Dairying / East Africa / LIVES / Value Chains

Why are calving intervals so long in Ethiopia?

Haileluel, a dairy farmer in Arbegona district, Sidama zone From various baseline surveys and studies, it appears that calving intervals of dairy cows in Ethiopia are often 2 years and over (they are far shorter in other countries). Why is this and what can be done to shorten the intervals?

Studies in the IPMS project confirmed our hypothesis that Ethiopia’s artificial insemination (AI) service did not function to its full potential, contributing to delays in conception results.

To tackle this ‘AI’ problem, the IPMS project introduced hormone-assisted mass insemination, aiming in the long run to produce genetically better performing animals and higher milk production. In the short run, it aimed to result in higher household milk production since cows could lactate once a year instead of once every two years (assuming the same cows are reached every year).

There is a similar lengthy calving interval in rural areas which the AI service normally does not reach.

So what is the real problem? Are there no bulls for natural mating, are cows infertile, are feed resources so bad that cows do not cycle, are cows not conceiving because calves are suckling?

With these questions in mind I decided to probe a bit more with farmers. The first farmer I asked had a crossbred Holstein Friesian, which according to him produced a calf every 2 years through AI. When asked about the delay, he answered that he did not want his cow to conceive while lactating, because he thinks the milk yield will drop once a cow gets pregnant – so he waits for about 7 month (length of the lactating period), before he starts the AI process. The next farmer had actually tried to get his cows pregnant 3 months into the lactating period. He says it was successful with his crossbred Jersey cow, which now reportedly gives a calf every year. However, he was not successful with his crossbred Holstein Friesian, resulting in about a two-year calving interval.

Farmers who own local cows also indicate that they wait until late in the lactation period before making their cows conceive. Observing all this, I think it may be worthwhile for the LIVES project to further probe this fertility management issue a bit more scientifically to see if this cultural belief is common across the different project zones.

If found to be true, sharing knowledge and skills with farmers on fertility management in general and on this issue in particular – drawing from on-station research conducted on conception and lactation yields/periods – may also help to increase milk yields in the short-run. I think this could also be an interesting idea for livestock and dairy specialists in Ethiopia.

If you have thoughts on this, please share a comment on this website.

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