Livestock Research for Rural Development 15 (10) 2003

Citation of this paper

The comparative performance of N'Dama and N'Dama Crossbred cows under two supplementation levels in The Gambia


F S Nouala, O O Akinbamijo, N A Bosso and K Agyemang


International Trypanotolerance Centre,
 PMB 14 Banjul, The Gambia



The performance of N'Dama, N'Dama x Holstein-Friesian (NDxH-F) and N'Dama x Jersey (NDxJ) F1 was compared under two feeding regimes. The first regime consisted of groundnut hay ad libitum and the second, groundnut hay and 2 kg/day of concentrate mixture. Feed intake, milk off-take for consumption, and weight changes of cows were the major indicators.


Under the first regime, the total dry matter intake in g per kg live weight was 27.3 g, 26.7 g and 28.3 g per day for the N'Dama, the Holstein-Friesian and the NDxJ crossbreeds, respectively whilst under the second it averaged 30.3, 32.7 and 35.4g. The difference was significant between the two regimes and across the breeds. The groundnut hay intake was not  different between the two regimes for the crossbreds but was significantly lower for the N'Dama under the second regime.


The daily milk off-take for consumption was 1, 3.2 and 4 litres under the first regime and 1.4, 4.1 and 5 litres under the second regime for N'Dama, NDxJ and NDxH-F respectively. The efficiency of feed conversion (milk off-take per unit DM intake) averaged 0.18, 0.52 and 0.43 under the first regime and 0.21 0.49 and 0.46 under the second for N'Dama, NDxJ and NDxH-F, respectively. The weight changes were -74, -345 and -192 g/day under the first regime and -11, -140 and -88 g/day under the second for N'Dama, NDxJ and NDxH-F.


This study concluded that although the production efficiency of the two crossbreeds was similar, the differences in milk off-take might be of considerable economic significance for dual-purpose production systems. Effects on reproduction need to be evaluated before conclusions can be made about potential lifetime productivity of the improved genotypes.


Key words: Crossbreed, feed intake, Holstein, Jersey, milk off-take, N'Dama,




Indigenous cattle are well adapted to the environmental conditions prevailing in the sub-Saharan region. Natural selection over hundreds of generations has provided them with high degree of heat tolerance, resistance to many tropical diseases and the ability to survive long periods of feed and water shortage (Syrstad 1991). Despite these advantages their dairy potential has been found to be relatively poor. This is not only the result of the direct genetic and environmental effect, but also and more important it is caused by poor roughage quality, low supplement inputs and high incidence of disease and parasites. Zinsstag et al (2000) have reported that through further genetic improvement of the indigenous animals and improved nutrition, animals may contribute even more to sustainable production in situationswith low to medium disease challenge.


Crossbreeding of high-yielding temperate breeds with local tropical breeds results in higher productivity than the breeding of purebred cattle (McDowell 1972; Cunningham and Syrstad 1987). Early in the second half of the last century, crossbred cattle were introduced in the West African region (Armour et al 1961; Olayiwole et al 1973; Buvanendran et al 1981). Farm level studies in Kenya (ILRI 1998) have shown that adopting crossbred cows and the associated package of feeding and management strategies boosted the milk production as well as the household income. However, poor husbandry practices often are a reflection of underlying socio-economic factors such as the low level of farmer's education and the lack of supporting research, extension and animal health services. Low labour costs, capital scarcity and limited infrastructure, influence the feasibility of adopting those advanced technologies.


In the Gambia, the International Trypanotolerance Centre (ITC) has implemented a crossbreeding programme in the Greater Banjul Area since 1995 and the first crop of crossbreds are on farm since 2000. This area is characterised by a low disease challenge risk, particularly tsetse-transmitted trypanosomosis (Snow 1980) and high potential demand for milk. The crossbreeds are mainly kept by smallholder farmers, and are usually fed with crop residues with low nutritive value. Protein supplied to cows is limited and concentrate supplementation is therefore needed to positively impact milk production.


Ørskov et al (1981),  Bruckental et al (1989) and Bangani et al (2000) reported the outstanding effect of supplementation on milk production. Concentrate feeds in the Gambia are often not available or not accessible to all farmers engaged in milk production. Where available, cows are offered a fixed amount, irrespective of their production potential. The impact of such strategies on the milk performance remains undetermined. In order to provide useful advice on feeding of crossbred cattle to smallholder farmers involved in crossbreeding programmes, there is an urgent need to assess the effect of a fixed amount of concentrate on production performance.


This paper aims therefore, at evaluating comparatively the performance of the N'Dama cows and two crosses (N'Dama x Holstein-Friesian and N'Dama x Jersey) on fixed feeding regimes, with feed intake, milk off-take for consumption, weight gain of cows as major indicators.


Materials and methods



The experiment was carried out at the ITC's station in Kerr Serigne (in The Gambia) for 12 months (January 2001 to January 2002). Twenty-seven lactating cows (9 N'Dama, 9 N'Dama x Jersey (NDxJ) and 9 N'Dama x Holstein-Friesian (NDxH-F) with parities ranging from 1 to 4 and body weights ranging from 178 kg to 421 kg were used. Cows were selected one week after calving and moved to the experimental platform. The division was done according to the breed of the animals. Cows with serious physical defects were removed as detected. Previous to the experiment, animals where drenched with anthelminthic (Abendazole®) and were, during the experiment, weekly treated with an acaricide in view of controlling ticks. The animals were housed and fed individually in pens with concrete floors.


Animals from each breed were randomly assigned to two nutrition levels. Four animals in each breed were assigned to the first level of nutrition, and five to the second. Body weights, body condition -scale 1 to5 (Nicholson and Butterworth 1986) and parities for the three genotypes are given in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Overview of the body weights, body condition and parities of the experimental animals at the beginning of the study.







Body weight, kg




Body condition









Body weight, kg




Body condition









Body weight, kg




Body condition








Feeding and supplementation strategy

The composition of the different feedstuffs used for the experiment is presented in Table 2.

Table 2. Composition of the feedstuffs used for the experiment (on DM basis except for DM which is on air-dry basis)


Dry matter, %

Organic matter, %

Crude protein, %

NDF, %

ADF, %

Groundnut hay






Groundnut cake






Rice bran






NDF= Neutral detergent fibre, ADF= Acid detergent fibre

For the experiment, two levels of nutrition were defined. The first one (NS) was groundnut hay (Arachis hypogea), which is the common traditional feed, given ad libitum. The second one (S) was groundnut hay ad libitum and 2 kg/day of a concentrate mixture composed of 50% rice bran and 50% groundnut cake. The hay was offered twice daily in amounts to ensure 10 to 20% refusals, to ensure constant availability. The live weights recorded at the end of each week of the experiment were used to calculate the amount of the basal feed to be offered during the subsequent week. During the experiment, animals had free access to water and mineral licks. At early morning feeding, refusals of the previous day's feed were weighed and sampled. Cleaning of the pens and removal of leftovers from the previous day were done daily before supplying the day's diet.



Records on feed intake were taken during three different lactation periods defined as follows: early lactation (from day 1 to day 100), mid-lactation (from day 135 to day 165) and late lactation (from day 235 to day 265). The average of the three periods was considered as the average feed intake of the whole experimental period.


Milk yield was recorded daily for each cow. Milking was done after the calf had suckled for about 2 minutes, this to stimulate the cow and initiate milk letdown. Cows were hand-milked, at regular times, twice a day (in the morning and in the evening). Milk off-take was measured during the lactation length (depending on the date of calving and the breed) using a volumetric cylinder.


Body weight was determined once a week using an electronic scale. Prior to each weighing, cows did not receive any feed for 12 hours. Body condition score was also determined the same day. Two independent observers judged the body condition of the cows (Nicholson and Butterworth  1986) at weighing time. The mean of the two scores was taken to estimate the body condition of the cows.


Statistical analysis


Statistical analyses were performed by use of SAS (SAS Institute 1999-2000). Data on milk off-take was analysed using a nested design procedure (PROC NESTED) as illustrated in Model 1.

Yijk = Breedi + Parityj (Breedi) + Levelk + eijk [Model 1]

Where, Yijk represented the milk off-take,
            Breedi is the effect of breed (N'Dama, NDxJ and NDxH-F),
            Parityj is the effect of parity (1, 2 and >2),
            Parityj(Breedi)is the effect of the parityi within breedi,
            Levelk is the effect of the feeding levels (C and IP), and
            eijk is the random residual term.

Data on feed intake were analysed using the general linear model procedure (PROC GLM) as illustrated in Model 2.

Yij = Breedi + Levelj + eij [Model 2]

Where, Yij represented the feed intake,
Breedi is the effect of breed (N'Dama, NDxJ and NDxH-F),
Levelj is the effect of the feeding level (C and IP), and
eij is the random residual term.


Body weight, body condition score and efficiency of feed conversion were assessed using the same model as the one used for feed intake (Model 2). Significance was declared at P<0.05 unless other wise noted.




The N'Dama had the lowest DM intake and the Holstein crossbreds the highest, on both feeding regimes. However, on a body weight basis, intakes were highest for the Jersey crosses (Table 3).  Differences across genotypes in both feeding regimes as well as that between the two feeding regimes were significant (p<0.05).


Table 3. Mean values (±SD) of total dry matter intake (TDMI), the TDMI per kg per live weight and the groundnut hay intake (GNHI) in g/live weight for N'Dama, NDJ and NDH


Not supplemented








TDMI, kg /day

5.35 (1.07)

9.17   (1.6)

7.80   (1.16)

6.50   (1.6)

10.4   (1.89)

9.85   (1.71)

TDMI, g/kg LW

27.2 (5.32)

26.6 (5.27)

28.3  (5.4)

30.2   (6)

32.7 (5.06)

35.3 (6.07)

GNHI, g/kg LW

27.2 (5.32)

26.6 (5.27)

28.3  (5.4)

22.5    (6)

26.9     (4.8)

28.6  (5.75)


Jersey and Holstein crosses produced considerably more milk than the N'Dama breed irrespective of the feeding regime (Table 4 and Figure 1). As expected, milk yield was also higher with the concentrate supplement.


Table 4. Means values (±SD) for milk off-take, milk per unit intake of feed DM and change in live weight  for N'Dama, NDJ and NDH


Not supplemented








Milk off-take, litres/day

1.07 (0.47)





4.11 (1.27)

Feed efficiency, litres milk/kg feed

0.18 (0.10)

0.52  (0.21)

0.43 c (0.21)

0.21 (0.10)

0.49 (0.21)

0.46 (0.15)

Live weight change, g/d

-74    (55)

-345 (137)

-192  (122)

-11     (22)

-140 (116)

-88   (70)

Body condition score*







*: Body condition at the end

The conversion of feed to milk was more efficient for the crosses but was not affected by concentrate supplementation. 


Figure1. Trend of milk off-take for the three genotypes under the two different feeding regimes
(NS: non supplemented, S: supplemented)

With the exception of the N'Dama, under both regimes, at the end of the experimental period, the other two genotypes were in poorer body condition than at the start.


Figure 2. Cumulative changes in body weight during the experiment for the three genotypes during the study
(NS: non supplemented, S: supplemented)

Animals of all genotypes, irrespective of supplementary feeding, lost body weight during lactation but the degree of loss was less when supplementary concentrates were fed (Figure 2) and was more dramatic for Holstein than Jersey crossbreds. There was a close relationship within nutritional regimes between milk off-take and loss of body weight (Figure 3); the higher the genetic potential for milk yield the greater the body weight loss.

Figure 3: Relationship between milk off-take and loss of body weight during lactation



Under the all-roughage regime, the intake per unit body weight was below the expected intake for lactating dairy cows (30 to 40 g/kg LW) proposed by Church (1979). This may explain the severe weight loss and drop of body condition observed in the study, especially with the crossbred animals that have to mobilise their body reserves to satisfy the demand for milk production and maintenance. The higher loss of weight observed in the Holstein crosses, especially in early lactation (Figure 2) when milk off-take is also higher (Figure 1), may be due to the fact that the Holstein has been under higher selection pressure for milk than the Jersey breed. Similar findings were reported by Anzola et al (1990) in Columbia, comparing Brown Swiss and Holstein-Friesian crosses with Zebu. The long term effect of severe weight loss is of particular concern as it may lead to reproduction disturbances. It has been shown for instance by Fordyce et al (1990), that severe reduction in body weight and body condition in cattle caused quiescent ovaries and cessation of oestrous cycles.


Under the supplementation regime, the DM intake exceeded 3% of body weight, reaching 35g/kg body weight in the case of the Jersey crosses. The slight increase in milk off-take in the N'Dama cows when they were supplemented, can be explained by the observation made by Chilliard (1991). He showed that high-yielding cows (that are more underfed) are more responsive to supplementary feeding than low-yielding ones. The peak off-take observed between the third and the sixth week after calving are consistent with the report by Ibeawuchi (1988).


The outstanding aspect of the results presented is the superiority of NDxH-F and NDxJ crosses over the pure N'Dama. This coincides with results from many other studies (Cunningham and Syrstad 1987; Vaccaro et al 1999; Abdinasir 2000; Zinsstag et al 2000), although most of them refer specifically to zebu F1 crosses. The other aspect is the positive effect of supplementation. This has also been shown by Anzola et al (1990). They found that supplemented cows showed a very good total productive performance. They had lower weight losses, higher milk production and pregnancy rate than un-supplemented cows.


Between the crosses, the NDxH-F crosses were superior to NDxJ. This is consistent with the work of Leng (1999) who found that Holstein crosses were superior to other temperate breed crosses for growth and production while Jersey crosses had better reproductive efficiency. Although the production efficiency of the two crossbreeds was similar, the differences in milk off-take might be of considerable economic significance for dual-purpose production systems. On the other hand, the long term effects of the increased milk production, and the associated loss of body reserves, on reproduction need to be studied as lifetime productivity is an important trait in dual purpose systems with crossbred cattle (Vaccaro and Florio 2001).




This study was made possible with the financial support of the EU- founded project Programme Concerté de Recherche-Developpement sur l'Elevage en Afrique de l'Ouest (PROCORDEL). We also thank Jacques Somda for his comments and all the field assistants of the International Trypanotolerance Centre (ITC) in Kerr Seringe for their assistance during data collection.



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Received 14 February 2003; Accepted 5 August 2003

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