Thomas Chacha watches keenly as his heifer sniffs around the cattle shed at his farm in Ntonyogi Village, Migori County.
“It started behaving like this yesterday evening,” Mr Chacha tells Smart Harvest.
“It is on heat. All the signs indicate that it is ready to be served. I need to call a trained inseminator to perform AI,” Chacha adds.
Chacha has learnt the hard way having suffered losses when he missed the signs of an animal being on heat and calling the inseminator at the wrong time. Now he knows what to do for a successful Artificial Insemination (AI).
Chacha is one of the farmers in Migori County who have benefited from a programme by Nuru International that is educating farmers on successful artificial insemination and animal husbandry.
As part of the project, the beneficiaries get a served heifer and yearlong expert services of vets.
Get a professional
Dr George Kimani, a veterinary doctor at Nuru International said Artificial Insemination is a delicate art and science and many times veteran farmers and inseminators get it wrong. That is why other than being undertaken by a professional, one needs a keen eye. If not done well it leads to massive losses, he explains.
With many reported cases of AI failures, Nuru International has taken the task to educate farmers on best practises. Chacha has been taken through how to make maximum yields with exotic breed.
The right body weight
Dr Kimani explains that two months ago, Chacha’s heifer was on heat but the doctor refused to inseminate it because it had not attained the right body weight.
Good weight, Dr Kimani explains, is critical in breeding. The doctor points out that many farmers call in the inseminator to perform the service before the animal hits the ideal weight which leads to failure in AI.
The ideal weight before the animal is served depends on the breed, says the vet. For Friesian heifers, they are served at weight of 300 kgs while Arshires and Guernsey heifers at 280kgs. Jerseys should be served after attaining a weight of about 270 kg. Armed with a special tape measure, Kimani requests Chacha to have the heifer restrained in its shed. The vet carefully takes the cow’s measurements around its dewlap and hump.
“I am happy that the animal has improved its weight from 240 kgs to 247 kgs and it is a good indication that it has surpassed the mandatory weight required before service. I can serve it now,” the veterinarian tells the farmer.
For Chacha’s heifer, the weight of 247 kgs was considered ideal because it’s a mixed breed and her history was not well documented from the original farmer.
According to Kimani, weight of an animal before it is inseminated is very crucial as it determines the success or failure rate of AI. The vet points out that weight matters in future productivity of any animal and it should be a routine practice to carry out such measurements, especially for heifers.
“If a farmer makes a mistake of serving an underweight heifer, then its productivity will be low because the animal is stunted,” Dr Kimani notes.
Chacha’s heifers are a mix of indigenous and exotic breeds and each produces between 15 and 20 litres of milk per day.
Peninah Boke, from Koromangucha village in Kuria East, about 20 kilometres away from Ntonyogi Village, is also a beneficiary of the Nuru project.
Boke is happy because after changing the way she deals with her heifers, now she gets good amounts of milk from her half-Friesian cow she has nick named ’Ghati’. “I have learnt many things. One is measuring the animal daily so that I can know when it has acquired the right weight for serving.
“Another thing is observing the signs of heat and I have been taught to look out for when the animal is mounting on others, mucus discharge, swelling and reddening of the vulva, restlessness and sniffing and licking.
“When I notice all these, I know it is time to call in the inseminator. I used to call them when the animal is not ready to be served,” she says.
Monthly farm visits
Boke says she sticks to what she learnt from experts who have been helping her adopt modern dairy farming. She has also learnt the importance of record-keeping and he documents the cows’ daily weight, feeding, disease and pests control as well as vaccination programme. Dr Kimani, visits her farm every month to check on the progress of the cows.
“We always check on its weight and general health. If the weight losses calories, I try to establish the reason and devise necessary interventions,” he says.
Apart from weight, pregnancy test is one of the other many important routine tests which the doctor does.
Since 2018, Nuru has trained 225 farmers in modern dairy farming technologies in Kuria West and East sub counties of Migori and their production has increased tremendously.