A month ago I visited one of my farmers; Mama Kaburu in Kibuku, Ngong. She is a hard working farmer with a mixed herd of boran cattle and friesian crosses for milk production.
Mama Kabura, apart from being my client we worship together at St Anne’s Catholic Church, Kibiku and she is also our St Monica Jumuiya chair lady. With this you would expect that I will be informed about any new developments on her farm.
But farmers can sometimes be “cheeky” in regard to what information they will divulge to a vet. They know there are things you mayn’t approve but which they nonetheless will do.
Among these are on-farm trials of queer feeding regimes, unconventional treatment approaches that can scare the science out of your head.
In most cases, they will share with you those that ended well, this type will be disseminated across fellow farmers and within no time will be adopted quite fast.
Those that go haywire will not tell you or if they have too; it will be so that you carry the final blame.
Now for this particular case; mama Kabura called me aside after a Jumuiya meeting at and requested that I visit her farm. Being a walking distance I obliged. She showed me her newly constructed greenhouse full of good looking tomatoes, her herd of boran cattle, her beloved friesian crosses and her recently acquired friesian cross. Pointing at the animal she told me “this is the one I wanted you to see” - “I bought it from my neighbour over there,” she said. “Is it unwell?” I asked still in shock with what she had done, “no, this animal isn’t sick, the owner wasn’t taking good care of it and while she thought it was sick, I thought it was starving”. “How old is it” I asked, “I don’t know but it looks like it can still give me a calf or two” she replied.
“ Why did you risk this much”.
“Daktari, that is how I acquire my stock,” she replied with a smile, maybe wondering why I was in shock.
The talk went on and I learned a lot from Mama Kabura from her on-farm trials. These are among thousands of undocumented on-farm innovations that defy economic calculations and veterinary school of thought but which in a way solve farmers’ problems.
Mama Kabura told me how she has used that method to get all her dairy stock at a throw away price. This was her fifth time and I must confess she is a lucky woman, because when I examined the animal it didn’t have any clinical signs of an underlying sickness. The heartbeat was fine, ruminal movements were fine, the lymph nodes were in their right sizes, the dental formula was intact.
I de-wormed the animal, gave it a multi-vitamin injection and a broad spectrum antibiotic to cover for any opportunistic infections considering the emaciation.
When I visited the farm last week, the animal had picked up quite well and was showing good signs.
Mama Kabura laughed heartily before telling me that no vet will approve of her method of acquisition but that is how she has acquire her dairy stock over the years.
But is this the way to go?
From an expert’s perspective, it is not. Although it has worked for her and actually this method is used widely in beef production where animals with poor body conditions are bought at lower prices fattened and sold when in good body condition at a better price, it is not the ideal method.
For a dairy animal this maybe risky.
A farmer may not fully understand the reason for poor body condition. This can be costly if the emaciation is due to a chronic disease.
Further milk production traits are sometimes dwarfed by malnutrition.
But what can a farmer do when they don’t have enough cash to acquire a good dairy cow?
There are several ways of overcoming this hurdle but you must be prepared to wait a little longer. You can buy a weaned calf which is relatively cheaper compared to an in-calf heifer or a mature cow.
This method is recommended for farmers who are starting-off dairy farming as it offers a full course on dairy farming. The other way is thorough breed improvement.
Guided by your veterinary surgeon or an animal breeding expert, you can use Artificial Insemination (AI) to improve the genetics of your cow to get a superior dairy cow. Better still, you can use embryo transfer technology to get a genetically superior calf that will give you lots of milk upon maturity.
(The writer is a veterinary surgeon working with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council –KENTTEC)