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An economic evaluation of zero-grazing feeding system for high yielding cows on smallholder farms in Kenya

L.M. Mogaka

Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)
Regional Research Centre
P. O. Box 523, Kisii, Kenya


A study was conducted on the economics of a cut-and-carry system using Napier grass to produce milk from high yielding dairy cows. An on-station test was conducted at RRC of Kisii (AEZ-UM 1 ) followed by 12 on-farm farmer-managed tests situated in Kisii (AEZ:UM1), Homa Bay (LM2), Nyamira (LH1) and Migori districts (LM 1). The objectives were to verify the viability of zero-grazing enterprises and produce data that financial institutions would use when considering credit applications by farmers. Data recorded included: feed intake, milk yield, labour requirements, fodder quality and other management practices of the system at monthly intervals. dry matter yield of about six tons/ ha/cut was realised in six cuts at intervals of eight weeks, with a mean crude protein content of 10.4%. Based on an average dry matter intake of 10 kg/cow/ day and left overs of 20%, the study suggested that one hectare of fodder Napier could sustain eight mature stock units (MSU = 400 kg live weight) with an average daily milk yield of 9.0 kg. The average farm-gate price of milk was set at US$ 0.13 per kg. Gross milk yield per lactation varied from 3030 (LM1) to 4414 kg (UM1).

With a supplement of 1 kg dairy meal per 1.5 kg milk/day/cow, daily milk yield ranged from 9 kg (LM1-2) to 14 kg (UM1, LH1). The average cost of feed supplement was US$ 0.07 per kg. Taking into account all cost components the rate of return ranged from US$ 2.6 (LM1-2) to US$ 3.0 (UM1, LH1). Labour was the major production cost (46%) followed by supplementary feeds (27.5%) and animal health (10.4%).

The average capital investment in a zero-grazing unit of 4 cubicles ranged from US$ 129 (LM1-2) to US$ 157 (UM1, LH1). This study showed that with a rate of return of 2.8 per annum, capital investment was recovered within two years when the value of follow ups and dung are excluded, suggesting that a zero-grazing enterprise has the potential for credit financing in AEZs under study.


In high and medium potential areas of Kenya, dairy production is shifting from extensive grazing to more intensive (e.g. zero) systems due to diminishing farm sizes resulting from population growth and competition for land from food crops. This has led to less land remaining for livestock production (Jaetzold and Schmidt 1982). Therefore, developing more intensive systems of rearing dairy cattle becomes a necessity; zero-grazing maximises land use through the production of high yielding fodder crops and their efficient utilisation (Ibrahim 1988).

An informal farm survey was conducted in the mandate districts (Mogaka et al 1990) which indicated that zero grazing of dairy cows is not widely adopted because most smallholders are apprehensive about its high cost and likely non-profitability.

Farmers who have adopted the system use mainly improved breeds, such as Friesians, Guernseys, Ayrshires and their crosses. The adoption of zero-grazing is constrained mainly by lack of credit facilities, lack of initial capital, poor infrastructure, unavailability of pedigree breeds and the inefficient utilisation of fodders and on-farm by-products.

The study included an on-station trial followed by 12 farmer-managed tests on farms with two or more dairy cows under Napier grass based zero-grazing system of management. These tests aimed to determine the return on investment, to support applications by farmers to secure credit facilities and to assist the government to make input–output cost-price adjustments for smallholder dairy farmers. To evaluate this, input–output function analysis was used.

Napier (Bana) has been recommended as the main roughage because it is high yielding.

Materials and methods

Farms selected for the study are located in medium to high potential areas at altitudes of 1500–2300 m asl. Annual rainfall is reliable, bimodal, averaging 1000–2200 mm per annum. Mixed farming characterised the selected farms which had an average of 2 ha of arable land.

Farms keeping two or more dairy cows were randomly selected in collaboration with extension personnel. One on-station and twelve on-farm trials were spread across four agro-ecological zones (Table 1).

Table 1. Agro-ecological zone (AEZ) and soil types of selected test farms.



Major soil types

No. of farms



Nitosols, Phaeozems




Nitosols, Phaeozems






Homa Bay


Phaeozems, Acrisols


Breeds used were Friesians, Ayrshires, Guernseys, Jerseys and their crosses. The animals were fed ad libitum with chopped Napier (2.5 cm size) as the main source of roughage. dry matter intake (DMI) based on amount offered and left over was recorded. On-farm by-products, especially sweet potato vines, maize stovers and banana stems and leaves, were fed during feed-scarce periods.

The total area of Napier was divided into six or more separate plots, assuming a cutting interval of 6–8 weeks; each plot was harvested at least once. Every time a Napier plot was cut, cutting date, colour of grass, cutting height and quantities of slurry and inorganic fertiliser applied were recorded by the farmers. The farmers were supplied with stationery and coloured indicator sticks. Applied slurry was quantified as all, most, half, little or none taken from the manure pit and mineral fertilisers were recorded in kg (Table 2). Slurry was collected in concrete pits and applied to Napier fields by making furrows between the Napier rows after weeding and covering them with soil. Adequate quantities of mineral fertilisers were rarely applied due to high cost. The farmers kept records on milk yield and supplementary feeds, and all input costs and sales (Table 2; Figures 1 and 2, respectively). The monitoring, data collected and sampling of fodder were done at monthly intervals. The DM content and nutritive value of fodder Napier was determined by proximate analysis. For the economic analysis, input–output function analysis was employed.

Table 2. Means of recorded variables of forage production in 13 farms.



Area (ha)


DM yield (kg/ha/cut)


Height (cm)


Cutting interval (wks)




Inorganic fertiliser2 (kg/yr)


Components of fed Napier grass

DM leaves %


DM stem %


DM dead material %








DMI/cow/day (kg)3


1MSU = mature stock unit: 0.3 = calf; 0.7 = heifer.

2 NPK 20:10:10.

3 DMI = dry matter intake.

Figure 1. Input components under small-scale zero-grazing condition.

Figure 2. Enterprise input–output levels/cow per year.

Results and discussion

Napier management and utilisation indicate a cumulative DM yield of about 36 tons/ha/yr from six cuts (Table 2). The leaf stem ratio did not adversely affect forage intake as the stems were chopped to about 2.5 cm. The mean crude protein content of Napier cut at about a 1 m height was 10.4%. This is below the required 13% for maintenance and a milk yield of 10 kg/d (NRC 1978). This suggests that the protein gap from Napier needs to be bridged by supplements rich in proteins (concentrate or legumes) in order to fully exploit the milk production potential of dairy cows. Humphries (1991) showed that grass should at least contain 7% CP in order to prevent weight loss in cows and allow for production above maintenance. Minson (1990) reported that there is a rapid decline in voluntary intake when crude protein in feed falls below 7% DM.

Since about 36 tons DM yield/ha/yr in six cuts is possible (Table 2), 0.35 ha would yield 12.6 tons DM/ha/yr. Based on a DM intake (DMI) of about 10 kg/day/mature stock unit (MSU), this area could satisfy the DM requirement of 2.9 MSUs per year. Farmers with 0.35 ha were supplementing their feed supplies with on-farm by-products and roadside grass, while dairy meal was rarely fed due to high cost.

Average recorded daily milk yield was about 9.0 kg/cow (Table 3) and was sold at farm-gate price of US$ 0.13/1. Gross milk yield per day varied from 9 kg (AEZ:LMI-2) to 14 kg (AEZ:UM1, LH1). The average cost of dairy meal was US$ 0.07/kg. The study showed that the rate of return on the dollar ranged from US$ 2.6 (AEZ:LM1-2) to US$ 3.0 (AEZ:UM1, LH1). Labour was the major production cost (46%), followed by supplementary feeds (27.5%) and animal health (10.4%), respectively (Fig. l).

Table 3. Average feed inputs and variables of milk yield.

Parameters measured


Concentrate/lactation (kg)


Concentrate (kg/cow/day)


Milk from roughage (kg/cow/day)


Milk from concentrate (kg/cow/day)


Total milk yield (kg/cow/day)


Lactation length, days


Milk yield (kg/cow/lact.)


Concentrate used = dairy meal.
1 Means of 13 cows in 3rd and 4th lactations.
One kg concentrate leads to extra milk production of 1.5 kg (Snyders 1992).

The study also indicated that in a cut-and-carry system, one adult man can adequately handle the equivalent of 1.3 MSUs. The average capital investment in a zero-grazing unit of four cubicles ranged from US$ 129 (AEZ:LM1-2) to US$ 157 (AEZ:UM1, LHI). Farmers can realise an average gross margin of US$ 248 and a net profit of US$ 125 per cow/year (Figure 2). Taking into account all costs the study showed that a farmer can produce a litre of milk at an average cost of US$ 0.046, varying from US$ 0.025 (AEZ:LH1) to US$ 0.069 (AEZ:UM1), (Figure 2). At a rate of return of 2.8/dollar/ annum, capital investment was recovered within two years (Table 4). Stotz (1983) calculated the average gross margin of zero grazing dairy cows (excluding heifers rearing) and arrived at a cost of US$ 0.036/1. Van der Valk, (1990) analysing cost price per litre of milk based on budget calculations and herd potential showed a cost of US$ 0.069 per litre.

Table 4. Average economic performance of dairy cows.


Means (US$)

Gross revenue


Total production cost/cow/year


Gross margin/cow/year


Total capital cost/cow/year


Net profit/cow/year


Cost/kg of milk; US$ 0.046: Sale price/kg of milk: US$ 0.130 (1 US Dollar = KSh 70; it should be noted that this exchange rate was exceptional and stabilised to 1 US$ = KSh 45 for most of 1994).


Napier grass vat Bana planted at a spacing of 90 × 60 cm and cut six times a year at a height of 1 m has a potential on-farm yield of about 36 tons DM/ha/year in the four AEZs in which trials were done.

Based on an average DMI of 10kg/cow/ day and DM wastage of 20% and stocking rate of 8 MSU/ha a milk yield of 7 kg/cow/day on roughage only can be attained.

Fodder Napier should be chopped to 2.5 cm diameter to reduce wastage and improve intake. The mean % CP content in fodder Napier in farmer's fields is 10.4% DM.

Supplementary feeding to overcome periodic falls in energy and .protein content in napier is essential to maximise milk production. Supplementation of dairy meal at the rate of 1 kg for every 1.5 kg of milk yield/day above 7 kg is recommended.

One adult man can provide sufficient labour of three MSUs. The zero-grazing system is a viable and economic proposition for smallholder dairy farmers.


The author expresses his gratitude to Mr H.H.A. Mulamula, Director of KARI Kisii R.R.C. for guidance and advice during the study and constructive criticism of this paper. He further conveys his deep sense of gratitude to KARI scientists Ms F. Makini, D.M. Mbugua, E.K. Njue, S.N. Maobe and J.M. Wanyama at Kisii R.R.C. for their contributions which enabled him to complete the writing of this paper. He is also very grateful to Ms G. Oluoch, Technical Assistant at Kisii R.R.C. for her assistance in data and sample collection and management. Lastly, the author wishes to record his gratitude to Ms E. Ondieki who had typed this paper.


Humphries L.R. 1991. Tropical Pastures Utilization. Cambridge University Press.

Ibrahim K.M. 1988. Forage Plant Development and Extension in Kenya. AG; DP/KEN/84/007 Technical Report 34–36, Rome, Italy.

Jaetzold R. and Schmidt M. 1982. Farm Management Handbook of Kenya Vol. II — Natural conditions and Farm Management information part A. West Kenya. 94–99, 110–111, 142–150, 160–161.

Minson D.J. 1990. Forage in Ruminant Nutrition. Academic Press, Inc. pp. 9–58.

Mogaka L.M., Kiura J.N., Mbugua D.M. and Sunyai S.K., 1990. On farm Survey Report on Economic Performance of Dairy Cattle. Annual Report 1990. RRC-Kisii, Kenya.

National Research Council Standards. 1978. Nairobi, Kenya.

Snyders P.J.M. 1992. Fodder Management and the Protein Gap on Zero-Grazing Farms Based on Napier Grass. NAHRC, Naivasha, Kenya. 11 pp.

Stolz D. 1983. Production Techniques and Economics of Smallholder Livestock Production Systems in Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya.

Van der Valk Y.S. 1990. Cost-price Calculation of Milk Production under Small-Scale Zero-Grazing Conditions. NDDP/M43/213. NARC Naivasha, Kenya.

Evaluation d'un sysétme d'alimentation à l'auge de vaches laitières bonnes productrices de lait en petite exploitation au Kenya


Une étude a été effectuée sur l'économie du système d'alimentation de Pennisetum purpureum servi à des vaches laitières bonnes productrices de lait. Un essai en station a été mené au Centre régional de recherche de Kisii (ZAE-UM1l) suivi de 12 expériences en milieu réel conduites par les agriculteurs dans les districts de Kisii (ZAE-UM1), Homa Bay (LM2), Nyamira (LH1) et Migori (LM1). L'objectif de ces travaux était d'évaluer la viabilité de l'alimentation à l'auge et d'obtenir des données dont les institutions financières pourraient se servir pour examiner les demandes de crédits présentées par les paysans. Les données rassemblées sont entre autres, la consommation d'aliments, la production de lait, les besoins en maind'oeuvre, la qualité du fourrage et les caractdristiques de la gestion de ce système relevées chaque mois. Un rendement en matière sèche d'environ 6 t/ha/coupe a été obtenu en 6 coupes effectuées à des intervalles de 8 semaines avec une teneur moyenne en protéines brutes de 10,4%. En prenant une consommation moyenne de matière sèche de 10 kg/j/vache et 20% de refus, on peut dire qu'un hectare de Pennisetum purpureum pourrait nourrir 8 unités de bétail adulte (une unité de bétail adulte = 400 kg de poids vif) avec une production moyenne de 9 kg de lait par jour. Le prix moyen du kilo de lait à la ferme à été fixé à 0,13 dollars E.U. La production totale de lait par lactation variait de 3030 (LM1) à 4414 kg (UM1).

Avec une complémentation d'un kilo de concentré laitier pour 1,5 kg de lait/j/vache, la production journalière de lait allait de 9 kg (LM1-2) à 14 kg (UM1, LH1). Le coût moyen de ce complément était de 0,07 dollars E.U. par kilo. Si l'on tient compte de toutes les composantes du coût, on obtient un taux de rendement allant de 2,6 (LM 1-2) à 3 dollars E.U. (UM1, LH1). La main-d'oeuvre constituait la principale composante du coût de production (46%), suivie des aliments complémentaires (27,5%) et des soins de santé animale (10,4%).

L'investissement en capital moyen d'une unité d'alimentation à l'auge de 4 boxes varie de 129 dollars E.U. (LM1-2) à 157 dollars E.U. (UM1, LH1). Cette étude montre qu'avec un taux de rendement annuel de 2,8, on peut récupérer cet investissement en 2 ans lorsque l'on ne tient pas compte de la valeur des activités de suivi et de celle des houses de vache. Cela signifie qu'une unité d'alimentation à l'auge de vaches laitières peut valablement béndficier d'un crédit de financement dans les zones agro-écologiques étudiées.

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