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VikingGenetics quality is crucial for Kenyan dairy breeder

Breeding heifers that can cope with the many challenges involved with dairy farming in Africa is the main goal for Hamish Grant, a dairy breeder in Kenya.

For the past ten years, Hamish Grant has been using imported semen from VikingGenetics on his herd to breed heifers more suitable to the African terrain and conditions.

Gogar Farms Ltd is based at Rongai, in the Rift Valley, and employs over 100 people. The farm is over 100 years in operation and extends to 1,600 hectares.

Hamish explains the business model the farm operates and his breeding policies to achieve the right animals for his customers, saying: “Initially, we ran Ayrshire cattle on the farm, but since the mid-1990s, we switched to Holstein Friesian, which now makes up over 90% of the herd.”

Hamish’s primary business is breeding heifers to sell to customers across eastern Africa, meaning milk is more of a by-product for him. “We normally run around 500 cows with a total herd count of over 1,400 animals, including heifer replacements and young stock,” he explains.

VikingGenetics VikingHolstein Kenya Distributor Hamish Grant

Outdoors milking

The cows are outdoors year-round and are, in fact, milked outdoors using a fascinating mobile system with bucket milking. “This unit is moved daily, improving our sustainability as we don’t have to worry about slurry. All the manure goes back into the field, which is also a pasture management tool as the dairy works similarly to an intensive grazing cell,” he says.

The outdoor milking system works very well for Hamish and his team, as a river snakes through the dairy grazing, making it difficult to round cows up to walk to a milking parlour.

However, this does come with its own set of challenges, prompting Hamish to consider building a parlour and introducing a semi-Total Mixed Ration (TMR) over the next few years.

 “There are eight stalls on each side of the mobile unit, with two staff milking and one assistant on each side. We run two teams for the morning and evening milkings,” explains Hamish. “Each team milks for about seven hours. The first team milks from 2 am to 9 am and the second team from 2 pm to 9 pm,” he adds.

The milk is sold to a food processor in Kenya for around 0.40 to 0.45 EUR per litre.

VikingGenetics VikingHolstein Kenya Distributor Hamish Grant

Genomics to unlock potential

Hamish keeps his cows in two groups, with around half in the first calvers group and the rest in the mature group of second lactation and older animals.

Under Hamish’s pasture-based system, the cows eat as much grass as possible, but in the dry season, he does buffer feed some silage via a 22 cubic metre mixer which transports the feed to boxes in the fields.

The are many challenges to farming in Kenya, especially tickborne diseases. “We have to spray each cow every week through a spray race; otherwise, ticks proliferate and are vectors for Redwater, Anaplasmosis and Theileriosis. We also inoculate all herds three times per year against Food and Mouth disease,” explains Hamish.

Hamish’s herd yields around 18 to 20 litres per cow per day; however, milk is a by-product for him. Hamish is more interested in the cows’ genetics, as his system does not fully express their true genetic potential.

“I want to use genomics to better understand their potential instead of using milk yields as the benchmark. Farmers who manage intensively commonly get twice as much milk from our cows as we do when we sell them,” he says.

“Typically, we sell cows after three or four lactations to other farmers as we can get good prices because farmers like our genetics. On top of this, we sell around 200 in-calf heifers per year,” he adds.

VikingGenetics VikingHolstein Kenya Distributor Hamish Grant

Cows better suited to Africa

When breeding for African conditions, Hamish has his own policies to adhere to. He uses almost 100% sexed semen and always goes for the semen with the highest Net Total Merit Index (NTM), as long as it is compatible with avoiding inbreeding in individual cows.

The medium-sized VikingHolstein cows are also much better suited to Africa's varied, often challenging conditions. “I like VikingHolstein as the offspring are not so big and cumbersome as North American or Dutch stock. Big animals struggle here in droughts, on uneven terrain and under less-than-ideal management,” says Hamish, highlighting more of the benefits of Nordic, medium-sized cows.

“We also find that cows that are more than 50% black in colour are less susceptible to skin cancers and are longer lasting, so we tend to avoid bulls that are majority white in colour, if possible,” he adds.

VikingGenetics VikingHolstein Kenya Distributor Hamish Grant

Expanding the business

Hamish sells heifers in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia. Breeding cows are also valuable as farmers like cows at the peak of their milking potential.

“In-calf heifers sell for around US$2800, usually at 2.5 to three years old, as they grow slightly slower under our conditions. However, they are tougher than fast-grown heifers. The older cows are sold for about half that, depending on age and other factors,” says Hamish.

Hamish averages around one in three inseminations with sexed semen resulting in pregnancy across his entire herd, including both young heifers and older stock. “Interestingly, there is not as much drop off in that percentage in the older cows,” says Hamish, highlighting the VikingHolstein’s great fertility.

In the future, Hamish plans to expand his dairy business and improve his sustainability by investing more in dairy equipment technology and irrigation equipment, depending on its availability in Africa. Furthermore, depending on demand, Hamish hopes also to ramp up the distribution of VikingRed and VikingJersey.

Text by Chris McCullough

Pictures by Nina Young

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To buy Nordic heifers in Kenya, you can contact Hamish Grant at:

Gogar Farms
VikingGenetics VikingHolstein Kenya Distributor Hamish Grant

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