Milk production of local cow breeds Since the National Union of mini-dairies and milk producers in Burkina Faso was born last year, we have become increasingly interested in looking at the performance of local breeds of milch cows. We have also undertaken some research on the ways and means open to livestock farmers who want to improve the fodder they give their animals. And we came across one surprise after another.
Surprise number 1
There are very few reliable performance statistics on local breeds
When reading (in an official document of the Ministry of Animal Resources) that a zebu cow from Fulani stock-keepers , yields an average of 110 litres annually, one is bound to want to compare such data with the average performance rates of European milch cows. In Germany the figure is 6000 litres per year. From then on there is only a fine line to the conclusion that local breeds in Burkina are virtually useless. But that line should not be crossed.
First of all, only the comparable should be compared! Hearing that at German cow can produce an average of 6000 litres in a year, we must keep in mind that that this refers to a well fed animal, which is very often grazing freely. How much milk would a well fed cow in Burkina produce under similar conditions? There are no workable statistics available that could provide an answer. Therefore the National Union of mini-dairies and milk producers have started an inquiry among their members.
We learnt, for instance, that a zebu cow of Fulani livestock keepers could give up to 6 litres a day, but only during 3 to 4 months, which amounts to roughly 600 litres for the year. This is perhaps not very much, but at least far better than the 110 litres usually quoted. We have found a report indicating that under excellent circumstances, some of these cows could deliver as much as 1200 litres!
The yields of the Azawak zebu and the Goudali zebu (other local breeds) are for the most higher than in the zebus kept by Fulani farmers. We have seen the two former ones producing as much as 1 8OO litres over an 8 month period. Still a far cry from the 6000 litres of the German cousin, but we are beginning to think that with accurate selection and improved feed, it will no longer be possible to disqualify “our cows” from the race without in depth research!
Moreover, it must be recognised that an “exotic” cow landed in Africa will not be as productive as in its country of origin. A few days ago I read that a Jersey cow sent off to Cameroon gave no more than 2 500 to 2 600 litres per year, instead of over 5 000 litres at home.
It is only by adequate and balanced nutriotion that the best properties of a particular breed will manifest themselves. Higher milk production therefore requires better nutrition and improved animal health. It may well be that local breeds in Burkina have a bright future ahead of them.
Surprise number 2
There are indeed few studies of the production data of local breeds and there is even less documentation on the viewpoints held by long established traditional cattle farmers. Therefore the Union has started an inquiry among farmers who deliver milk to union members. The inquiry is not yet completed, but we can already share some information with our readers.
At Fada in Eastern Burkina, the livestock farmers in the Djou Laré area have resolutely opted for the Goudali zebu. After a yearlong experience with imported breeds (Gir and Girolondo of Brazil) they never stop chanting the many advantages of the Goudali, not just because of their milk production, but also because of their value as beef cows, easy to fatten. Contrary to the zebu of the Fulani communities, the Goudali is not very picky and choosy when grazing freely, “it eats what it finds”. Back at the cowshed it will take any fodder offered, even the poorest. In addition these cows are very docile and gentle. Therefore they are also used as draught animals.
Other livestock farmers are more interested in the Azawak zebu, for which there is a specific support and promotion project, which is just coming to an end, unfortunately. But a National Union of Azawak cattle owners has been set up and hopefully the objectives of the project will still be pursued.
Surprise number 3
At present many farmers complain of the difficulties in finding cotton seed oil cake for their animals (we referred to this in a previous bulletin). When I ask if they have tried to replace the oil cakes by soy, many tell me that they are not familiar with this. Nevertheless, around the world, soy is much more in use than cotton seed in animal fodder. Soy is already grown in significant quantities in Burkina and its further development is just around the corner. Why not try and introduce it gradually in animal feed in Burkina?
In closing this bulletin I come to think of the farmer-research workers (rice growers) whom I met in Thailand barely three months ago. And it makes me dream – of seeing, three to four years from now, farmers working with the National Union of mini-dairies also doubling as research workers, to enhance local cattle breeds (the zebu of the Fulani, the Goudali and the Azawak zebu) by improvements in their health and nutrition.
Koudougou, Sunday March 9th 2008