Cross-sectional study of productive and reproductive traits of dairy cattle in smallholder farms in Meru, Kenya

J. Muraya, J. A. Vanleeuwen, G. K. Gitau, J. J. Wichtel, D. N. Makau, M. B. Crane, S. L.B. McKenna, V. T. Tsuma

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5 Scopus citations


A cross-sectional study was conducted to determine the farm management and milk production and reproductive performance of dairy cattle in smallholder dairy farms in eastern rural areas of Kenya, and to determine farm- and cow-level factors associated with milk production. A total of 200 farms were randomly selected from a list of the farmers shipping milk to a local dairy society. Structured questionnaires were used for data collection on management and demographic information, and farm visits occurred where the lactating cows on the farm received a physical examination. A mixed linear regression model with a random effect for farm was fit to determine associations with the natural log of daily milk production. The majority of the farmers had one to three milking cows (mean = 1.40), with an average milk production of 6.70 kg/cow/day from the 314 lactating cows on the 200 farms in the study. At the time of the study, 43.4% of the lactating cows were bred and/or pregnant, with 28.7% of the cows being confirmed to be over three months pregnant. The cows that were cycling and non-pregnant (n=74) had a mean of 304 days-in-milk (DIM), while those cows that were anestrous (n=95) had a mean of 201 DIM. Explanatory cow- and farm-level variables in the final milk production model were reproductive status of the cow, breed type, weight, DIM, dairy meal fed during the last month of pregnancy and land allocated for growing fodder for dairy cows. Exotic breed crosses, producing 6.80 kg of milk per day, on average, had higher milk production than the indigenous breeds, producing an average of 4.90 kg of milk per day. Heavier animals yielded more milk on the day of the visit; cows that weighed over 550 kilograms had twice as much milk production as those that weighed 250kg and less. The study categorized the cows into different reproductive statuses (early pregnancy/anestrous, pregnant, and cycling) and noted a steady increase in milk produced by cows in these different groups, with the cows that were cycling recording a 19.8% higher daily milk production over those in early pregnancy or anestrous. Milk yield reduced steadily as DIM increased beyond the first hundred days. Milk production from cows that received dairy meal in the last month of gestation was 34.3% higher compared to those that did not receive any. The percentage of land allocated to growing fodder for dairy cows was positively associated with the cow’s milk yield per day, with a 15.6% increase for every 25% increase in land set aside for growing fodder. We conclude that, even though smallholder dairy farmers in this area of Kenya have made attempts to improve their animals by cross-breeding them with exotic breeds, the milk production was still low. This can likely be largely attributed to poor feeding (especially as young-stock and during the transition period) and reproductive management. A more detailed cohort study or trial is recommended that can examine all the changing cow and management factors over time, providing necessary recommendations for farmers that account for these changes over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalLivestock Research for Rural Development
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 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 research is made possible with financial support from the Government of Canada, provincial government 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 the dairy farmers made it all possible.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Fundacion CIPAV. All Rights Reserved.

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


  • Days in milk
  • Mixed model
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproductive performance
  • Transrectal palpation


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