Things to note about milking cows

What you need to know:

  • During the Seeds of Gold Farm Clinic at NaLIRRI in Namulonge, Dr Moses Mwesigwa and Dr Hussein Kato discussed how farmers can achieve both financial and lifestyle objectives on their dairy farms. 

Everything dairy farmers can achieve on their farm has to be built on their own efforts. This does not only give the farmers a sharp focus on their farm’s profitability but also ensures they do not lose sight of attaining the lifestyle they set out to achieve. 

During the Seeds of Gold Farm Clinic at NaLIRRI in Namulonge, Dr Moses Mwesigwa and Dr Hussein Kato discussed how farmers can achieve both financial and lifestyle objectives on their dairy farms. 

The experts equipped the farmers with knowledge to meet the opportunities and challenges ahead. 
Whatever your background and experience, the experts say, there are some things you need to know before you start milking cows.

Breed
Dairy farmers are encouraged to choose the breed of cow most suited to the environment where they live, style of farming and their own preference. Dr Mwesigwa explains that breed is the most important factor in successful dairy farming.

The most popular dairy breed in Uganda is the Friesian. These black and white cows which originate from the Netherlands are known for their high milk production, large size and docile temperament. 

The second most popular breed in Uganda are the local cows which are smaller in stature producing a smaller volume of milk which is rich in butterfat and protein.
 These cows are popular, especially in non-commercial grazing farms, because of their hardiness.

Other dairy breeds such Guernsey all have their own benefits. Many farmers have cross-bred cows, which may be a mix of two or more breeds. Cross-bred cows are known for their hardiness, heat tolerance, fertility, and above average milk production.

But scientists at NaLIRRI recommend the Viking Jerseys from Denmark which are purebred, medium-sized cows that produce milk containing the highest levels of fat and protein percentages. 
Dr Mwesigwa explains that at NaLIRRI, they have pure breeds but the cows are bred for crossing. 

Farm business
For Dr Kato, it is important to operate a dairy farm as a business. Therefore, the starting point should include consulting the experts in order to help you develop a business plan and plan for the resources available to you.

Major issues such as the number of cows to keep, market for the farm products, expected bills and manure management are important to assess right from the start. 
It is also important to understand from the start the feeding programme. Most farmers feed a total mixed ration, some use open grazing and others a combination of both. 

“Farmers need to keep capital investment as manageable as possible,” Dr Kato says.
One can start by attending open days such as the Seeds of Gold Farm Clinic.  From these field studies, the prospective farmer can find out what has worked well on these farms and what has not worked. 

Farmers also need to consult trusted veterinarians, genetics representatives, nutritionists, agronomists, bankers and extension workers, among others, for insights into management of a dairy farm.

Feeding
Feed cost is usually the number one expense on a dairy farm, Dr Kato says. It usually costs 30 to 45 per cent of the milk cheque. 

“You do not need to do it all. You can find someone to work with or contract a third party to supply forage. But buying most or all your feed, it will cost you more,” Dr Kato says.
He explains that it takes about 1.5 acres to provide forages for a cow and an acre per cow for grazing.

 One will need about 0.75 acre per cow for forage for young stock. On a conventional farm, usually each cow in the milking herd will need three to four acres total.
Dr Kato notes that dairy cows that produce high yields of milk require more nutrient-dense diets, so are fed more concentrates and less forages.

Butter fat content
With many export milk contracts rewarding farmers for higher butterfat content, understanding what influences its production is key.
Dr Robert Mwesigwa, a nutritionist at the institute says, good milk records are fundamental. 

He stresses that apart from the breeds, knowing the precise value of ingredients going into the cow’s diet and a review of feeding practices is a must.

He says that young, fresh pasture is high risk because it contains high amounts of unsaturated fat and is low in fibre which leads to milk fat depression. 

Milk fat also varies throughout the season, typically dropping in the rainy season, so seasonality must be taken into account when troubleshooting a drop in fat production.

He says that control should focus on balancing nutrition, environment and the cow’s physiological state.
Farmers seeking to boost milk components, he says, should focus on nutrition, with unsaturated fatty acid intake and diet fermentability. “But when formulating diets, it is advisable to consult veterinary doctors,” he says.

Welfare issues 
Cows can live for 20 years or more under a natural healthy life. Typically, dairy cows will be slaughtered after three or four lactations because their milk production drops or they become chronically lame or infertile. 

During their productive years, Dr Mwesigwa says, a cow must be offered favourable conditions including quality floor mats, effective foot trimming and good nutrition. Proper treatment of problems such as mastitis and metabolic diseases is key.

Mastitis, which is the inflammation of the udder, due to bacterial infection that is prevalent among dairy cows can be a result of contamination of milking equipment or bedding. Therefore, proper milking practices must be adopted.

Good housing is essential for animal welfare. Crowded conditions, poor ventilation and high humidity, must be guarded against as it increases the risk and spread of infection.

Mind-set change
Whereas many dairy farmers look at the possibilities of optimising milk production, Dr Mwesigwa explains that there are times when milk is not enough.
“For instance when some milk markets are not accessible, the farmers should not run out of business,” Dr Mwesigwa says. He stresses that farmers should look at themselves as part of the value chain.

At NaLIRRI, he says, more than 37 platforms have been explored in dairy farming and key among them is cow dung.
 He explains that from cow dung, which many consider as waste, they can reap more benefits. 

Cow dung can obviously be used as manure but he says they have successfully produced biogas which can be packed in LPG cans and bio electricity which can be a good alternative to Umeme power. 

Other products from cow dung include liquid soap, pelleted animal feeds, growth media for mushrooms, nitric acid for beverage production, insect repellents and pesticides, among others.
“This calls for mindset change in order to explore new opportunities,” Dr Mwesigwa explains.

ADVICE
Dairy farmers are encouraged to choose the breed of cow most suited to the environment where they live, style of farming and their own preference. Dr Mwesigwa explains that breed is the most important factor in successful dairy farming.

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