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With eight acres, what's the best dairy system?

Smart Harvest By Dr Joseph Othieno | April 27th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Dear Daktari,

Thank you for the informative articles in the Smart Harvest. This is one of the reasons I buy and read the newspaper over the weekend. For many years I was a sugarcane farmer (successful telephone farmer, I must confess) until Mumias Sugar Company collapsed. My eight acres of land have been largely idle. I am approaching retirement and I wish to put the land under dairy production. I have fenced the land and I was thinking of letting the cows graze unrestricted to reduce labour costs. But this was before I visited a colleague who is doing well with zero grazing and on less acreage, with the rest of the land under animal feed. Should I do zero grazing or stick to my initial plans? Wakwabi

Wakwabi

It is good that you have started off by having a plan. Most farmers fail because they do not plan ahead; they wake up one morning and buy a cow only to realise they have nowhere to put it or its feed. They may also find out they did not buy the right breed and end up regretting their decision.

An important step in farming is being able to plan, like you are doing, even if it is having a mental picture of how you want your farm to look like. Eight acres is a large piece of land that can allow you to do more than just dairy farming.

Zero grazing is ideal where you need to maximise on land use. The animals are housed and fed inside a dairy unit, which means they conserve energy and potentially produce more milk compared to cows that are allowed to wander around and graze in a pasture.

When cows are in a stall, it is easier to control pests and disease vectors like ticks, and to protect the animals from predators and malicious attacks from neighbours.

Zero grazing units can be covered with treated nets that protect animals in areas infested with tsetse flies or nuisance biting flies. It is also easier to collect manure that can be used to fertilise land where fodder is grown.

But you should note that zero grazing requires good planning, and it can be labour intensive. You need to have a proper feeding plan to ensure the animals are supplied with balanced daily rations.

You will have to invest in a machine, like a chaff cutter, and buy feed additives to make maize stover and hay more palatable for your cows.

The dairy stall must be large enough to give the cows room to walk around and exercise otherwise the animals could have problems, like hoof overgrowth.

Free grazing

Free grazing, on the other hand, requires comparatively less labour but a larger piece of land. You can make use of paddocks where animals are ‘programmed’ to graze more efficiently. But this depends on the season, and there could be challenges if all the land is purely pasture.

My verdict is that your best bet will be to practice zero grazing and plant forage on the rest of the land. Not only will you utilise your eight acres to the optimum, but you will also overcome the challenges associated with seasonal pastures.

You could still move ahead with the free-range model, but it will not give you as much as a well-planned zero grazing unit. 

Going forward, you will need to talk with an animal production expert and a vet to help you draw a farm plan.

[Dr Othieno works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council.  [email protected]]

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