Cheptebo AIC Rural Development Centre, Kerio Valley, Kenya

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Bob Hargrave, 2001title


The AIC Cheptebo Rural Development Project (CRDP) was started by the Africa Inland Church (AIC) in 1986. The project is situated on the footslopes of the Elgeyo/Marakwet escarpment in the southern end of the Kerio Valley. Politically it falls within the Rokocho sup-location of Keiyo District in the Rift Valley Province. At around 1200 meters elevation the area has a mean annual temperature of  24º C and averages 1000 mm annual rainfall. This area is considered semi-arid and until the 1980’s was utilized mainly for open grazing.

The CRDP was started to promote appropriate and sustainable agricultural practices within the valley. Fifty acres were set aside for the CRDP but at present less than half of that is being utilized. Although the area is semi-arid there is access to a limited supply of year round water for household and small scale irrigation use. In the beginning stages of the project a permanent source of water was located and a gravity flow water system installed. This system provides a flow of approximately 5 litres per second to the project.

The main activities of the project are demonstration, motivation and training. Demonstration is carried out on the project demonstration farm. Some of the agricultural practices evaluated and demonstrated have been cash crops, fruit crops, dairy cattle and a tree nursery. Motivation of local farmers to adapt demonstrated technologies occurs as community members observe the activities of the project. A number of local people have served as project staff over the years and have been introduced to the demonstrated technologies in the course of their employment. Training takes place both informally and in occasional field days, seminars and training courses. Much of the training has been carried out in cooperation with government ministries and a bilateral project funded by the Netherlands.


Dairy cattle were not included in the early stages of the project planning. It was thought that the area was too hot and dry for the European breeds and that tick control would be difficult. However, after repeated requests from the community and development committee, two Jersey cows were acquired in 1991. With assistance from the government livestock officers a program of feeding, tick control and record keeping was set up. Since that time the project has kept and evaluated Jersey, Ayrshire and crossbred dairy cattle. The two crossbred cattle were obtained from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) breeding program in Marigat and are 1/2 Ayrshire, 1/4 Jersey and 1/4 Sahiwal. Table 1 presents a summary of milk production at the Cheptebo Project.

Table 1: Milk Production at AIC Cheptebo Rural Development Project


Number of

cows milked

Number of


Avg. per

lactation (kg.)


of days

Mean daily milk

production (kg)

 Avg. calving


 Jersey 5 19 2124 2498.53
 Ayrshire 2 5 2335 328 7 536
 Cross 3 11 2180 326 7 401
 Total 10 35 2172 285 7.6 405

This can be compared with figures published in Williamson and Payne (1978) for dairy cattle in the tropics below 2,000 meters.

Table 2: Milk Production in the Tropics, after Williamson and Payne (1978, p. 254)


Number of 


 Avg. per

lactation (kg)

 Avg. number

of days

 Avg. calfing


 Exotic Temperate
 1,273 2,974 333 433
 3/4 Temperate
 210 2,074 312 441
 Indigenous 2,338 631 190 400
 Indigenous selected
 1,464 1,444 278 4



The experience at Cheptebo seems to agree with the conclusion of Williamson and Payne (p 260) “where disease control and management are good 3/4 to 7/8 Bos taurus is likely to be the most productive.” While the highest yields recorded at Cheptebo have been by 100% Bos taurus , the shorter dry period and calving interval of the crossbred cattle leads to greater long term productivity (Table 3).

Table 3: Long term productivity of dairy cattle at Cheptebo


Number of 


 Total milk

production (kg)


period (days)

Avg. number 

of calves (yr)

 Avg. milk/yr


 Maembe 6.44 413748
 63 0.622135
 Manea 4.7 4 8852 46 0.85 1883
 Amani 3.24 3 6143 82 0.93 1896
 Rehema 1.98 2 3346 84 1.01 1690
 Baraka 2.96 2 6099 68 0.68 2060
 Samoe 4.4 4 9250 42 0.91 2102
 Nyota 3.79 4 7562 54 1.06 1995
 Chebaibai 1.25 2 2382 91 0.80 1906

So far there have been no indigenous cattle incorporated into the project herd. Bos indicus genes have come from Sahiwal crossbred cattle (Jersey and Ayrshire) obtained from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. Calves sold by the project have entered the local herds and as a consequence there are some Jersey/Ayrshire/Sahiwal/Indigenous cattle in various combinations about. It seems that, given the constraints of disease control, high temperatures, and feed available, the best option for the local herd would be animals that were 1/4 indigenous, 1/4 Sahiwal, and 1/2 Bos taurus.


The Cheptebo herd is managed for acceptable profit not for either maximum production or maximum profit. The objectives of herd management are to demonstrate recommended practices and produce calves for sale to the local community. This is attempted while also trying to recover the costs of maintaining the herd. As such there are more cows than can be fed for maximum milk production since the calves are more of a priority.

The cows are managed under a limited grazing system. They are allowed to graze on approximately 10-15 acres of project land from which all other local stock is excluded. They are also fed a supplement of napier grass and commercial dairy meal at milking time.

The amount of napier grass fed varies from dry season to rainy season. During the rainy season when grazing is best a minimum amount of napier grass is fed and any excess growing is cut, chopped, and dried for hay. During the dry season the maximum amount of napier grass is fed and supplemented with hay. A salt block is provided free choice for minerals and lactating cows are given a little extra dairy salt with their ration at milking.

Water is available at the dairy and in most of the places where the animals graze. Dairy meal is rationed out according to milk production. Shortly after calving a cow is given 6 kg. of dairy meal per day (17% protein and 90% dry matter). As her lactation proceeds this is reduced until she is receiving only 2 kg. per day.  Hedges of the leguminous forage tree, Calliandra (Calliandra calothyrsus) are being established to supplement and possibly replace the commercial feed. Researchers estimate that 3 kg. of fresh Calliandra will replace 1 kg. dairy meal.


The cattle are treated for ticks weekly by spraying with “Triatix” (Amitraz). This is the recommended control for tick borne East Coast Fever and is absolutely necessary for European breeds to survive in the area. The animals are treated twice a year with “Nilzan” for intestinal parasites and liver flukes. This is normally done at the onset of the rains in April and again in October. The animals are usually vaccinated against Blackquarter once a year by the veterinary department. Other health problems are treated by the staff, the local paravet or a district veterinary officer as the need arises.


The project now uses artificial insemination (AI) for breeding. Heat detection is the responsibility of the dairy staff and night watchman. The local AI service has been dependable and the success rate has been good. The only limitation is the lack of Sahiwal semen for crossing with the Jersey and Ayrshire stock.

Ideally the cows are bred three months after calving if they come in heat by then. This has proven more successful with the crossbred cattle than with the Jersey and Ayrshire as indicated by the calving intervals (Table 1). Cows are dried off eight weeks before the estimated calving date or when milk production drops below 2 kg. per day. The European breeds have experience dry periods of 3 months or longer more frequently than the crossbred cattle (Table 3).


The experience at AIC Cheptebo Rural Development Project has shown that improved dairy cattle can survive and be productive in a sub-humid to semi-arid environment. Management is more challenging than for the local Small East African Zebu but the gains in production justify the higher cost in labor and inputs. The cattle that are at least one quarter Sahiwal (a Zebu breed) have performed the best in terms of overall production which takes into account frequency of calving as well as milk production per lactation. The project continues to provide quality calves for the community.

Reference: Williamson, G. and Payne, W.J.A. (1978). An Introduction to Animal Husbandry in the Tropics. Longman, London.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR    Bob Hargrave, together with his wife Ellen, served at the AIC Cheptebo Project from 1994 until 2003. He currently serves as Coordinator, Agricultural Consulting Services with ECHO (Educational Concerns For Hunger Organization) based in Florida, US.