Animal and management factors associated with weight gain in dairy calves and heifers on smallholder dairy farms in Kenya

D. N. Makau, J. A. VanLeeuwen, G. K. Gitau, J. Muraya, S. L. McKenna, C. Walton, J. J. Wichtel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Calf growth is an important determinant of dairy herd productivity, particularly in countries where the dairy industry is expanding, such as Kenya. Our objective was to determine factors associated with weight gain in randomly selected dairy calves and heifers in smallholder dairy farms (SDF) in Kenya. A cross-sectional study on a census of 321 calves and heifers (dairy calves and heifers up to 36 months of age), sampled from 200 randomly selected SDF in Naari, Kenya, formed the study population. Youngstock management was recorded using a questionnaire. Biodata were obtained through subsequent physical examination and heart girth measurement. Descriptive statistical analyses were conducted, and mixed model regression was used for identification of factors associated (p < 0.05) with the natural log transformation of estimated average daily weight gain (ADG). Median and mean ADG of the youngstock were 360 and 443 (s.d. = 375) g day−1, respectively. In the final model, ADG was highest in pre-weaned calves and declined with age. Supplementing with quality hay during the dry season at least weekly was associated with increased ADG. There was an interaction between breed and historical disease on ADG such that disease was associated with decreased ADG in Bos taurus breeds, while ADG in Bos indicus breeds was not affected by disease. There was a significant interaction between education levels of the husband and wife caretakers; when the man's education was low (having less than or equal to primary school), ADG was highest when the woman had not completed primary school, but was lower when the woman had completed primary, secondary or tertiary education, possibly because such women worked off-farm more often. General growth performance of animals on these farms was lower than benchmarked standards recommended for optimum dairy production but within previously reported ranges for the East African region. Supplementation of diets (with hay and/or concentrates) is recommended for optimum growth in calves and heifers, especially in the dry season. If nutritional management of Bos taurus youngstock is not improved, crosses of Bos indicus could be better suited for the current nutritional management systems in SDF in Meru having calf disease problems. Interventions to support educating women (the primary caretakers of the cattle) and men in the community on calf management should be initiated, preferably with shared on-farm responsibilities. Training in better management, even for learned farmers, would be critical to better calf growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)60-68
Number of pages9
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the primary funding program for this research, the Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships (QES) which are managed through a unique partnership of Universities Canada, the Rideau Hall Foundation (RHF), Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) and Canadian universities. This program is made possible with financial support from the Government of Canada , provincial governments and the private sector. We also acknowledge the large contribution made by volunteers and staff of Farmers Helping Farmers, a non-governmental organization – their existing relationships and agricultural efforts and inputs provided a strong foundation for the work and the entry point to the Naari community. As well, the support of the Naari Dairy Cooperative Society and the cooperation of Upendo Women’s Group and the primarily women dairy farmers made it all possible.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier B.V.

Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Average daily weight gain
  • Calves
  • Heifers
  • Kenya
  • Smallholder dairy farms


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