Dairy farming in Kenya is a critical industry, providing milk and milk products for both domestic consumption and export. Many dairy farmers, however, face challenges in terms of efficiency, expenses, and profitability.
Moreover, increasing dairy herd size, shortage of available workers and rising labor costs have made it increasingly difficult for producers to provide specific attention to each individual animal.
Due to these changes in the dynamics of herd size and production per animal, as well as the growing concerns surrounding animal welfare, the dairy industry has become one of the leading adopters of technology in an effort to improve the overall performance of their businesses. The technology comes at a cost but it has handsome returns on investment.
Management of herd health
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Farmers spend a lot of money on the health and well-being of their cattle every year. One area where technology can be particularly useful for dairy farmers in Kenya is in the management of herd health. Healthy animals hold the key to thriving and profitable dairy enterprises.
Electronic record-keeping systems, such as mobile apps, can be used to track the health status of individual animals, including vaccination schedules, treatment history, and breeding information.
This can help farmers to identify and address health issues more quickly and effectively, reducing the risk of disease outbreaks and improving the overall health of the herd.
Cows are most vulnerable to disease during the postpartum period. By monitoring their behavior such as rumination, activity, resting time, just to mention a few, diseases that hinder production and reproductive performance can be detected. For example, cows with low rumination activity, lower activity levels and lower resting time are more likely to develop diseases, which could consequently cause lower milk production and fertility, and greater input cost.
Rumination time points to ongoing changes in production performance, well-being, health status and disease before the appearance of clinical signs.
Postpartum cows that have diseases such as subclinical hypocalcemia, ketosis, retained placenta and uterine diseases such as metritis and endometritis all have been shown to have reduced rumination time.
Lactating cows spend about 8 hours daily ruminating, in 4 to 24 periods, each lasting 10 to 60 minutes. Metritis, a uterine infection that affects dairy cows during the postpartum period, is one of the most frequent disorders in dairy cows and a major cause of economic losses to the industry.
Therefore, the use of sensors and other monitoring devices can help farmers to track the behavior and activity levels of their animals, which can provide valuable insights into their health and well-being.
Sensors are not a replacement for effective management systems, rather, these monitors can add information to current visual observation methods and may help identify problems. This increased access to data is allowing dairy farmers to make smarter and more informed daily decisions.
Management of feed and nutrition
Another area where technology can be beneficial for dairy farmers in Kenya is in the management of feed and nutrition. Feeds account for more than 60 per cent of total production costs. Precision agriculture tools, such as yield mapping and soil analysis, can be used to optimize the use of resources such as land, water, and fertilizer. Drones can scan pasture lands and communicate real-time information about whether they are suitable for cattle grazing.
This can help farmers to grow more feed per acre while reducing the use of inputs and costs. Additionally, the use of feed management software can help farmers to optimize their feeding regimes, quality and quantity, ensuring that their animals are getting the right balance of nutrients at the right time, which can accelerate the growth rate, improve milk production and animal health.
Milk collection and processing
Technology can also help dairy farmers in Kenya improve their milk collection and processing operations. The use of milk meters and other testing equipment can help farmers accurately measure the volume and quality of milk produced by their animals, which can help them to negotiate better prices with buyers.
Additionally, the use of mobile apps and other tools can help farmers to track the movement of milk from the farm to the processing plant, which can help to reduce losses and improve the overall efficiency of the supply chain.
Customer Product Traceability Using Blockchain
Customers nowadays want to know where their dairy products come from, from farm to table. This necessitates end-to-end supply chain transparency to increase client confidence. A rising number of dairy producers, suppliers, and other stakeholders are utilizing blockchain technology to provide customers with real-time data about their products.
This is done by including a QR code on the packaging that customers can scan with their mobile devices to obtain information about the origin of the milk – where and how it was obtained and packed, how old it is, what type of transportation and cold milk chain facilities were used, and so much more
To save on labor
Technology has great potential for labor savings from requiring fewer employees and it could increase the quality of life of a dairy farmer, due to improved efficiency and management.
With the diverse technology currently available on the market and the enormous amount of information that these sensors can generate, producers are able to make decisions almost on a real-time basis. Sensor data, however, will only be valuable if transformed into information that is useful for decision-making.
Technology can also help dairy farmers in Kenya to improve their financial management and decision-making. The use of financial management software can help farmers to track their expenses, revenues, and profits, which can help them to identify areas where costs can be reduced and efficiency improved.
Additionally, the use of business intelligence tools can help farmers to analyze data and make more informed decisions about their operations.
Drones for Cattle Monitoring
At all times, farmers are required to maintain vigilance anytime cattle leave the farm for grazing until they are back. There is a considerable possibility that the cattle may wander and get lost, stolen, be attacked by other animals, or even develop a condition that hinders its movement around the farm partially or completely.
Drones can track the cattle and herd them back safely from the fields to the barns. Some advanced drones are outfitted with thermal sensing technology, which allows them to track cattle based on their body heat.
Milking Via Robots
For the longest time, cows have been milked manually. This is not only a time-consuming operation, but it also has a labor cost, which raises the price of milk. Robotic milking allows farmers to minimize the need for physical labor, maintain a sanitary milking procedure, milk cows at any time of day rather than on a set schedule and increase milk output.
The robotic milking equipment has arms or cups with sensors that may be fitted to the teats of cows individually. The sensors can detect whether or not the cow or one of its teats is ready for milking. Once the milking process begins, the devices can detect contaminants, color, and milk quality. If the milk cannot be consumed by humans, it is directed to a different container. When the process is completed, the devices may also clean and disinfect the teats automatically.
Role of Technology in Animal Welfare
Dairy consumers the world over have become progressively concerned with food safety and quality as well as animal health and welfare. Consumers want to know exactly where the product they are consuming comes from and how it’s produced. The adoption of precision dairy monitoring can improve or maintain animal welfare in dairy herds and may help improve public perception.
The increase in adoption of technologies is suggested to demonstrate that producers, and the dairy industry, are willing to develop strategies that help improve animal well-being.
There are many ways that technology can be integrated into dairy farming operations in Kenya to improve efficiency, reduce expenses, and increase profit margins. By embracing technology, dairy farmers in Kenya can improve their operations and increase the competitiveness of the industry as a whole.
[The writer is a Veterinary Surgeon and the Resident Vet at Farmkenya]