Livestock Research for Rural Development 24 (1) 2012 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Breeding and development of dairy goats: eastern Africa experience

T D O Ogola and I S Kosgey*, **

Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness Management, Egerton University, P.O. Box 536, 20115 Egerton, Kenya
* Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University, P.O. Box 536, 20115 Egerton, Kenya
** Laikipia University College, P.O. Box 1100-20300 Nyahururu, Kenya


Presently, there are over two billion people globally affected by the scourge of hunger and poverty, most of them being in sub-Saharan Africa. The challenge is to ensure food and nutrition security for them, and one option is the promotion of goat farming. Goat genetic resources play an important socio-economic role in many rural parts of the world.

Dairy goats occupy a unique and significant niche in resource-limited smallholder farming systems in the high potential areas of the tropics and subtropics due to their potential to greatly improve livelihoods largely through provision of milk for home consumption and surplus for sale to raise income. Besides, they supply meat, skins, fibre and manure, and play intangible roles like being insurance against emergencies and as an investment in stock. Consequently, numerous projects have adopted the use of dairy goats as an intervention strategy in improving the livelihood of the disadvantaged in various communities in eastern Africa. Community participation, breeding practices, comparative advantage, institutional aspects, extension services and environmental interactions are some of the suggested factors that can impact on the success to which most organizations need to note before embarking upon development initiatives that target the use of dairy goats.

Key words: Breeding, dairy goats, eastern Africa


Goat genetic resources play an important socio-economic role in many rural parts of the world in contributing to food and nutrition security. They are a source of income from sale of animals and their products, including skins, meat and milk for home consumption, and manure, besides playing intangible roles like being insurance against emergencies and as an investment in stock (Kosgey 2004; FAOSTAT 2010). Goats are able to adapt to and utilize marginal forage, and survive under harsh conditions. This makes them a very valuable asset for subsistence farmers. Besides, these animals easily adapt to intensive productive systems, and covert their feed into highly nutritious milk and meat very efficiently (Castel et al 2010; Brown 2011). Dairy goats occupy a unique and significant niche in resource-limited smallholder farming systems in the high potential areas of the tropics and subtropics, and are being increasingly adopted (Ogola et al 2010a). They have potential to greatly improve livelihoods largely through provision of milk for home consumption and surplus for sale to raise income. This review focuses on the lessons learnt from eastern Africa that can be used for improving formulation strategy and implementation of development initiatives involving the utilization of dairy goats in the future. 

Dairy goats: global and local perspectives

Globally, there are about 398 and 179 million goats reared for meat and milk, respectively (FAOSTAT 2010). More than 95% of the goat population is found in developing countries (FAOSTAT 2006). Worldwide trends of the evolution of the goat population and their products between 1969 and 2010 show a continuous and rapid increase relative to either cattle or sheep, especially in the developing countries (Thornton 2010). This indicates that these animals might provide a tool required to meet some of the needs accompanying continuous increase of the human population in developing countries (Boyazoglu et al 2005). 

Several programs involving the use of goats intended to assist Africa’s development have been conceived and undertaken by international bodies, regional and sub-regional groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and national institutions with varying degrees of success (Kosgey 2004). These improvement projects have normally been on research or development (Wilson et al 1990). For dairy goats, exotic breeds, i.e., the Anglo-Nubian, British Alpine, German Alpine, Saanen and Toggenburg have been introduced. The overall objective of most of these programs has been to reduce poverty, and enhance food and nutrition security, through genetic improvement of dairy goats for increased productivity milk and meat supplies and, subsequently, raised incomes of smallholder farmers through sale of surplus products and by-products from them. 

Lessons learnt from the programs

The following sections of this review present a summary of some of the lessons learnt from various projects on dairy goats that have been undertaken in eastern Africa; 

Involvement of stakeholders 

Planning the intervention with key stakeholders and partners ensures that the target group was reached, and all necessary resources required for goat improvement were availed on time.

In the early to mid-1990s, the German Development Cooperation (GTZ), using the German Alpine, and from 1996 to 2004, FARM-Africa, using the Toggenburg, established on-farm dairy goat breeding programs. Both programs were community-based and farmer-led. Farmers were rigorously trained on breeding program design, management and husbandry (including primary healthcare), and were facilitated to run their show with frontline technical support from the NGO’s and the government. In just seven years, the dairy goat population had risen to more than 90,000 from 40,000 head, double over the period (Ahuya et al 2005). From that study, it was opined that community-based approaches enabled appropriate partnership building, whereby all aspects could be addressed by farmers, extensionists and researchers.  

For a community-based dairy goat improvement project, FARM-Africa imported a popular exotic dairy goat breed to use for crossing to the indigenous goat reared in the project area. To ensure that the project had impact on the poor, participatory techniques involving community leaders, extension staff, development workers, and FARM-Africa representatives were used to identify resource-poor farmers who were to benefit from the project. FARM-Africa (2007) reports that from the inception of the project in 1996 to 2007, farmer groups grew from an initial ten (250 farmers) to more than 160 (4,000 farmers) within the study area, while another 56 were formed outside the project or study area. Farmer groups spread from the original five divisions to thirteen divisions, while the pure Toggenburg goat population grew from the initial 130 to more than 1,000 in a period of 10 years. The need to involve farmers in designing and executing goat projects is imperative. Community-based management is an effective way to establish and sustain animal breeding programs as the community approach develops a sense of ownership among farmers and other members of the community, generates transparency and encourages accountability (FAO 2001). Facó et al (2011) made a similar observation that it was important to consider identification and involvement of key stakeholders, particularly to secure sustainability and the improvement of the negotiating power of farmers or their organizations. The participation of government and, if possible, the development of supporting policy in this regard is fundamental. Besides, when farmers are involved in the effort, genotype by environmental interactions are likely to be accounted for in the design and execution of the breeding program and, therefore, enhance the likelihood of success (Kosgey 2004).

Proper breeding strategy 

Having a proper breeding strategy in place to address both short- and long-term concerns through proper planning is essential in ensuring that a program does not regress in its overall objectives. A proper plan should address whether the program seeks to have only a pure breed, crossbreed or synthetic breed, and for which environment. Ayalew et al (2003) evaluated a dairy goat development project in Ethiopia that introduced Anglo-Nubians X Indigenous goats. That study noted the breeding program was unsatisfactory, and farmers resorted to backcrossing the indigenous goats due to lack of F1 breeding males, which led to dilution of exotic genes. This contributed to the net benefit of the crossbred goats being comparable to that of the indigenous goats. Lack of plans on how to maintain a suitable level of ‘upgrading’ or to maintain the pure breeds for future use in crossbreeding contributed to non-sustainability. This indicated a lack of long term strategy. Osinowo and Abubakar (1988) observed that the dilemma in genetic improvement programs in developing countries in the tropics is how to effectively organize breeding schemes involving farmers at the village level, how to record such flocks and to monitor progress. Facó et al (2011) noted that whenever possible, an organized and trusted system for data collection with a long-term projection, backed up by government funding should be engaged. This is crucial if the technology proposed is to be outscaled. That study advised avoidance of organizations/ persons distrusted by farmers as this would hamper the whole process. Development strategies for animal genetic resources would likely have the greatest impact when there is community involvement, and integrating traditional practices, knowledge, and innovations with modern livestock breeding and management practices (FAO 2001). 

Exploitation of comparative advantage 

Exploitation of contrasts and the complementary roles of different areas within a region (i.e., integrated development) should be enhanced to increase the overall productivity from the region. Ogola et al (2010b) observed that the success of dairy goat promotion was attributed to better milk prices in milk deficit areas due to pressure of land that limited the raising of large stock. That study reported that there were areas where dairy cows were more popular and raised in greater numbers than introduced dairy goats such that dairy goat milk only supplemented cow’s milk and received low prices. Places like these could alternatively be used as breeding or as multiplication zones to provide goats for areas  with land pressure (which now became markets for the later) where the demand for dairy goats was high but not available and dairy goat milk demand was high. However, there were nearby markets. This can be exemplified by the experience from Mexico on increasing milk production where there was little market for goat milk in the area where improvement in milk production was attempted and, therefore, there was a serious problem in its disposal. However, the nearby market had a large demand for home-made cheese and the conversion of milk into cheese led to the disposal of the milk at remunerative prices, which enhanced economic returns to the producers (Acharya 1992). There is every likelihood that increased production or improvement in quality of products without assessing market demand and developing a handling and marketing system may lead to serious economic deprivation to the producers. 

Incorporating institutional aspects 

Institutional factors like support services in input supply, policy, research, extension and training, processing, marketing and credit could lead to achievement of efficiency by linking production and post production components to efficient services and marketing schemes. This is to ensure that implementation and services are provided along a market value chain. Low milk prices, attributed to lack of organized markets, were identified to lead to poor performance of the dairy goat project (Ogola et al 2010b). According to Mittendorf (1981), marketing problems in low-input production systems can be due to lack of marketing facilities, inadequate market organization and methods, and inadequate government policies and marketing-facilitating services (e.g., advisory training, and applied marketing research). A mitigation strategy suggested by the same study was the development of an organization of producer and marketing groups that would encourage distribution and marketing of dairy goats and their products. Government support for fair commodity prices and towards the establishment of an effective integration of the market from primary producer to final consumer as well as development standards that guide the industry was vital. 

Another example is seen in the FARM-Africa project whereby before 2008, the only officially marketable milk in Kenya was that from cattle. There was, therefore, no way of exploring and expanding the marketing of goat milk. Through intense lobbying by FARM-Africa, there was a change in policy. Following the change in milk marketing rules by the government, a pilot farmer-owned goat milk processing plant, supported by FARM-Africa was set up to help market the milk produced. The Kenya Goat Development Network (KEGODEN) was also founded by FARM-Africa to promote goat development within the East Africa region (Ojango et al 2010). This suggests that the most effective and sustainable means of helping the sector lie in policy, developing the market, communicating with consumers, highlighting the nutritional and health benefits of the products concerned, and boosting consumption. Livestock breeding programs and the policies promoted by the government in the sector must be seen to be complementary to each other and to promote both more food and other livestock commodities, and to improve resource utilization and livelihood of the livestock owners (FAO 2010). Kosgey and Okeyo (2007) noted that for sustainable genetic improvement, a key step lies in identifying existing structures, institutions and indigenous breeding practices, and building upon these foundation programs where there are opportunities. 

Role of extension services and extension research linkages 

On-farm interventions aimed at increasing availability cum utilization of local or improved feeds, control of economically important diseases and parasites, and/ or improved housing must strive to adapt to specific agro-ecological conditions, production systems and socio-cultural practices. Better managerial practices can be credited to extension activities that create greater awareness (Ayalew et al 2003). Continual training of the farmers, and monitoring and evaluation of the multiplication and future breeding programs are required to guide and entrench introduced technologies with farmers (Ogola et al 2010a). To involve farmers, it is advisable to back the breeding programme with an effective extension service for maximum effect (Kosgey et al 2006). The success of the goat research and development at Mgeta in Tanzania was attributed to, inter alia, excellent management by the farmers. Management of the project was developed gradually through continuous close contact and dialogue between the farmers, staff and the extension workers at Sokoine University of Agriculture (Mtenga and Kifaro 1992). 

Delivery of animal services 

Little animal healthcare support has been recognized as one of the factors contributing to low survival rate and low number of goats kept by farmers. Efforts to improve animal health were less targeted and not coordinated at the farmers level Ahuya and Okeyo (2004). Similarly, poor awareness of animal health and the subsistence-oriented production system, combined with poor communication and transport infrastructure and lack of adequate government personnel was a threat to livelihoods of farmers in the some parts. For example, FARM-Africa implemented the Kenya Dairy Goat and Capacity Building Project (KDGCBP) in Mwingi and Kitui districts (Kithuka et al 2007). This underscored the need for training and outfitting of paraprofessionals to ensure that some basic level of veterinary service was consistently available to farmers. Consequently, a system incorporating a network of Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs), Animal Health Assistants (AHAs) and Veterinary Surgeons was introduced in the project. Fee for service was identified as a means of promoting sustainability of health care delivery. To enable effective communication at all levels within the network, FARM-Africa approached the Safaricom Foundation (SF) to provide a telecommunications infrastructure which included the use of mobile phones and community pay phones. This improved delivery of animal health services. According to Mugunieri et al (2002), CBAHWs require training in new skills and competencies if they are to be viable in the long run. Enhancing basic knowledge of common animal diseases that are easily avoided through better management (e.g., sanitation of sheds) and/ or which can easily be cured, if identified early, is important for success of CAHWS. 

Taking cognizance of environmental interactions 

In 1982, a research project on the evaluation of introduced Norwegian goats and their crosses with indigenous goats was initiated at Morogoro (low altitude 600 m), Tanzania. After several years of study, some of the pure Norwegian goats and their crosses were introduced on-farm in Mgeta (high altitude 1600 m where rainfall is also higher). The performance of pure Norwegian dairy goats at the low altitude was not viable. However, the F1 crosses between the indigenous and the Norwegian goats did well at this site, being able to reproduce and produce moderate levels of milk. The pure-bred Norwegian goats and their crosses in Mgeta area at a high altitude thrived and produced well (Mtenga and Kifaro 1992). A monitoring study by Rey (1992) for over two years observed that participating farmers had maintained the same proportion of goats of the local breed and had backcrossed the Alpine-Small East African does with Small East African bucks, probably to limit the negative effects of high levels of Alpine genes in the crossbred. High levels of upgrading have generally led to animals with lower resistance to diseases and impaired ability to withstand environmental stress (Philipsson 1999). Clearly, to introduce any breed or to use for crossbreeding requires a good understanding of the genetic constitution of the introduced breed and that of the indigenous population besides genotype by environmental interactions. Due to the possibility of genotype by environment interactions, universal production packages across all production systems cannot be possible. It should be noted that the introduced or crossbred animals are suited to local conditions, both in terms of meeting their input requirements and their ability to perform in the local and often stressful environment. Facó et al (2011) noted that while designing the selection objectives and criteria, not only traits that respond to market trends, but also traits that farmers judge as important to their aspirations should be considered. 

Economic implications 

There is a need to balance out farmers’ management capacities and introduced technologies rather than risk exposing farmers to economic risks. High production genotypes have high maintenance requirements for nutrients and management inputs like shelter and protection against parasites and diseases. This can make high production genotypes very susceptible to loss of resource inputs (Gibson and Cundiff 1999). A study by Ogola et al (2010a) observed that dairy goats produce more milk than the local goats but at a cost of significantly increased production inputs. Also, primary healthcare and disease prevention costs for the less adapted dairy goats were higher and might exceed the financial capability of small-scale marginal farmers. 

Ogola et al (2010a) found that feed expenses made the highest contribution to production costs. The use of concentrates exposed the farmer to economic risks and, subsequently, farmers were reluctant to use these inputs or used them sparingly. The goats would not give the benefits expected due to reluctance to invest much capital in such an enterprise. It is important to arrive at a breeding program that takes into consideration the management capacities of the farmer. The alternatives to improvement of goats lie either in selecting and improving the local breeds, using exotic breeds or crossbreeds. Emphasis on low-cost technology options like controlling the breeding season in order to have periods of highest nutrient requirement to coincide with best grazing conditions; selectively favouring growth of the most palatable of the prevalent tree and shrub species, and developing low-cost health maintenance strategies is an option. The approach adopted must take into consideration that which make the farmers to enjoy maximum benefits while at the same time controlling economic risks. Inability to exploit the potential of a breed because the farmer is unable to fully implement management practices due to cost considerations can lead to lower benefits accruing and an enterprise being a liability than an asset (Ogola et al 2010a). 

Positive impact and transformation of people’s lives 

Although the long-term goals determine the breeding objectives and the role of each trait, the short-term benefits for farmers must be considered to get good farmer participation. In Tanzania, Shirima (2005) observed a significant increase of awareness and number of people keeping dual purpose goats (DPGs) among small-scale peasant farmers within and outside the project area due to the socio-economic benefits of the DPGs that included the increase of employment opportunities, income and nutrition amid the beneficiaries. There were quantifiable changes in economic development like building of modern houses and improvement of the literacy rate among the community by sending more children to secondary schools. The availability of DPGs also enabled the farmers to replace inorganic fertilizers with organic manure in crop production. The positive observations were attributed to the increase in household income accrued from the sale of goats and food crops. In Kenya, similar observations were made by Onim (1992) and Ojango et al (2010). 

Understanding socio-economic factors 

Socio-economic factors have an effect on animal and farm management, decision-making and the general perception of breed and species of the farmers. These factors will, therefore, affect the design and implementation of a breeding program. Without a good understanding of these factors, it would be very difficult to persuade the local farmers to fully participate and cooperate in a breeding program (Kosgey 2004). The factors, e.g., land ownership, farm size and animal ownership do not seem to be related to animal breeding directly, but are an important source of information on general household characteristics. Additionally, in developing the selection objectives and criteria, it is paramount to consider not only traits that respond to market trends, but also those that farmers judge as important. Mwandotto et al (1990) reported that a project will have shortcomings if it lacked sufficient coordination. That study found that progress in the field could not be adequately monitored and, subsequently, breeding and selection criteria of the studs were not established. Overall, a production package could not be advanced and the small-scale farmer production system was not addressed. There was marked deterioration in specific production segments like prime lamb and wool production. Besides, most of the work was done on-station and it lacked on-farm socio-economic considerations (Mwandotto et al 1990). A breeding program should be compatible with the socio-cultural aspects of the producer. For instance, in addition to the tangible benefits (e.g., cash from animal sales, meat for home consumption, milk, and manure) small ruminants are kept for a variety of intangible benefits (e.g., savings, insurance, and ceremonies). The breed involved should be able to fulfill these traditional roles of the farmer as well as productivity, i.e., is acceptable to the farmer and adaptable to production circumstances (Kosgey et al. 2006). Besides, breeding projects must also be planned with an understanding of the different roles played by women, children and men in the management of livestock (FAO 2001). Another example comes from the Small Ruminant Collaborative Research Project (SR-CRSP) where diversion of cropland to forage production on small mixed crop/ livestock farms was judged not to be feasible to improve nutrient intake by livestock. Maize is the stapple food of Kenyans and the idea to substitute maize with fodder production was a hard sell. Options that would enhance forage output from existing cropping patterns were then explored. An early conclusion was the value of inter-cropping sorghum 4 to 6 weeks after planting maize and ratooning the sorghum; maize yields were not affected. Relay cropping pigeon peas with maize was also promising (Onim et al 1984). 



The authors wish to greatly thank Egerton University (Njoro Kenya), and Hohenheim University (Stuttgart, Germany) for provision of facilities to undertake this study. This paper was written when the second author was a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Animal Production in the Tropics and Subtropics (Section of Animal Breeding and Husbandry) and The Food Security Center, Hohenheim University. 


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Received 23 May 2011; Accepted 22 July 2011; Published 4 January 2012

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