Livestock Research for Rural Development 27 (9) 2015 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

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Milk production performance of Holstein Friesian dairy cows at Holetta Bull Dam Farm, Ethiopia

Wondossen Ayalew, Mohammed Aliy1 and Enyew Negussie2

Department of Animal Production and Technology, Wolkite University, P.O.Box 07, Wolkite, Ethiopia
1 Jimma University College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, P.O.Box, 307 Jimma, Ethiopia
2 LUKE Natural Resources Institute Finland, Helsinki, Finland


The study was carried out at Holetta Bull Dam farm to assess the effects of non genetic factors on milk production traits of Holstein Friesian dairy cattle. Records compiled from 1981 to 2013 were used as original data of production traits like 305 days milk yield (n=3538), total lactation milk yield (n=3706) and lactation length (n=2923) of the Holstein Friesian herd in Ethiopian management and environmental situation.  Effects of period, sire origin, season and parity on milk yield traits were evaluated. The data were analyzed using general linear models.

Result of the non-genetic factors revealed that period of calving, parity and sire origin had significant (p<0.001) effect and were the main causes of variation in milk production traits. Season of calving had no significant effect on milk production traits except on LL. The overall least squares means of LMY and LL were: 3689±45.0 kg, 3604±38.4 kg, and 319±1.91 days, respectively. Generally the productive performance of cows reported in this study was lower than the performance reported in many tropical regions and its expected genetic potential in their countries of their origins. Therefore, improving herd management, breeding practices, as well asconsidering genotype-environmental interactions during importation of breeding sire and heifer is very essential for full exploitation of exotic dairy cattle genetic potential in Ethiopia.

Key words: genetic factors, genotype-environmental interactions, origin of sire


Dairy production in Ethiopia is mostly traditional, dominated by indigenous breeds of low genetic potential for milk production, which accounts for about 81.2 percent of the country’s total annual milk production (CSA 2009). The main problem of milk production in the country is that of the poor genetic potential of the indigenous cattle, which gives rise to low milk output. Milk production is as low as 0.5 to 2 litres per day over a lactation period of 160 to 200 days. Improving the feeding, water availability and health care of the indigenous cattle would not be enough to increase the quantity of milk per day so as to make the animals to be suitable for commercial market oriented milk production (Zelalem et al 2011). Therefore, to meet the ever increasing demand for milk, milk products and thus contribute to economic growth, genetic improvement of the indigenous cattle has been proposed as one of the options. Genetic improvement strategies of cattle in Ethiopia has been brought through cross breeding, either by introducing germplasm or direct importation of exotic cattle from temperate countries (Habtamu et al 2010). The most common exotic dairy breeds in the Ethiopia are Holstein Friesian and Jersey, although, the Holstein Friesian breed predominates. Therefore, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) exercise maintenance and breeding of exotic dairy breeds in the country to ensure constant supply of exotic semen at relatively lower cost for crossbreeding programme, but the success rate is very low. As a result, the ministry imported purebred Holstein Friesian cattle at different times from 1950s till now. Hence, there is a need to periodical evaluation of productive performance of dairy cattle and identify those factors affecting their performance. The aim of this study was therefore to assess the influence of non-genetic factors on milk production traits of Holstein Friesian dairy cattle kept under intensive production system of the tropics.

Materials and methods

Description of the study area

This study was carried out at Holetta Bull Dam Farm, located between 38.50 E longitude and 9.80 N latitude, and an elevation of 2400 meters above sea level. It is situated in the central highlands of Ethiopia. The average annual rain fall and temperature is about 1200 mm and 18 0 C and the average monthly relative humidity is 60%. The seasons are classified into dry, short rainy, and long rainy which last from October to February, March to May and June to September, respectively (Million et al 2010).

Herd management

Cows graze on native pasture from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm during the dry season and are allowed to forage irrigated pasture from February to May. The native pasture is dominantly composed of Andropogon, hyperrhenia and Trifolium species. After that the animals are tied and stall-fed with required quantities of dry and green fodder, and concentrates under the shade. The concentrate feed was supplied based on its production and physiological status. Milking cows were grouped according to their milk production classes as high (>14 kg), medium (8 to 14 kg) and low (<8 kg) yielding and provided with additional 0.5 kg concentrate per kilogram of milk, while pregnant dry cows are supplied with 3 kg of concentrates per day in the last two months of pregnancy. Cows were hand-milked twice a day, early in the morning (6:00 to 7:00 am) and late in the afternoon (5:00 to 6:00 pm) after feeding concentrate mixture regularly. The milk recording starts on the 6th day after calving. Calves were separated from their dams after birth then weighed, tagged and allowed to receive colostrums for the first 5 days of age. Animals on the farm were regularly vaccinated against common infectious diseases such as rinderpest, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, anthrax, blackleg and foot and mouth disease. Regular preventive treatments were administered against prevalent endo and ecto-parasites.

Data management and analysis

In this study milk production performance of Holsteins Friesian cows calving between 1981 and 2013 were collected from individual animal cards. The data was edited in such a way that lactation milk yield less than 1000 kg and lactation lengths less than 220 and greater than 450 days were excluded based on the method adopted from Ayied et al (2011). All lactation records between 21 and 320 days were standardized to 305-days milk yield by using the projection procedures of Rege (1991). Lactation greater than 321 days were adjusted by developing a regression model considering R-square and variance inflation factor for each independent variable in the model as used by Eyduran et al (2010) and Khan et al (2011). Finally a total of 3538, 3706 and 2923 records on LMY, adjusted 305-days and LL were available for analysis.

Seasons of calving was classified into three groups based on weather and climatic conditions of the area. This included June to September as long rain season, March to May as short rainy season and October to February as dry season. Further, all lactation numbers were classified into three parities; 1, 2, and 3 or more. All parities above 3 were pooled together in parity three due to very few number observations. Sires used in the farm were huddled into eight groups based on their source or country of origin. Similarly, the year of calving were grouped into 5 periods of calving; period one (1981-87), period 2 (1988-1993), period 3 (1994-1999), period 4 (2000-2005) and period 5 (2006-2013). Animals that have abnormal calving, i.e., abortion and stillbirths, were not included in the analysis. The data were analyzed using general linear model procedures of SAS version 9.2. The model included fixed effects of period, sire origin, season and parity. Lactation milk yield (LMY), lactation length (LL) and adjusted 305-days milk yield (305-dMY) were analyzed with the following model:

Yijkl = µ + Si + Prj + Pk + Bl + eijkl

Where: Yijkl = observation on LMY, LL and 305-dMY

μ = overall mean

Si = the effect of ith season of calving

Prj = the effect of jth period of calving

Pk = the effect of kth parity

Bl = the effect of lth sire origin

eijkl = random residual error term

Results and discussion

Lactation milk yield

The overall mean of LMY in this study was 3689 kg/cow (Table 1), which is comparable with the report of Million et al (2010) who reported 3710 kg/cow for the same breed in Ethiopia. It is higher than the estimates of 3311 kg/cow reported by Demeke et al(2000); in Ethiopia and 3438 kg/cow reported by Usman et al (2012); in Pakistan. On the contrary, higher LMY were reported by Ajili et al. (2007) in Tunis (5905 kg/cow) and and Sandhu et al (2011); in Pakistan (3977.75 kg/cow) for the same breed. Such discrepancy could be due to differences in Holstein Friesian strain, length of lactation, adaptation, climatic and management conditions.

Season of calving had no significant (p>0.05) effect on LMY. This is in agreement with Koc (2011) and Usman et al (2012). This suggests that even in the tropics, the influence of climatic conditions may be negligible under optimal feeding and management conditions (Million and Tadelle 2003). However, the present result contradicts the findings of Hammoud and Salem (2013) and Zewdu et al (2013) who reported significance influence of season of calving on LMY on Holstein Friesian and Holstein cross kept in tropical environment of Egypt and India, respectively.

Period of calving and parity significantly (p<0.001) influenced lactation milk yield. Mean lactation milk yield was highest during period one (1981 -1987) and declined from period 1 to period 2 and remain constant from period 2 to period 4 (Table 1). However, after period 4 slightly increased (Table 1). The variation in LMY observed during different periods reflected the level of feeding and management that could never have been the same over the 32 years period due to difference in environmental conditions, budget available, quality and quantity of forage and government emphasis for this sector. The present study revealed that the mean lactation milk yield of the herd increased from parity one to third parity. The increasing trend in LMY up to third parity conforms to earlier studies reported by Ahmed et al (2007) and Million et al (2010) in Sudan and Ethiopia, respectively.

The origin of sire had a significant (p<0.001) effect on lactation milk yield. Daughters of sires originated from Cuba and unknown groups showed the lowest performances whereas sires from Israel, Finland, Kenya, Italy, USA and produced in Holetta registered better performance. The variations due to sire origin are mainly related to problems of adaptability (Usman et al 2012), genotype-environmental interactions (Ojango and Pollott 2002) and persistent exposure to multiple stresses of low quality and quantity of feed, heat stress, high disease and parasitic incidences, poor husbandry and breeding practices in tropics (Ansell 1985 and Ombura et al 2007). In addition, difference in breeding objectives of origin and production (target) countries might be leads to performance inconsistency of elite bull for milk production in different production environments.

Table 1. Least square means and estándar errors (LSM -of lactation milk yield and lactation length over season of calving, period of calving, parity and sire origin.

   Lactation milk yield

   Lactation Leng








3689 ±45.0



CV (%)






Short rainy





Long rainy









318±2.1 a











3760±58.2 a







313±2.3 b

Origin of sire










3460 ±116.3bc





3922 ±75.3ba




















3412±49.2 c























3416 ±63.0c













N = number of observations. Means separated by different superscript letters under the same variable in one column are significantly different (P< 0.05)
***= Significant (p< NS=Not significant0.001), * = Significant (p< 0.05),

Lactation length

The overall mean LL of cows in the present study was found to be 319 days (Table 1). It was comparable with 314 days reported by Sandhu et al (2011) in Turkey. On the contrary, Usman et al (2012) reported higher estimates of 366 days for the same breed in Pakistan. The probable reason for this variation might be difference in parity, data edition, environmental variation and management of the farm.

Season of calving and sire origin had significant (p<0.05) effect on LL. The longest LL (323 days) was found for cows calved in long rainy season, while the shortest LL (316 days) was obtained from cows calved in short rainy season (Table 1). The significant effect of season confirmed previous findings of Usman et al (2012) and Ahmad et al (2003). However, Cilek (2009), Hammoud and Salem (2013) and Zewdu et al(2013) reported insignificant effect.

Period of calving and parity had a significant (p<0.001) effect on LL (Table 1). Although there was no consistence trend, lactation length declined between 1981- 1993 (period one to two) and increased at period 3 (1994-99) and decreased then after. This variation in milk yield over year group of calving might be related with changes in climatic and other management conditions. Ahmad et al (2003), Sattar et al (2005) and Cilek (2009) have been demonstrated similar findings. On the contrary, Usman et al (2012) reported insignificant effect of year of calving on LL. Lactation length decreased slightly with increase in parity of cow. This might be related to short days open and calving interval of mature cow that were able to conceive early to give subsequent calving and incomplete lactations data collected from older cows because of culling. This is in agreement with the findings of Sattar et al (2005) and Cilek (2009). However, the insignificant effect of parity on lactation length has been reported by Koc (2011), Usman et al (2012) and Zewdu et al(2013).

Adjusted 305 days milk yield

The overall mean of adjusted 305 days milk yield was 3604 kg (Table 2). The present finding is higher than the results found by Ngongoni et al (2006) of 2015 kg for Holstein Friesian cow in Zimbabwe and by Katok and Yanar (2012) of 3408 kg in Turkey. However, Moharram (1988) and Ojango and Pollott (2001) reported higher estimates of 4571 kg and 4557 kg in Egypt and Kenya for the same breed, respectively. Such differences could be ascribed to differences in production environment, herd management, quality and quantity of forage and data structure, editing and adjustment procedures.

Period of calving significantly (p <0.001) influenced adjusted 305-dMY, while the effect of season of calving was not significant (Table 2). Mean 305-dMY was significantly (p < 0.001) highest during period 1 (1981- 1987) and lowest during later period, but showed progressive improvements in periods. This could be over the years herd management varied according to the ability of farm managers, efficiency in the supervision of the labor, method and intensity of culling of poor performing animals. Similar year or period effect as observed in this study was reported by Cilek (2009), Koc (2011), Katok and Yanar (2012). The non-significant effect of season of calving on adjusted 305-dMY concurs with results reported by Koc (2011), Zewdu et al (2013). However, Ajili et al (2007) and Katok and Yanar (2012) reported significant effect of season of calving on 305-dMY.

Parity had a significant effect on adjusted 305 days milk yield of Holstein Friesian cows. Mean 305-dMY increased from parity one to third parity (Table 2). The increased trend in LMY up to third parity is similar to the results reported in Holstein cross Ahmed et al (2007) in Sudan and Koc (2011) for Holstein Friesian in Turkey. This difference could be due to the fact that cows calving in the first parity were not mature enough to produce more milk due to different physiological conditions like udder development and energy reserve for both body maintenance and milk production. However in later parities with the attainment of maturity an increased production was observed.

Origin of sire had a significant (P<0.001) effect on 305-dMY. Daughters of sires from Cub and unknown group show lowest performances where as sires come from the other countries in this study were recorded better performance. This might be due to difference in breeding objective of selection and production environment and adaptability. Likewise, different genotypes are not expected to perform similarly under all environments mainly due to genotype-environmental interactions (Muasya et al 2014). On the contrary, non-significant effect of sire origin on 305-dMY was reported by Moussavi and Mesgaran (2009) in Iran.

Table 2. Least square means and standard errors (LSM±SE) of adjusted 305-days milk
yield over season of calving, period of calving, parity and sire origin.
Variable N LSM±SE
Overall 3706 3604±38.4
CV (%)
Short rainy 936 3572 ±50.0
Long rainy 1128 3614±46.4
Dry 1642 3626±42.3
1 1065 3266±43.4c
2 826 3683±50.4b
3 1815 3863±47.2a
Origin of sire ***
Cuba 1118 3291±40.3c
Finland 164 3363±100.6bc
Holetta 296 3861±66.3a
Israel 808 3907±52.1a
Italy 94 3671±115.1bac
Kenya 418 3734±59.4ba
Unknown 771 3347±43.1c
USA 37 3659±188.0bac
1981- 87 289 4167±84.0a
1988-93 708 3104±66.0c
1994-99 919 3149±54.0c
2000-2005 1031 3478±48.0b
2006-2013 759 4122±48.0a
N = number of observations
Means separated by different superscript letters under the same variable
in one column are different at P< 0.05
***= Significant (p< 0.001),     NS=Not significant.



The authors are grateful for the overall support provided by the MTT Agrifood Research Finland through the dairy breeding collaborative project with the Ethiopia ministry of agriculture. Technical support by Jimma University and National Artificial Insemination Center (NAIC), Ethiopia and particularly the management Holetta dairy farm is duly acknowledged.


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Received 5 April 2015; Accepted 8 June 2015; Published 1 September 2015

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