Dairy Cow



No Breed Avg. LW Purpose Characteristics
1 Friesians 600kg Dual
  • Body colour is black and white
  • Has a Large body
  • High milk producer
  • Very heavy feeder
  • Good meat producer
  • Milk Low butter fat content
  • Very sensitive to management
2 Aryshire 450kg Dairy
  • Body colour is Dark brown with white patches
  • High milk producer
  • High feed requirements
  • Fair meat producer
  • Relatively low butter fat content
3 Guernsey 400kg Dairy
  • Body colour is brown
  • Medium size animal
  • Moderate milk producer
4 Jersey 350kg Dairy
  • Body colour is Grey
  • Medium to small animal
  • Moderate milk producer
  • Not a meat breed
  • Relatively low feeder
  • High butter fat in milk
5 Sahiwal 500kg Dual
  • Body colour is light brown
  • Good breed for marginal areas
  • Dual purpose and heavily built
  • Relatively low milk producer
  • Sometime difficult to milk
6 East African Zebu 350kg Dual
  • Body colour is variable
  • Dual purpose
  • Very hardy animal
  • Late maturing
  • Low milk yield
  • Disease tolerant
  • Prominent hump
7 Simmental 750kg Dual
  • Body colour is Brown with white on the head and legs
  • Good milk and meat producer
  • Require high standard of management
  • High forage requirement
8 Charolis 800kg Beef
  • Body colour is White
  • Good beef producer
  • High forage requirement
9 Hereford 550kg Beef
  • Body colour is black or brown with white head
  • Good beef producer
  • High forage requirement
10 Boran 500kg Beef
  • Body colour is brown or light gray
  • Good beef producer
  • Good for harsh conditions
  • Prominent hump



Feeding of a dairy cow is very important. A high and economic milk production can only be achieved with well fed cows. Cost of feeding contributes highest to total cost of milk production. If a cow is kept under zero grazing, feeding needs even more attention as she will entirely depends on how the farmer feeds.

A dairy cow requires feed for the following purposes:

  • Milk Production
  • Body maintenance
  • Her own growth,
  • Growth of the calf (if pregnant).

Balanced feed is good. This implies that, the cow should receive a ration balanced in Energy, Protein, and Minerals. Unbalanced ration leads to, decreased milk production, poor body condition of the cow and fertility problems.



Water is a very important component of feeding. Water is required to maintain many body functions (like blood circulation) and to produce milk. In a zero grazing unit clean water should at all times be present so that the cow can drink as and when she likes and as much as she likes.  A properly sized water trough is needed as a cow producing milk can drink more than 60 litres of water per day. If a well is dug or water tap is fixed, it should be done close to the zero grazing unit. A donkey can also be used to bring the water for a dairy cow.


Feeds can be divided into two groups: roughages and concentrates.

Roughages are bulky feeds like Napier grass, maize stover, Leucaena, banana stems, sweet potato vines, hay, silage. etc. These feeds are usually grown on the farm and are the cheapest to feed to the cow.

Good quality roughage is the basis of a high milk production. An example of a good quality roughage is Napier grass with a dark green colour (well manured) and cut when 2-3 ft tall. Roughages of poor quality maybe like overgrown Napier grass (5-6 ft tall) with a yellowish colour.

Roughages like maize stover, banana stems. yellowish napier grass and silage of napier grass are low in protein. 1n order to compensate for this shortage, roughages rich in protein like Leucaena, desmodium, sweet potato vines, leaves of fodder trees (eg Leucaena, calliadra etc) should be added to balance the ration. These legumes should not be fed in large quantities because of poisoning and or bloat.  Other than roughage quality, milk production is affected by the quantity of roughage.

When the quantity of roughage available is less the farm is overstocked. As a rule of thumb; the feed trough should never be empty.  During the rainy season the following amount of good quality napier grass is needed per cow per day:

  • Cows of large size (Friesian and Aryshire) 90-110 kg
  • Cows of small size (Jersey and Guernsey) 65-85 kg

During the dry season when the napier grass is drier (less weight), the following amounts of good quality napier grass are fed per cow per day:

  • Cows of large size (Friesian and Aryshire) 70-80 kg
  • Cows of small size (Jersey and Guernsey) 55-65 kg

If the cows are fed sufficient roughage of good quality, they can realize higher milk production of about 7 kg milk per day. Additional milk can be achieved by feeding concentrates.


Concentrates are products like dairy meal, maize bran, maize germ meal. brewer’s waste, copra cake. etc.  Dairy meal or cubes are more or less balanced concentrates for milk production. Concentrates rich in protein and poor in energy are: copra cake, cotton seed cake, simsim cake and brewer waste.

There are many types of dairy meal on the market. Some are cheap but of poor quality. Feeding dairy meal with a known composition is recommended. As a rule of thumb: 1 kg dairy meal will increase milk production by 1.5 kg.

Good quality roughage, minerals and dairy meal are necessary for a proper dairy feeding.


Minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, salt, etc) are very important for a dairy cow. Lack of certain minerals can result in:

  • a poor fertility (no/ delayed or depressed heat signs, poor conception. increased abortion): lack of phosphorus, copper and manganese
  • A low milk production: lack of phosphorus, salt. calcium
  • a deformed skeleton in young animals due to lack of phosphorus, calcium.
  • Metabolic diseases ( ego Calcium and magnesium). A good example of this is the milk fever or parturient paresis ( hypocalcaemia). This disease normally occurs during the first three days. The clinical signs ncludes staggering, eyes are dull and staring, latter lies flat and if not treated can go into a coma and, die. Call a veterinarian for treatment or if you are one, treat with  calcium boroglugonate.

As the roughage (napier grass, maize stover etc) and concentrates are not well balanced regarding minerals, extra supplementation with a mineral mixture is  necessary,

To ,ensure that a cow has access to minerals all the time, a mineral box should be fitted in the zero grazing unit or in a shade close to the cattle. In this way the cow can regulate her own mineral consumption based on her requirements. All animals in the zero grazing unit should have access to minerals.

There are many cheap but offordable quality mineral mixtures in the market. However, it is recommended feeding a mineral mixture of a known composition.


A dry pregnant cow needs feed for; Body maintenance, the growth of the calf and for restoring lost body weight and catering for reserves for the next lactation. If she is a heifer she needs feed for her own  growth.

The aim of feeding the dry, pregnant cow is to obtain a healthy calf and a cow in good condition at the time of calving.

The dry, pregnant cow should be fed with high quality napier grass. During the last month of pregnancy the cow can be “steamed up” by feeding her with good quality napier grass, legumes, sweet potato vines. Leucaena fodder trees and 1 to 2 kg dairy meal per day, depending on the condition of the cow may be used for steaming up. Overfeeding so that the cow becomes too fat should be avoided. This can result in too heavy calves and difficulties at the time of calving (especially with Friesians).


During the first and second month after calving a cow produces high amount of milk per day. The highest milk yield per day obtained during this period is referred to as the peak yield. A high peak yield leads to a higher milk production during the rest of the lactation.  The cows’ appetite is rather low during the first months after calving. Therefore, the feeding of high quality roughage and a high rate of supplementation with concentrates is needed to achieve a high milk production and to prevent excessive loss of body weight.

Feeding during the early part of the lactation should be geared to challenge the cow by means of supplementatiion with concentrates. This is needed in order to achieve a high milk production and to prevent excessive loss of body weight.

After calving, increase the amount of dairy meal by 0.5-1.0 kg per day as long as the cow responds by increasing her milk production. Maintain the feeding of this amount of dairy meal till the cow starts dropping her milk yield.

Feeding of dairy meal is economic as long as the price of 1 kg dairy meal is less than the price the farmer can obtain for 1.5 kg of milk produced.

If the farmer has limited cash, it will be much more profitable to buy dairy meal to feed the cow during the early lactation than to feed it in a later stage.

Poor feeding during the first part of the lactation results in:

  • a low peak yield = a low lactation yield – excessive weight loss = poor condition
  • delayed heat or no heat signs at all = poor feltility

After the cow has reached her highest milk production, the milk yield will drop gradually. During this period the appetite of the cow for roughage is high.  Now the cow’s ration should be supplemented with dairy meal / according to production. How much dairy meal should be fed will depend on the type of cow and the quality and quantity of the roughage.


Generally cows calving for the first time (first calvers) have not reached their full stage of maturity. Besides feed for maintaining their body, milk production and the growth of a calf, first calvers also need feed for her own growth. It is advised to feed these cows 1.5 kg of extra concentrates in comparison to fully mature cows.


The milk production of a dairy cow depends mainly on the way she is fed.  The following checklist maybe used as a guideline :

  1. Milk production:    Is the milk production of the c w satisfactory?
  2. Body condition:      Is the cow in a good, fairy or poor condition?
  1. Hair coat: A smooth hair coat reflects good health and proper feeding of the cow (minerals, deworming done regularly)
  2. Health:    A healthy, well fed cow eats, ruminates and is alert.
  3. Water:   Does the cow have free access to’fresh water?
  4. Type of roughage:   Is the cow fed on good quality roughage?
  5. Amount of roughage:  An empty feed trough indicates under-feeding. the feed trough should never be empty!.
  6.  Minerals;     Does the cow have free access to minerals? A mineral box should be present and filled with a mineral mixture of known composition.
  7. Concentrates: Is the cow supplemented with concentrates? Concentrate supplementation, especially during the early part of the lactation, will increase milk production.

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