Gathii underscores how proper feeding, watering, and overall comfort are pivotal. The cow barn should provide ample light, ventilation, feeding space, and resting area. Regularly clean the resting area and maintain proper bedding, like sand or sawdust.

Interestingly, soft, soothing music can aid in reducing stress. Thomas Letangule, a dairy farmer and former commissioner, swears by playing calming music to his cows, enhancing their well-being and milk production.

Harness Genetic Potential

Exploit the genetic potential of dairy cattle. Exotic breeds like Friesians, Ayrshires, Guernseys, and Jerseys tend to be prolific milk producers. However, careful crossbreeding might yield local breeds that rival exotic ones. Choose cows with high body frames, well-developed udders, and gradually increase their food intake to gauge their milk production potential.

Master Dairy Management

Stellar dairy management begins with skilled human resources. Avoid the temptation of hiring illiterate staff due to farming’s low perception. Effective management entails understanding cow behavior, nutrition, health, and reproduction. A well-informed manager should handle health maintenance tasks, like vaccinations and parasite control.

Joseph Mutuku, a diligent dairy farmer, highlights the importance of comprehensive care. Disease and parasite control is paramount, as they can hamper cow comfort and milk production. Proper management covers feeding, health care, barn design, and meticulous record keeping for steady progress and areas of growth.

How to feed dairy cows for more milk

Alex Gathii, Dairy Production, Processing, and Marketing consultant:

  • “Nutrition and Feeding – Why should you feed your cow? The animal needs food to be alive, to grow, to reproduce, and to produce milk, says Gathii.”
  • “A cow has proper nutrition when it is fed with proteins, energy, minerals, vitamins, fibre, and water.”
  • “A cow receives these nutrients by feeding on forages (plant fibre material like stalks of maize, sorghum, napier grass, or even processed forage like silage) and concentrates (highly nutritious feed from grains and seeds),” Gathii says.”
  • “Depending on the availability of these two groups of feeds, a farmer can employ any three forage/concentrate ratios: 60/40, 50/50, and 40/60.”
  • “In total, a lactating cow should consume dry matter equivalent to at least 3 per cent of its body weight,” he says.”
  • “Most feeds have moisture content. Dry matter weight is the percentage remaining when the moisture content is eliminated.”
  • “Good forages for dairy cows include grasses such as Kikuyu and napier, Boma Rhodes, lucerne hay, Brachalia, sweet potato vines, desmodium, sorghum, maize, and so on.”
  • “Concentrates are high protein and high energy feeds made from different formulae. Examples of concentrates are dairy meal, maize germ, wheat bran, undiluted molasses, and seed cakes.”
  • “A farmer has to either buy or produce and mix their own concentrates,” argues Gathii.”

Moses Lang’at, Research Scientist on Dairy Farming at Kalro:

  • “Moses Lang’at, a research scientist on dairy farming at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) points out to a phenomenon where milk production goes up during rainy seasons.”
  • “Water stress – a situation where the animal is not able to access its full water needs – automatically diminishes milk production.”
  • “To reduce water stress, Gathii advises farmers to segment herds into groups of three cows sharing a trough instead of the whole herd drinking from the same container.”

Thomas Letangule, Dairy Farmer and Former IEBC Commissioner:

  • “Dairy farmer and former IEBC commissioner Thomas Letangule visited Netherlands on a tour to learn and study dairy farming.”
  • ““One of the skills I learnt – and which I brought home with me – was playing soft entertaining music to lactating cows,” he says.”
  • “Playing music, Letangule says, is an extra measure of ensuring the cow is comfortable and in high spirits.”

Joseph Mutuku, Dairy Farmer:

  • “Joseph Mutuku, a dairy farmer in Makueni, is fully committed to managing his herd.”
  • “Mutuku says dairy cows are sensitive and milk production can be affected by lack of basic care.”
  • “Proper management entails proper disease and parasite control.”

By internalizing these tailored techniques, you can embark on a journey to increase your dairy cow’s milk production, securing a prosperous future for your farm.