Vet on Call: An eye-opening visit, chat with ambitious dairy farmer

“So, doctor, why do we have to carry the drug kit, if we are only going to advice on production and management?” one of the students asked. I explained to Omondi and the other students that a veterinary doctor must always be prepared to attend to a medical case if it arises on a farm she is visiting.

Kamau, the Naivasha farm owner, had been developing the farm over the last two years. He started off with the traditional wood, mortar and iron sheet zero-grazing farm structure, but since last year, he has been slowly transforming it into a modern dairy unit constructed mainly with metal and mortar.

One student listed a long lactation period of at least 270 days, a long period of peak production of three to four months and good temperament. That is, the animal should be agreeable with other herd members and not aggressive to people, I lauded her. That trait is called docility.

Edgar was next and he listed ease of milking where the milk flows without much pressure on the teats, good leg and body conformation showing straight legs that step well with the hooves and a straight backline, ease of calving with few calving difficulties and low occurrence of mastitis. I commended him for his good understanding of the desirable dairy cow traits.

It was finally Omondi’s turn and he also faired very well. He talked of low occurrence of metabolic diseases such as milk fever, well suspended udder with wide space between the legs, longevity of at least eight years of productive life and low occurrence of retained afterbirth.

George, the farm manager, welcomed us to the farm and immediately we started the tour. “We plan to have a total of 300 dairy cows when fully established. At the moment we have about 140, including the calves,” he said as he walked us to the calf nursery.

This is where the calves are reared from birth to weaning. The unit has the capacity to hold about 80 calves but at the time, it was ready for 40, each with its own cubicle. All the calves had good body condition but a few had diarrhoea. George explained such calves were under treatment.

They wean at 90 days with about double their weight at birth. The weight at birth should be 6 per cent of the mother’s weight. Calves below double their weight at the scheduled weaning time must be fed milk until they attain double their birth weight. Such an occurrence retards their breeding programme.

We then moved on to the weaners’ pen, which is divided into those calves below six months and those between six and nine months. Next were the yearlings’ that are between 9 and 12 months. Finally there was the pen for the bulling heifers. These are the heifers that are ready to breed.

“Here, we have the bull’s pens,” George said as we left the bulling heifers’ section. He said the farm rears the bull calves up to 15 months and sells them for meat. At that age, the meat is very tender and highly desired by consumers.

Except for the calf nursery, all the other sections we had visited were still in the old dairy unit.

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