The government is working on improving dairy cattle breeds for increased milk production through development of a sustainable heifer delivery model that is targeting small holder dairy farmers.
Through the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), the government is racing against time to reintroduce and increase the population of superior Sahiwal Cattle in Kenya after it became apparent that the country is on the verge of losing the breed.
Sahiwal cattle in Kenya are descendants of some 60 bulls and 12 cows imported between 1939 and 1963 and KALRO is one of the leading world’s custodian of Sahiwal, a dual-purpose (meat and milk) breed which is highly tolerant to semi-arid and arid conditions.
KALRO, Director General Dr. Eliud Kireger says that the government through National Research Fund (NRF) has funded KALRO for a three-year program to restock the superior breed of Sahiwal for the Maasai community in Transmara South, Narok County through a community-based genetic improvement and multiplication program.
“Despite the importance of Sahiwal cattle, its’ production is affected by several challenges including acute unavailability of quality climate resilient breeding stock, inbreeding which leads to loss of genetic diversity and low productivity,” Dr Kireger said.
Currently, Dr. Kireger noted that accessing the right Sahiwal heifers and bulls at affordable prices has been the worst nightmare for many farmers, especially Maasai pastoralists across the country who heavily rely on Sahiwal genetic resources for their livelihood.
He added that these trends, if unchecked, will permanently lock Sahiwal farmers into abject poverty.
“Currently, it is a race against time for the research team to address the whole challenge of access to superior Sahiwal top genetics in Kenya.” he said but added that so far, the KALRO-led program has assisted the community to produce 309 superior Sahiwal AI calves (males and females) which were distributed among members of community-based breeding scheme in Transmara.
He noted that 1,234 Sahiwal cows and bulls have been registered with Kenya Stud Book into either foundation or pure-bred classes since the start of the three-year program.
“The registered animals have been issued with certificates by the Kenya Livestock Breeders Association and their market price has increased threefold,” Dr. Kireger said.
He explained that through the programme 65 farmers and extension personnel have also been trained on good Sahiwal cattle management practices while nine elite and progressive Sahiwal cattle farmers have been exposed to ARTs training.
To achieve effective population and genetic diversity for Sahiwal cattle, the Director General said that the program targets to mobilize the whole community including women for the cause on genetic improvement and multiplication of Sahiwal genetics.
KALRO, Dr Kireger said hopes to replicate the program in other parts of the country to boost Sahiwal cattle production adding that by the end of the programme, it is expected that there will also be an increased Sahiwal cattle resilience, and therefore, translating to higher production with surplus for sale and farmers enabled to secure their food and nutrition security.
Dr Samuel Mbuku, a livestock breeder and the principal investigator in the project and leading scientists from Veterinary Research Institute in the programme, said the multiplication program involves use of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs), specifically estrus synchronization and Artificial Insemination (AI) to enable and increase the rate of genetic progress, faster multiplication and distribution of top most proven Sahiwal genetics among farmers.
“The main challenge for Sahiwal cattle is access to the breeding stock, breeding males and females and we found out that many farmers were forced to queue for this breed at KALRO Naivasha and this was not sustainable”, he said.
He noted this brought about a conscious decision to have a multiplication programme which was to accelerate the access of the genetic material by farmers in the Narok County
“Broadly, we wanted to increase milk yield output in this area, we wanted to have many breeding animals especially males and in that way look at lowering the cost of the animals in terms of purchasing from Naivasha. Now farmers are no longer going there to look for the genotypes since they can get them locally”, Dr. Mbuku said
He noted that since they kicked off the programme, by training the villagers who were in 12 clusters, they have over 170 bulls locally with farmer groups in the Lolgorian division in Transmara where the appetite for the breed was very high and the genetic material is circulating in the area.
Jameson Olenagida, a livestock farmer from the Maa community said “we used to keep the kienyeji cows but since the introduction of the Sahiwal heifers, the community has upgraded and slowly by slowly embraced the new breed.”
“We have realized it has a lot of benefits, giving us both milk, meat and money. Initially we used to travel to Naivasha to buy ordinary cows and could use almost up to Sh 270,000 for buying and also transporting with the lorries experiencing a lot of problems,” he explained.
Wilson Kipeno, the community coordinator said once the farmers got training from KALRO on the AI technology, they are moving away from the ordinary cow keeping to a better one which is confined.
David Mosingo, another farmer said initially they were not aware of the breeds they were keeping and they kept on experiencing the challenge of ticks and water.
“Sahiwal breed is resistant, they grow quickly and are good for any climate”, he said
Noonkuta Sampei, said that when she had the ordinary cows, she would milk many in order to get enough milk but for the Sahiwal breed, she only has to milk a few of them to get enough.
The Sahiwal is one of the best dairy breeds. It is tick-resistant, heat-tolerant and noted for its high resistance to parasites, both internal and external.
Cows average 2270 kg of milk during a lactation and much higher milk yields have been recorded. Its bull weighs about 600kg, twice the average weight of local breeds with a price of a calf aged around one year going for up to Sh40, 000
The Sahiwal cattle breed in Kenya had been reported to have a decreasing effective population size and increasing level and rate of inbreeding which imply declining genetic variability hence the 3-year project funded by NRF dubbed “the Smallholder Farmers Access to Improved Cattle Genetics in Kenya: An Accelerated Dairy Heifers Delivery Model Utilizing Reproductive Technologies”.
By Wangari Ndirangu