Livestock Research for Rural Development 26 (5) 2014 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Reproductive performance of dairy cows under farmer’s management in and around Mekelle, Ethiopia

Niraj Kumar, Kbrom Tkui and Abraha Bisrat

College of Veterinary Medicine, Mekelle University, P.O.Box-231, Mekelle, Ethiopia


The study was conducted on 475 milch animals comprising of 223 indigenous and 252 Holstein-Friesian (HF) crossbred cows maintained under farmer’s management system in and around Mekelle, Ethiopia. Data were analyzed according to least squares analysis to study the magnitude and direction of variation in days open (DO), calving interval (CI) and number of services per conception (NSC) due to genetic and some non-genetic factors.

The overall least squares means for DO, CI and NSC were 157.0±62.0 days, 453.6±88.3 days and 1.7±0.2 services, respectively. The genetic constitution of the animals influenced DO, CI and NSC significantly (p<0.01). Lactation order had significant effect on CI and NSC (p<0.01) and DO (p<0.05). Season of calving, location of the herd, herd size and farming system had not statistically significant effect on all traits.

Key words: calving interval, days open, service per conception


Ethiopia is believed to have the largest livestock population in Africa and dairy production is an important component of livestock farming in Ethiopia. The country has about 27 breeds of cattle (DAGRIS 2007). The total cattle population for the country is estimated to be about 53.99 million. Out of this total cattle population, the female cattle constitute 55.5 percent (CSA 2012/13). On the other hand, the results obtained indicated that 98.9 percent of the total cattle in the country are local breeds. The remaining are hybrid and exotic breeds that accounted for 0.94 percent and 0.11 percent, respectively (CSA 2012/13). However, dairy industry is not developed as in other east African countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (Hunduma 2012). The national average milk yield per cow per day is 1.54 liters for indigenous cows (CSA 2008). In Ethiopia, milk production is predominantly the domain of small and marginal farmers keeping 1-3 milch animals under mixed farming system.

For augmentation and sustainability in milk production, it is imperative to strengthen the small dairy units in private sectors where animals are managed under farmer’s management system without adequate facilities/infrastructures including various services and market. The reproductive performance of the breeding female is probably the most important factor that is a prerequisite for sustainable dairy production system and influencing the productivity (Kiwuwa et al 1983). Reproductive performance traits like number of service per-conception (NSC), calving interval (CI) and days open (DO) are important criteria for profitable dairy farming (Mukasa-Mugerewa 1989). However, information is limited about the productive performance of dairy cows in smallholder urban and peri-urban dairy farms in the tropics, particularly in Ethiopia (Lobago et al 2007).

Materials and methods

Study area

The study was conducted in and 10 Km around Mekelle city of Tigray region in the semiarid highlands of northern Ethiopia. Mekelle is the capital city of Tigray region and located in the northern extremes of Ethiopia extending from 330251 to 390 381 north latitude and from 36027 to 400 18’ east longitude at an average altitude of 2000 to 2200 meters above sea level. The mean annual rain fall ranges from 11.3 mm to 39.1 mm and the temperature varies from 120C (in November and December) to 270C (in January and March). Mekelle enjoys humid and hot climate and 783 km from Addis Ababa (MoM 1998).

Study population and sampling procedure

A total of 72 smallholder dairy farmers were interviewed randomly with scheduled questionnaire which was mainly based on the reproductive performance information of indigenous and ungraded HF crossbred dairy cows. Altogether 475 milch animals comprising of 223 indigenous and 252 HF crossbred cows were included in this study were maintained under farmer’s managemental system, located in a radius of about 10 km in and around Mekelle (Ethiopia). The questionnaire was developed in accordance with the objectives of the study and designed in a simple manner to get accurate information from the dairy farm owners. Each respondent was given a brief description about the nature and purpose of the study. The questions were asked in a very simple manner with explanation where necessary and the responses were recorded directly on the survey schedule. The farmers under the study areas maintained under intensive management system in back-yard operation utilizing whatever space was available in the residential compound. The cows are managed in closed houses with different types of floor structure throughout the day. The feed on which the animals are fed include natural pasture (cut and carry), hay, milling by-products, concentrate mix and none-conventional feeds. Cows were hand milked with twice per day milking frequency.

The entire study area was divided into two zones viz. urban which constitute the city area and peri-urban constitute in a radius of 10 Km around city. The private dairy units were grouped into four groups on the basis of number of milch animals they possessed and delineated as herds of sizes 1-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10 and above. To study the influence of season of calving on different economic traits, the year was divided into three seasons viz. hot-dry (March-June), hot-humid (July-October) and cold (November-February). Performance records of milch animals in first to fifth lactation were only included. On the basis of the farming system adopted by the farmers, the units were classified into two types i.e. household exclusive doing animal husbandry and those doing animal husbandry integrated with crop-production. Days open (DO), calving interval (CI) and number of services per conception (NSC) were traits taken as the measures of reproduction efficiency in this study. Data for DO, CI and NSC were obtained from records, farm owner interviews and personal observations. Stratified random sampling with proportional allocation (Snedecor and Cochran 1967) was adopted for selection of respondent units.

Data analysis

Data collected were subjected to least squares analysis (Harvey 1966) for which the following mathematical model was utilized:

Yijklmnp = m + Gi + Zj + Fk + HS1 + Sm + Pn + eijklmnp


Yijklmnp = the value of pth individual under ith genetic group, jth zone, kth farming system, 1 th herd size, mth season of calving and nth parity.

m = the population mean.

Gi = the effect of ith genetic group (i=1, 2)

Zj = the effect of jth location herd (j=1, 2)

Fk = the effect of kth farming system (k=1, 2)

HS1 = the effect of lth herd size (1=1, 2, 3, 4)

Sm = the effect of mth season of calving (m=1, 2, 3)

Pn = the effect of nth parity (n=1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

eijklmnp = the random error associated with individual which is randomly and independently distributed with mean zero and variance s2 .

The statistical significance of the effects was tested by “F” test. When, the “F” value was significant, the Duncan’s Multiple Range (DMR) Test was utilized for pair-wise comparisons of the least square means at 5 and 1% level of probability.

Results and discussion

Days open

The overall least squares means for DO in indigenous and HF crossbred cows included in this study were 157.0±62.0 days (Table 1). Estimated DO value is higher than those recorded by Hunduma (2012), Nibret (2012) and Tadesse et al (2010) to be 85.6±5.6 days, 2.9 ±3.7 months and 148±1.72 days in crossbred cattle in different part of Ethiopia. Also, the estimated DO mean agree with the mean of 5.19±1.72 months reported by Belay et al (2012) at Jimma, Ethiopia. Indigenous cows are also included in the present investigation might be important contributory factor for high DO. Feed shortage, silent estrus and lack of proper heat detection might have other contributory factors for long DO reported in this study.

Genetic group had significant (p<0.01) influence on DO. The indigenous cows had significantly higher average DO (185.8±51.2 days) than of HF crossbred (137.5±36.3 days). Although DO is supposed to be influenced mainly by non-genetic causes, more genetic divergence among crossbred cattle and indigenous cows might have resulted into expression of genetic effect on DO to be significant in this investigation. Rao et al (2000) and Kumar (2005) also reported the influence of genetic-constitution of dairy animals on their DO to be significant.

Variation in zone did not influence DO significantly. It may be attributed to the fact that the entire study area was within a radius of 10 km in-and around Mekelle city and the agro-climatic conditions as well as management practices in these zones within the study area were not so different to express their importance on the lowly heritable traits like day open periods. The effect of herd-size on DO was also statistically not significant. Kumar (2005) also reported the effect of herd size on DO to be non significant.

Table 1: Least square means and standard errors for days open, calving interval and number of services per conception for genetic and non-genetic factors in dairy cattle in and around Mekelle (Ethiopia).


Number of


Calving interval

Services per

Overall mean





Genetic lGroup






HF crossbred

















(1- 3 )














1.6± 0.2






Season of calving

Mar - June





July - Oct





Nov - Feb































Farming system

Only animal husbandry





Mixed farming





# Values without common superscripts, within columns, within factors, differ at p<0.05

Lactation order (parity) effect contributed significantly (p<0.05) to the total variation in DO. The mean DO was the longest in the second calvers (175.6±32.0 days) followed by first (160.3±20.2 days), fifth (155.9±33.7 days), fourth (153.9±45.3 days) and third (152.1±41.1 days) calvers (Table 1). No definite trend in variation in DO due to parity could be established in this study. The findings of Rao et al (2000) and Kumar (2005) were similar with the result of this study. The farming system did not have any significant influence on DO.

Calving interval

The overall least squares means for CI in indigenous and HF crossbreed cows, included in this study were estimated to be 453.5±88.3 days (Table 1). The estimate was higher than the optimum values desirable for profitable milk production. The mean value was higher than the findings of Hunduma (2012) and Nibret (2012) being 372.8 days and 13.4 ±5.1 months respectively. The mean value was lower than the findings of Belay et al (2012), Shiferaw et al (2003), Haile-mariam et al (1993) and Bekele et al (1991) being 21.36±3.84 months, 487 days, 552 days and 475 days respectively in different part of Ethiopia. The differences could be attributed to differences in management practices and agro-ecology of the respective areas.

Genetic group had significant (p<0.01) influence on CI. HF crossbreds cows had the significantly longer average CI (469.4±88.8 days) than that of indigenous crossbreds (431.1±78.0 days). Rao et al (2000), Singh et al (2000) and Kumar (2005) also reported the effect of genetic-group on CI to be statistically significant in the case of indigenous and crossbred cows in private sector.

Variation in zone and herd size did not influence CI significantly. The animals managed in a herd of 1-3 milch animals had the longest mean CI (459.8±54.7 days) followed by those in a herd of 4-6 animals (454.5±89.5 days), 10 and above animals (453.1±98.8 days) and 7-9 animals (451.3±67.7 days). Shrivastava et al (1996) reported the effect of herd-size on CI to be significant. It was contrary to the findings of this study and may be attributed to variation in the size of the herd as well as genetic constitution of the experimental animals in different studies. Season of calving did not influence CI significantly. In similar studies Rao et al (2000) and Kumar (2005) also recorded more or less similar trends of variation in CI due to season of calving.

Parity effect contributed significantly (p<0.01) to the total variation in CI. The second calvers (476.8±61.9 days) was significantly longer than third (459.8±50.9 days), fourth (453.6±52.0 days), first (452.7±33.7 days) and fifth (450.7±48.8 days) which did not differ significantly among each other. Significantly longer DO corresponding to second parity may plausibly be attributed to longest CI in the corresponding parity. The trend of variation in CI due to parity difference was similar to that for DO. It was in agreement with the findings of Rao et al (2000) and Kumar (2005). The farming system did not have any significant influence on CI.

Number of service per conception

 Number of service per conception (NSC) depends largely on the breeding system used. It is higher under uncontrolled natural breeding than hand-mating and artificial insemination (Gabriel et al 1983). NSC higher than 2 should be considered as poor (Mukassa-Mugrewa 1989). The NSC revealed in the present study was 1.7±0.2 which is close to 1.62 reported in the central highlands of Ethiopia (Bekele et al 1991; Shiferaw et al 2003), 1.67 reported in mid Rift valley of Ethiopia (Yifat et al 2009) and 1.7 reported by Lobago at el (2007) in the highlands of Ethiopia. Mean value for NSC in presented study was lower than 2.0 as reported for cows at Asella Livestock farm (Negussie et al 1998), 1.8 for crossbred cows reported by Tadesse et al (2010). Mean value for NSC in presented study was higher than 1.3 as reported for crossbred cows in Gondar city of Ethiopia (Nibret 2012), 1.56 reported from Jimma town of Oromia region of Ethiopia (Belay et al 2012) and 1.52 from Assela town of Oromia region of Ethiopia (Hunduma 2012). The differences could be attributed to differences in management practices and agro-ecology of the respective areas.

Genetic group had significant (p<0.01) influence on NSC. Indigenous cows had the significantly longest NSC (2.1±0.1) than that of HF crossbreds (1.5±0.2). Azage et al (1981) also recorded more or less same trend using 3 local Ethiopian breeds, the Barca, Horro and Boran and crossbred cows.

Variation in zone, herd size and season of calving did not influence NSC significantly. Choudhuri et al (1984) found that NSC was significantly affected by herd size and season of calving. It was contrary to the findings of this study and may be attributed to variation in the size of the herd, environmental factors as well as genetic constitution of the experimental animals in different studies.

Parity effect contributed significantly (p<0.01) to the total variation in NSC. The first (2.0±0.1) and fourth (2.0±0.1) NSC was significantly larger than third (1.6±0.2), second (1.5±0.1), fifth (1.5±0.1). Sharma and Bhatnagar (1975) also found a significant effect of parity on NSC in Sahiwal, Red Sindhi and Tharparkar cattle. Kumar and Bhat (1979) noted that Haryana heifers needed more services per conception than cows. The farming system did not have any significant influence on NSC.



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Received 19 January 2014; Accepted 7 March 2014; Published 1 May 2014

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