Beef Cattle Production


Overview of Beef Industry in Kenya.

 The Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASAL) of nation make 84% of Kenya’s total land surface. It supports over 8 million Kenyans, has 50% of the livestock population and 65% of the wildlife. The ASAL is home to the poorest segments of the population who are trapped in drought-plagued and hostile environment, often marginalized from the mainstream of economic activity.  The GOK has accorded the ASAL a top priority in its important economic blueprints – for example the Economic Recovery Strategy (ERS) Paper, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), the Kenya Rural Development Strategy (KRDS) and the Agriculture Sector Development Strategy.

Kenya ASALs are home to over 70% of the national livestock population (supporting about 6 million beef cattle) that produce the bulk of the red meat under both sedentary and nomadic pastoralism under extensive production system.

The beef industry represents an important proportion of the economy accounting for about 70% of total beef consumed in the country.

Keeping of beef cattle has several benefits including – income generation through the sale of live animals and their products such as milk, meat, hides and skins. In some areas, cattle are a source of draught power and manure.

The maximization of the benefits can only be achieved if the beef cattle producers address issues such as sustainable grazing management, availability of clean and adequate water, proper marketing system is in place, livestock health is provided, fodder production and conservation is practised to sustain production levels. Pasture conservation in the ASALs may be done by setting aside areas for dry season grazing – a common practice by the pastoral communities.

Beef production has not been fully exploited in Kenya and especially in the ASALs due to inadequate policy guidelines and other related legislation. However the Ministry is addressing some of these challenges by initiating participatory policy development and review/improvement of relevant legislation, e.g.

  • ASAL Development Policy
  • National Livestock Policy
  • Pastoral Development Policy
  • National Food and Nutrition Policy

Beef Breeds


A breed of cattle is defined as a race or variety related by descent and similarity in certain distinguishable characteristics.  More than 250 breeds of cattle are recognized throughout the world.

There are two main categories of beef cattle namely:

  • Indigenous cattle
  • Exotic cattle

In Kenya, the most important indigenous beef cattle breeds include- Small East African Zebu and the Boran.

The exotic beef breeds include Simmental, Sahiwal, Charolais and the Hereford among others

Common Beef Breeds in Kenya.

Breed Live weight range Purpose Characteristics Geographical distribution in Kenya
Boran 250-400kg Beef and milk
  • Color: brown or light grey
  • Good beef producer
  • Suited to harsh conditions
  • Has a prominent hump
Mainly in Northern range lands
East African Zebu Below 250kg Majorly Beef, low  milk producers
  • Color: Variable shades
  • Extremely hardy animal
  • Late maturing, slow growth
  • Low milk yield
  • High disease resistance/good tolerance
  • Prominent hump
Mainly in Southern rangelands and North Rift counties
Sahiwal 300-500kg Beef and milk
  • Color: Light brown
  • Good breed for marginal and agro-pastoral areas
  • Relatively good milk production
  • Dual purpose and heavily built
Mainly in Southern rangelands and prominent ranches in Central Kenya region
Hereford 550kg Beef
  • Color: Dark brown body with white head
  • Good beef producer
  • High forage requirement
Still kept in a few ranches
Simmental 750kg Beef and milk
  • Color: Brown body with white head and legs
  • Good milk and meat producer
  • requires high standard of management
  • High forage requirement
Still kept in a few ranches
Chalorais 800kg Beef
  • Color: generally greyish-white
  • Excellent beef producer
  • High forage requirement
  • High standard of management.
Kept in a few ranches especially in Laikipia County.

It is encouraged that farmers in need of these breeds contact Livestock Officers in their Counties for further advice.

There are various crosses of the above breeds, which are found in many ASAL areas. However before cross-breeding, livestock keepers need to appreciate the associated benefits and risks.


Breeding involves the selection of highly performing animals in the herd; mating them thus introducing superior qualities/characteristics into the herd for the purpose of improved performance/production.

Cattle production in the ASAL areas is free range, often in communal grazing and shared water points. In order to improve the herd productivity, it is important that livestock keepers control and manage the breeding system. This is possible through training of the pastoralists mobile training schools, the Farmer Field Schools, etc.

Breeding Records

 In order to make decisions on breeding, it is important to keep records of the animals involved. The following are some of the important records.

  • Pedigree Records

These are records that trace the lineage of an animal’s both parents.

  • Performance/Production Records

These records reflect an animal’s performance in their lifetime. The record provides information on their capacity to produce and especially the performance on the purpose of breeding.

Breeding Plan               

This is a system that a farmer uses to improve beef cattle by properly selecting animals that participate in a breeding arrangement.

Animals can be improved significantly by selecting superior traits within the herd and multiplying them so as to preserve them. Care should be taken to avoid inbreeding.

Population Size

 This is important because it determines the intensity of selection. The higher the population from which the selection is to be done, the lower the selection intensity. This means the genetic gain will be higher per unit time.

Generation Interval

 This is the age of the parents at the birth of their first calf. The smaller the generation interval, the higher the genetic gain within a given time and in that population.

General Management of the Herd

 In order to maximize economic gains in the breeding programme, the management levels of the herd should be optimal. Proper animal husbandry will reduce the environmental challenges that suppress the expression of the genotype.

Selection of the Bull

 The bull selected for breeding should meet the following:

  • Be from a good (and proven) dam and sire
  • Have well formed and hanging testicles.
  • Not related to cows in the herd to avoid inbreeding.
  • Have good conformation for beef production and should have breed characteristics.
  • Be free from any deformity

 Selection of the Cow

 The selected cow should be:

  • Fertile
  • Regular breeder, which give birth to live calves with high survival rates.
  • Good milk producer and the udder should be well developed.
  • Docile and easy to handle.

Selection of Replacement Heifers

 Replacement heifers should be selected before final culling is done. This will give room for observation of replacement stock before removal of the culls. Heifer selection for replacement can occur at different stages including at weaning, yearling, breeding/bulling, pregnancy and after weaning of the first-calvers.

Culling of Cows

The purpose is to remove older, lower producers, chronically sick, excess stock, etc animals from the herd. Culling should be done in order to enhance the genetic progress in the herd.

Improvement through Crossbreeding

 This is where a bull and a cow of different breeds are mated. A superior bull is used to upgrade the herd. Crossbreeding results in hybrid vigour where the offspring’s performance is far better than the average of both parents.

Traits associated with hybrid vigor include:

  • Faster growth.
  • Ability to reproduce fast (early maturity).
  • High milk production.
  • Good carcass quality and weight.
  • Disease resistance.

In range beef production, the Boran is the desired breed because of its good carcass quality, fast growth rate and reproduction while the Sahiwal are desired for both milk and beef production.

When to Breed

 Heifers are best served when they are about 21/2 years old – or when they are ¾ of their expected adult weight. The best time to breed is during the rain season when there is plenty of nutritious forage when the bulls and cows are more healthy and fertile.

Onset of Heat

 The period from the beginning of one heat to the beginning of the next varies from 18-24 days with an average of 21 days. Mating occurs when cows on heat are grazed together with bulls. This makes heat detection easy.

Approximately 2/3 of all heats occur between 6 pm and 6 am, i.e. during the evening/night and early morning. Silent heat may occur due to stress. A bull will help identify a cow on silent heat.

If cows do not have a bull to detect heat it will be helpful to observe the following signs of heat:

  • A cow on heat is receptive to the bull
  • Mounting others
  • Standing to be mounted.
  • Bellowing.
  • Restlessness.
  • Milk production may fall
  • .Reduced appetite
  • Clear mucous discharge from the vulva.
  • Pink swollen vulva.

Pregnancy Determination

 In a beef production operation, it is economically feasible to ascertain pregnancy

and the anticipated time of calving.

Factors affecting Pregnancy Rates


  • Heifers typically have a longer heat cycle than cows.
  • Body condition affects length of postpartum interval.
  • Extreme calving difficult and delayed assistance will extend the heat cycle (postpartum).
  • The health of the animal will determine the heat cycle

 Length of breeding season depends on the following:Bull libido

  • Herd condition and health
  • Genetic factors e.g. crossbred dams reach puberty earlier and have higher conception rates.
  • Mineral and vitamin deficiency, e.g. Phosphorous, Calcium, Iron and various vitamins
  • Non-seasonal breeding

When assisting a cow during difficult calving, the following guidelines may be necessary

  • Confine and restrain the cow.
  • Check the amount of lubrication on the birth canal and if dry lubricate with soapy water.
  • If the delivered calf is not breathing, remove the mucous and membranes from the mouth and nose.
  • If there are abnormalities and the cow has been attempting to calve for 6-8 hours contact a Vet.  The after- birth is usually discharged within 24 hours of calving.
  • If the calf is coughing, there may be liquid in the lung.  Hold the calf upside down-hind legs up – to drain it.
  • Blowing gently into the calf’s mouth and nostrils may stimulate breathing.

It may also be necessary to slap the calf gently on the chest over the heart.

Allow the calf to suckle colostrums to acquire antibodies.

Reduction of Calf Losses

 Calf loss from death can be drastically reduced by implementing management and calving techniques in the areas of-

  • Improved housing, sanitation and hygiene
  • Proper calving facility.
  • Closer observation during calving.
  • Treatment of sick calves.
  • Improved nutrition of the cows.
  • herd vaccination

Beef Production Systems

A production system is a form of management approach, which is adopted to suit a climatic situation and to achieve a given objective.

Examples of beef production systems are:

  • Nomadic Pastoralism
  • Ranching
  • Agro-pastoralism
  • Feedlot system
  1. Nomadic Pastoralism

 Nomadic pastoralism involves a seasonal pattern of livestock movement around a more or less regular pattern. It is the most environmentally sustainable grazing system in the arid and semi arid areas.

This system is practiced predominantly in northern Kenya and southern rangelands.

  1.  Ranching

 Ranching is a form of beef production system practiced within a defined unit of land. In a ranch it is possible to maintain optimal stocking rates, conserve and preserve pasture and develop livestock support facilities such as dips and water points. This system is practiced in predominantly semi-arid/agro-pastoral areas. To some extent in the arid areas where pasture management pose a challenge due to uncontrolled communal grazing.

  1. Agro-Pastoralism

This is a production system practiced in semi- arid parts of the country where beef farming is practised alongside crop farming. Beef farming and crop farming complement each other through livestock feeding on crop residues and crop farming benefiting from manure and animal draught power.

  1. Feedlot system

These are units where immature animals  are put on  intensive feeding regime purposely to fatten so as to attain a specific market weight within a specific time. The animals are confined as in the zero grazing units and are fed on high-energy concentrates. This system has commercial orientation, is high capital intensive and very appropriate in areas of high agricultural production. It is however not in use in the arid lands of Kenya.

Beef cattle Management


 In the ASAL areas beef cattle are grazed through:

  • Extensive, system, which is mostly practiced by the nomadic pastoralists.
  • Intensive, which is mostly practiced by ranchers.
  • Semi-intensive, which is practiced by agro-pastoralists.

Beef cattle feeding require balanced feeds that contain the major nutrients necessary for the body to function normally.  These feeds include the natural forage, energy feeds, mineral/vitamin supplements and water.

During the dry season, the available natural forage and grasses are quite low in protein content. Shrubs and trees have about 5-8% of protein compared to the animal body requirement of about 12%. During drought, it is therefore necessary to provide protein supplements to prevent loss in condition of beef cattle.

 Fodder Conservation

In Arid and Semi-arid areas, dry season feeding of livestock with conserved fodder or standing hay is an important management intervention.  However, the pastoral communities have their own traditional techniques of feed conservation to feed the young, the weak and the lactating animals during dry periods. The main objective is to close the livestock-feeding gap, which exists during dry period.

Some simple technologies have been used such as simple hay balers, improved manual balers, and hay storage to overcome drought-related feed deficits. Fodder and pasture conservation should be done when forage is in plenty and would otherwise have gone to waste if not conserved.

Beef Calf Management

 Good calf management practices ensure fast growth rate, reduced disease incidences and reduced death rates in calves. This ensures reduced cost of production and optimum profitability in beef production. After calving, ensure the dam cleans the calf properly and that it can stand on its own. Where necessary, the calf should be assisted to suckle.

The calf should be checked for abnormalities and corrective measures taken where possible.

Feeding the calf

 Calves should be left to graze where good pastures are available. The calves should have access to unlimited supply of water and minerals. Calves should be sheltered in a clean and dry environment.

Routine Management


De-budding is done to reduce injury to human beings and other animals. It is done between 1-2 months after calving. The process can be well demonstrated by livestock production staff.


 Castration is done to reduce inbreeding and to achieve well-distributed fat in beef animals. It is done between 6-9 months of age.


 De-worming is the use of deworming medicines to kill worms and other internal parasites through application of the medicine through the mouth. Worms compete for nutrients with the calf leading to weakened body condition, retarded growth, reduced immunity and possibly, death.. De-worming in calves is done as soon as they start grazing and thereafter every 3 months.

Disease control

 Dipping or spraying using recommended acaricides controls ticks and many other external parasites.  This is done to avoid transmission of diseases among animals in the herd. Spraying and dipping should be done on a weekly basis.



 This is the application of protective medicine mainly by injection to control diseases. For calves, vaccination against brucellosis and anthrax and black quarter is essential. For Brucellosis, it is done at 3-8 months of age while anthrax and black quarter is vaccinated at 6 months of age.


 Weaning is done by separating calves from their mothers. It is done to enable the dam to return on heat and is recommended at between 3-4 months of age.  The weather conditions should be considered before weaning to reduce stress on the newly weaned calves. There should be adequate pasture and water for all animals.  The distance to water points should be ideal.

Beef Cattle Diseases

 Livestock diseases contribute significantly to low productivity in beef production. Reduced disease incidences therefore contribute to improved productivity and profitability in beef production.

Diseases are categorized into:

  • Notifiable diseases – (Authorities need to be notified as soon as the out break occurs)
  • Non-notifiable diseases
  1. i) Notifiable diseases
Name of Disease Time of vaccination Remarks
Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) Once a year
Contagious Bovine Pleuro pneumonia (CBPP Once a year
Rinderpest Once in lifetime
Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Every 6 months
Rift Valley Fever Yearly Also affects human beings
Anthrax and Black quarter Every 9 months Also affects human beings
Brucellosis Once (to calves only) Also affects human beings
Malignant Catarrhal Fever No vaccination Avoid contact with wildebeest
East Coast Fever No vaccination Treatable
Trypanosomiasis No vaccination Protective medicine available

All notifiable diseases require that a quarantine status is imposed.

  1. ii) Non-notifiable Diseases
Name of disease Time of vaccination Remarks
Anaplasmosis No vaccination Treatable

Common Signs of Disease

  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea, bloody or watery
  • Lagging behind and listlessness
  • Rough skin coat
  • Reduced milk production
  • Lying down
  • Coughing and breathing difficulties
  • Abortion
  • Limping
  • Skin swelling
  • Excessive discharges: tearing, salivation and nasal discharge

Control of External Parasites

Weekly dipping/spraying using recommended acaricide

Control of Internal Parasites

 De-worming is recommended every 3 months. Use appropriate dewormers.


 Branding is done by applying a hot metal on the skin of the animal. The brand bears a specific mark.  This is done to identify animals during vaccination and also to control cattle rustling. Brand on the recommended places – taking care of the quality of the skin/hide. It is done when the animals are at least one year old.

 Environmental Issues in Beef Production

 Pastoralism, which contributes a large percentage of beef produced in Kenya, is a management system that whereby livestock mainly foraging on the natural vegetation in an extensive area. Success of pastoralism is therefore dependent on a well-managed natural resource base and environmental conservation.

Over the centuries, the pastoralists have always lived in harmony with their environment.  However, new and emerging situations have led to interference in this harmony resulting in environmental degradation and reduced benefits to the pastoralists.

These effects include:

  • Soil erosion occurs when soil cover is destroyed. Such destruction is normally caused by overgrazing occasioned by over concentration of livestock in one area. Frequently, pastoralists find themselves with a lot of livestock far beyond what the grazing area (and weather condition) can support.
  • Sedentarisation, concentration of communal facilities in an area (schools, water points, security-related settlements, etc) are the primary causes of natural resource and environmental degradation in pastoral areas.
  • The provision of unplanned water and social amenities reduces mobility of pastoralists and increases pressure on vegetation around the settlements.
  • Poverty and poor marketing of livestock and their products result in pastoralists looking for alternative sources of income e.g charcoal burning, firewood etc.  Prolonged droughts lead to over concentration of animals in watering areas hence vegetation destruction by both pastoralists and their livestock.
  • Environmental degradation has been exacerbated by widespread and indiscriminate cutting of trees for charcoal burning, firewood, housing, etc

Environmental Pollution

  • Animal waste (manure, urine & blood) from poorly sited slaughter facilities can cause contamination to both surface and ground water sources through run off.
  • There is need to undertake Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for new slaughterhouses and slabs and demand environmental audit for existing ones.
  • Soils and water pollution from improper use and disposal of pesticides – Water User Associations to be in the forefront in sensitizing members on safe use of pesticides.
  • Environmental contamination by poorly disposed diseased carcasses resulting in spread of diseases – Carcasses from dead animals irrespective of probable cause of death must be completely burned or buried in a pit – minimum 4ft deep.
  • Invasive species – prosopis juriflora, Ipomea spp, etc

Beef cattle Markets and Marketing

Livestock production is the main economic activity in the ASAL areas that account for 70 per cent of national livestock population, 50% of this comes from extensive pastoral production system with commercial ranches accounting for 25%. It is therefore imperative that marketing and markets are developed and strengthened to ensure a vibrant beef industry.

The producers should be encouraged to form local marketing associations, which should come together to form livestock marketing councils at sub-county level. These marketing councils/associations should liaise with the local authorities and other stakeholders in developing marketing infrastructure, abattoirs and market days. The livestock marketing councils (DLMCs) should further establish market information systems through media, mobile technology, etc.

Kenya Livestock Marketing Councils (KLMC) and other stakeholders should initiate deliberate efforts to revive livestock stock routes and holding grounds in the Counties where they existed.

Value addition is the process of improving the quality of products with an aim of fetching better prices; this can be done by processing, better packaging, drying, etc

The DLMCs should explore the possibility of starting livestock product-related cottage industries upon the processing and use of hides and skins, horns, hooves, milk and meat. They should also seek and establish markets for the traditionally prepared livestock products.

One of the major problems that hinder better exploitation for the beef industry is lack of affordable credit to finance livestock activities and the associated capital investments e.g.

  • Immature fattening program
  • Purchase of drugs and chemicals
  • Hire of transport to the markets
  • Buy pasture and water during seasons of drought.

The following sources of funds should also be explored to support/address the above gaps:

  • CDF and other County Government devolved funds
  • Youth and Women Enterprise Fund
  • Kadet
  • Resources from foundations and development partners where available

Important stakeholders

There are various institutions, which contribute to the beef industry in Kenya. These are involved, either directly or indirectly, in beef production, marketing, research or provision of information, breed improvement and/or financial assistance.

Some of these stakeholders are categorized below:

The Producers

 This is a category of stakeholders dealing with primary beef production.  They include:

  • Pastoralists and Ranchers
  • Regional authorities (e.g TARDA, KVDA etc)
  • Private breeders/multipliers
  • Government institutions, e.g. Livestock Improvement Centers, ADC farms, Research Institutions, etc

Marketing Actors

 These are primary stakeholders dealing with beef marketing.  They include:

  • Kenya Livestock Marketing Council (KLMC)
  • Kenya Meat Commission (KMC)
  • Local slaughter houses and abattoirs
  • Local traders and middlemen

Breeders and Multipliers

 These are stakeholders who are involved in production and multiplication of improved beef breeds.  They include:

  • ADC
  • KARI centers – Naivasha, Kiboko, etc
  • Regional authorities e.g. TARDA, KVDA, etc.


 This is a category of stakeholders who facilitate a conducive environment for beef production.  They represent actors in the value chain. They include:

  • Producer farmers
  • Animal Health providers
  • Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Development
  • Local Authorities
  • Kenya Livestock Marketing Council.


 This category gives financial credit to other stakeholders involved in beef production. These include:

  • AFC
  • Micro Finance Institutions
  • Banks
  • Cooperative Societies/SACCOs

Research Institutions

 These are institutions involved in promoting and conducting research on beef production.  They include:

  • KARI – Kiboko, Naivasha, Lanet
  • ILRI

Drought Coping Strategies for the Beef Producers

In drought management, beef producers require to clearly understand their production objectives and to carefully evaluate the available options to assure that appropriate course of action is take to minimise losses. It is necessary to be realistic when assessing the situation and not underestimate what is required in terms of resources (capital, fodder and management) to complete a particular course of action.

Because of the dynamic nature of drought, the assessment should be done  continuously and the cost of each available option be taken into account..

Each beef producer must choose which options to employ, to what extent and relate the coping strategy to the prevailing challenge.

Advantages and disadvantages of the various options


Strategy Advantages Disadvantages
Selling some or all stock
  • No cash outlay is required (unless values are minimal).
  • Interest on proceeds of sale can be earned.
  • Good prices are likely if stocks are sold early.
  • Risk of damage to pastures is reduced.
  • Improved performance of remaining stock post-drought may compensate for reduced numbers.
  • Reduces labour required -time is available to pursue other activities.
  • Good chance to select culls: to improve flock genetics.
  • Stock may need to be repurchased after drought (prices could be high).
  • Income is lost because of no production.
  • Depending on length of drought, breeding cycle may be disrupted.
  • Stock may have to be sold at a substantial discount if held for too long.
  • Taxation may be affected.
  • Genetic material is lost if culling does not discriminate.
Feeding for Production
  • Stocks are maintained through out.
  • Livestock inventory can be maintained at high levels by purchasing additional stock for feeding, hence reducing restocking problems.
  • With breeding stock, the breeding cycle, natural increase and cash flow in the post-drought recovery phase are maintained.
  • Lot-feeding protects pastures.
Costs are high, while market prices are uncertain.High labour input is required.

If this strategy is used with breeding stock, stock numbers may increase, with consequent extra feeding costs.

Maintenance feeding
  • Income may be earned from production of progeny and/or wool.
  • Restocking costs are avoided.
  • Maintenance of breeding cycle may be possible.
Costs are directly related to length of drought.Large financial reserves may be required for practical periods.

High labour input is required.

Performance levels are affected.

Young stock do not perform well.

Weeds may be introduced.

Losses can be high.

Agistment Generally, agistment is much cheaper than maintenance feeding per unit of food provided.If good agistment is available, full production may continue.
Damage to pastures is minimised.

Breeding program can continue.

Drought may affect agistment property.Stock must adapt to new area.

Stock thefts may occur.

Handling facilities and managerial control may be inadequate.

Stock may be lost during transport.

When stock are returned to original property, weeds, diseases etc. may be introduced.

Trading in livestock Cash flow is provided for feeding and running costs so that total livestock numbers can be maintained.Can allow enterprise shift. Weeds, diseases etc. may be introduced.Breeding cycle may be disrupted.

Genetic base is lost.

Humane destruction Prevents unacceptable suffering.Reduces stocking rates, enhances chances of survival  of  the remaining stock.

Helps reduce further pasture and land degradation.

Reduces hand feeding costs.

May reduce the impact of, or eliminate, a disease, e.g. footrot.

Financial loss of stock value.Costs of slaughter and disposal.

Unpleasant task.

Some risk to operator.

Loss of genetics can occur if there is no selection.


Summary on Coping Strategies

By approaching the problem of drought in a logical manner, the beef producer can increase the chances of a successful operation.

The recommended steps are summarized below:

  • Establish both short- and long-term objectives early during a dry period.
  • Assemble facts and figures on all aspects of alternative strategies: feed costs, rainfall records (official records and local experience), stock prices, government support and subsidies.
  • Work out the cost of the  different strategies for various lengths of drought.
  • Select the mix of strategies which best fit producers’ projections and situation.
  • Write down the objectives and strategies, and whenever possible ear mark  numbers, dates or dollar figures as benchmarks or triggers for particular actions.

Review the strategies continually and adopt them when  necessary.

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