Only the right choice of bull, care and good feed can enable farmers to get the best out of this breed.
Our article on Fleckvieh (TOF No. 76, September 2011, www.theorganicfarmer.org/a-cow-with-high-milk-production) elicited a huge feedback from farmers. Farmers are really interested to know more about this breed. At the same time, farmers have complaints regarding the services provided by the main service provider for Fleckvieh breed in Kenya and the region. In this article, we express our opinion to some of the farmers’ questions. We only mention the key issues raised by farmers.
An important remark
One thing needs to be mentioned in advance, and this is exactly what most small-scale farmers forget: Artificial Insemination (AI) companies, be it for Fleckvieh, Holstein or any other breed, make a sales pitch for their breeds with of course the highest value of milk production. It is common to hear people talk of cows that give 40 litres per day or more. Yet, it is only when proper record keeping is done that such assertions can be made. At the same time, farmers can only be attained under optimal conditions: A dairy cow has to be provided with the best feed, best shelter and the best care possible to give 40 litres of milk in a day.
A small-scale farmer with limited feed production, and who cannot raise enough money to buy the best concentrates and pay for veterinary services, can hardly expect to get that amount of milk from their dairy cows. Such high values are meant to attract the attention of farmers. They can only be said to be eye-catchers. It is important to mention here that breeding (or genetics) only contributes only 33 % per cent of an animal’s production potential, feeding and general management contributes another 66 per cent and entrepreneurship about 1 per cent.
Key issues about Fleckvieh
Fleckvieh character: The breed is a dual-purpose cow that can be used for both dairy and beef production. Compared with the Holstein-Fresian, Fleckvieh produces less milk and is consistent in production; but it requires less feed to produce the same amount of milk as a Holstein-Fresian. Therefore, it is a more efficient cow. According to many comparison studies, done in Switzerland, Germany and also in South Africa, Fleckvieh gains weight much faster than other breeds. It is less susceptible to diseases such as mastitis and even ECF. It has proved its qualities in the European lowlands as well in the mountains. These qualities explain why Fleckvieh is the second largest breed in the world, making it a popular breed among dairy farmers.
Semen: Fleckvieh Semen is imported by Fleckvieh Genetics East Africa from Germany under supervision of the Director of Veterinary Services (DVS) through the Central Artificial Insemination Service (CAIS). According to the company’s General Manager Anthony Gichohi, the company has sufficient semen in stock, which is enough to meet farmers’ demand in the next one year. Fleckvieh semen cost between KSh 800 and 4,000 per serving, depending on the bull from which the semen is obtained.
Insemination: One problem farmers need to avoid is going for cheap and inexperienced AI service providers who may not store the semen properly or who even delay serving the cows on time leading to failure. Farmers can get a list of reliable inseminators in their region or contact Fleckvieh Genetics (EA) company.
Improving milk production: If one crosses a high yielding pedigree Fresian cow with a Fleckvieh bull, the result will be obvious: The calf will grow faster and have more meat, as a dairy cow, it will produce less milk. But the big majority of our small-scale farmers do not have high yielding dairy cows. Serving their dairy cows with the best Fleckvieh bulls will therefore improve their milk production. Let us give a simplified example. A farmer, Mr. Gitonga has a cow which gives 15 litres milk a day. He pays Ksh 4,000 for the semen of a Fleckvieh bull of the highest quality; the progeny (or daughter) of this bull has a milk production of 6591 litres per year (305 days at 21 litres per day). You add this amount to Gitonga’s dairy cow production of 15 litres a day, and divide it by two (21 + 15= 36 ÷ 2=18). Under good management, Gitonga’s dairy cow’s heifer will have the potential to produce 18 litres a day. Now, the overall performance of the heifer will be dependent on many other factors other than genetics. Unfortunately, up to now there are no comparisons between the milk production of Fleckvieh bred in Kenya and other common breeds such as Holstein. So, one has to rely on studies done in other countries.
Improving milk quality: The milk of Fleckvieh cattle is richer in butter fat and proteins. In Europe, farmers are not only paid per litre of milk they deliver to the dairies, but also for the content of butter fat and proteins in the milk. Up to now, no company in Kenya buys milk depending on quality. If companies like Brookside dairy and KCC dairy start buying milk depending on its quality, then it will benefit farmers who cross-breed their animals.
Get some knowledge: Breeding is a science. Farmers need to know what they are doing; they need to keep records such as the name of the bull whose semen was used to serve their dairy cows the last time to avoid inbreeding. They need to know how to detect a cow on heat and the best time to serve it. They need to decide if it makes sense to improve a weak cow with very low milk production. Much more important is what farmers fail to do: They need to feed their animals much better than they do. Even if one serves the cow with the semen of the best bulls available, and they do not feed the animals well, their dairy cows will not improve their production. Dairy cows housed in dirty shelters and which are not taken well care of, cannot be productive.
You can read other articles related to dairy and beef farming and dairy breeding;
A cow with high milk production