Impact of calf feeding practices on calf growth and health in smallholder dairy farms in Nyeri County, Kenya

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Silvia Situma
George K. Gitau
John VanLeeuwen
Charles M. Mulei
Dr. Peter Kimeli


Average daily gain; calf starter; calves; milk intake; Smallholder dairy


The objective of this study was to assess potential impact of selected enhanced feeding practices on growth of smallholder dairy calves. In the period between May and August 2012, 36 privately owned Kenyan smallholder dairy farms with new-born calves were purposively selected to participate in a randomized control trial. The calves were randomly allocated to one of nine feed intervention groups based on three groups of Calf Starter Intake (CSI; 20% protein) and three groups of Milk Intake (MI): control, half, and full. Full CSI intake involved lead feeding to achieve up to 1 kg/day feed intake at weaning, half CSI was to maximize intake at 0.5kg/day at weaning, while control CSI was the farmers’ normal practice (0-0.2 kg/day). Full MI was 4 Liters/day and half milk intake was 2 Liters/day, while control MI was the farmers’ normal practice (2-10 Liters/day). Each of the nine intervention groups had four calves per group (one calf died during the 1st week) resulting in 35 calves. Data on calf weight and height were collected weekly through farm visits for a period of eight weeks, and management data were collected through an in-person questionnaire. The results showed significant differences in the mean average daily weight gains across the different feed intervention groups at P (<0.001). All full CSI groups had weight gains over 0.5 kg/day. The full CSI + control MI had a positive association with the mean average daily weight gain at (0.61 kg/day), higher than the other two full CSI groups because of higher MI in this small group. In mixed multivariable linear regression analyses, weekly calf weights were higher with calf age and body condition score, a normal gastrointestinal tract, and amount of calf starter consumed per day, along with feeding sweet potato vines.