Livestock Research for Rural Development 28 (4) 2016 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

A comparative analysis of livestock farming in smallholder mixed crop-livestock systems in Kenya: 1. Livestock inventory and management

D M G Njarui, E M Gichangi, M Gatheru, E M Nyambati1, C N Ondiko2, M N Njunie2, K W Ndungu-Magiroi3, W W Kiiya3, C A O Kute3 and W Ayako1

KALRO -Katumani, P.O. Box 340, Machakos, 90100, Kenya
1 KALRO-Naivasha, P.O. Box 25, Naivasha, 20117, Kenya
2 KALRO-Mtwapa, P.O. Box 16, Mtwapa, 80109, Kenya
3 KALRO-Kitale, P.O. Box 450, Kitale, 30200, Kenya


This paper present a comparative analysis of livestock ownership and management in four diverse farming systems; coastal lowlands, mid-altitude eastern region, central highlands and north western highlands of Kenya. Despites the relatively small land sizes, farmers owned several species of livestock but the number they kept were few and varied across regions. Among the ruminants, the dairy and the zebu cattle were the most widely kept followed by small ruminants. In the coastal lowlands, cattle were owned by 71.3% of farmers followed closely by local goats (70.9%) and poultry (65.3%). In the mid-altitude eastern region, the highest proportion of farmers owned dairy cattle (69%) and zebu (61.4%), with an average herd size of 3.12.1 and 4.74.5 animals, respectively. In central highlands and north western highlands, a high proportion of farmers owned dairy cattle (81-100%) compared with the zebu (2-17%).

Grazing system was prevalent in the coastal lowlands (57.5%) while stall feeding was predominant in the mid-altitude eastern region (65%). In central and north western highlands almost an equal proportion of farmers (45-50%) kept their dairy cattle under semi-intensive and grazing system. Overall milk production was generally low but the dairy cattle produced more milk (7.8 – 11.8 litres/cow/day) than the zebu cattle (<4 litres/cow/day). Low milk production was attributed to inadequate and low quality feeds.

Key words: dairy cattle, agro-ecological zones, farming systems, livestock ownership, production system, ruminants


Livestock, particularly the ruminant species, are a major component of Kenya's economy and are distributed across all the production systems. According to 2009 census, the total population of ruminants was estimated at about 67 million of which 3.4 million were dairy cattle, 14.1 million zebu cattle, 27.7 million goats, 17.1 million sheep, 2.9 million camels and 1.9 million donkeys (KNBS 2010). The livestock sub-sector contributes about 40% of the agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 10% of Kenya’s total GDP (KARI 2009). About 50% of the total labour force in the agricultural sector is said to be employed in livestock production. Over 70% of all the livestock in the country are found in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) and the sub-sector employ 90% of the 25% population (7 million people) living there and contribute 95% of their income. Among the pastoral communities ownership of livestock is recognized as indicator of wealth.

In the mixed crop-livestock farming, livestock and crop production are integral component of the sustainable system. The system is widespread in Kenya and spans three climatic regions; from humid and sub-humid to semi-arid. The humid and sub-humid occurs mainly in the central highlands in areas around Mt Kenya and Aberdares, Rift Valley, western highlands and a narrow strip along the coastal lowlands. The semi-arid occurs in the eastern Kenya and parts of central Rift Valley. The smallholder farmers account for over 80% of the farming community in these regions. Livestock serve a wide function; from social to subsistence, generates employment and income for thousands of smallholder farm households (Muriuki 2002). They are source of food; milk, meat and egg, thus contribute to health and nutritional security. They provide manure and are also sold to generate income when crop fails thus enhance family sustainability. The dairy cattle are mainly concentrated in the humid and sub-humid region and are kept mainly for milk. In the semi-arid region, the indigenous zebus provide draft power for cultivation of crops but also provide some milk and meat.

As Kenya transform to middle income country, providing a high quality life to its citizen by year 2030 is a key priority. This transformation has been accompanied by rapid urbanization and rising income level which has created a significant demand of livestock and livestock products. The country is not self-sufficient in animal products and imports 20-25% of meat requirement (USAID 2012). The livestock sector is under pressure to adapt to meet the rising demand and enhance the social economic stability of smallholder farmers. To meet this challenge it is inevitable to expand the livestock holdings and or increase productivity. Furthermore, with increased drought and low rainfall livestock are regarded as more resilient in mitigating these climate change shocks than crops. However, before any intervention to enhance productivity is implemented, there is need to understand ownership and livestock production base. The objective of this study was to assess the livestock inventory and production system among the smallholders crop-livestock farmers in Kenya.


Description of the study areas

The study was conducted in coastal lowlands (CL), mid-altitude eastern region, central highlands and north western highlands regions of Kenya (Figure 1). These regions were purposively selected because they represent diverse farming systems across several agro-ecological zones (AEZ). In the coastal lowlands the study covered from latitudes 03o22S to 03o40S and stretched from longitudes 39o48E and 39o 12E, in Malindi, Kilifi and Kwale Counties, in CL3, 4 and 5 AEZ. In the mid-altitude eastern region the study covered from latitudes 0o45S to 1o35S and longitudes 36o45E and 38o30E within Machakos and Makueni Counties, in Upper Midland (UM) 3 and Lower Midland (LM) 4 AEZ. In the central highlands, the study covered between latitudes 08’S and 050’S and between 35 13’E and 36 42’ E in Nyandarua County mainly in Upper Highland (UH) 2 and 3 and Lower Highland (LH) 3 and 4 AEZ. In north western highlands, the study concentrated from latitudes 0o7N to 0o20N between longitudes 34o05E and 35o59E in AEZ, LH3 and UM 3 and 4 within Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia Counties.

Coastal lowlands Mid-altitude eastern region
Central highlands North western highlands
Figure 1. Map showing the four study regions and households sampled.
Coastal lowlands

The CL extends for about 30 km hinterland from the sea. The annual rainfall ranges from 700 mm in CL5 to 1200 mm in CL3, with a bimodal pattern, the long rains season occurring from April to June and the short rains from October to December. Potential evapo-transpiration ranges from 1900 to 2300 mm and exceeds annual precipitation, thus resulting in water deficit. Mean annual temperatures ranges from 22 to 35oC and relative humidity from 70 to 90%.

The topography is low lying, from the sea level to 300 masl. Major soils are Ferralsols and Cambisols, which are deficient in nitrogen (N); phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) (Njarui and Mureithi 2004). Rural households engage in diverse agricultural and non-agricultural activities. Maize (Zea mays L.) and cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz.) are the main staple foods followed by cowpea (Vigna unguiculata [L.] Walp) (Njarui and Mureithi 2004). Livestock kept includes cattle, goats, sheep and poultry.

Mid-altitude eastern region

Typically the region is semi-arid and the mean total annual rainfall is around 700 mm but in the hill masses it increases to about 1050 mm. The rainfall is bimodal with two distinct rainy seasons; the long rains occurring from March to May and short rains from October to December. Evapo-transpiration exceeds the amount of rainfall and ranges from between 1200 to 1800 mm/year (KARI 2001). Minimum mean annual temperatures vary from 14oC to 22oC while maximum mean annual temperatures vary from 26oC to 34oC.

The region is characterized by low to medium altitude, rising from 800 to1800 masl. The predominant soils are Luvisols, Acrisols and Ferralsols (Simpson et al 1996). The soils are often shallow and contain low organic matter and high sand content (Kusewa and Guiragossian 1989). The farming systems are characterized by mixed crop-livestock production. Maize is the most important cereal and is commonly grown as intercrop with beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.), cowpea and pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan L.). Major livestock kept include cattle, sheep and goats.

Central highlands

The region receive bi-modal rainfall, the long rains occurring from March to May with a maximum rainfall of 1600 mm and the short rains from September to December with rainfall of 700 mm. Temperature ranges from low of 2C to maximum of 25C. Night frosts are common in AEZ of Afro-Alpine highlands and UH (Jaetzold et al 2007). The main physical features include Kinangop Plateau, Ol’kalou plateau and the Aberdares ranges which rises to 4000 m asl. Major soils are the Nitosols, Andosols and Phaeozems (Jaetzold et al 2007). Farming is highly commercialized and wheat, maize and vegetables which include potatoes, cabbages, peas and carrots are the main commercial crops.

North western highlands

The north western highlands experience primarily uni-modal rainfall distribution, which normally starts in April and continues to October/November with peak in May and August. Rainfall ranges from 1200 mm to 2200 mm and the average annual temperature from 14oC to 28oC. The relief is very varied and ranges from low of 900 m to a high of 3365 m. The major soils are Humic Ferralsols, Humic cambisols and ferralic Cambisols and Orthic Ferralsols (FAO-UNESCO 1994). Maize is the principal crop cultivated while dairy cattle farming are the major enterprise, although in some farms, beef cattle are kept.

Sampling and data collection

A multistage stratified sampling technique was used for selection of the farmers. In the first stage of sampling, 12 AEZs where smallholder practice crop-livestock farming system were identified; 3 in coastal lowlands, 2 in mid-altitude eastern region, 4 in central highlands and 3 in north western highlands (Table 1). In the second stage a systematic random sampling was carried out to select farmers from a list compiled by the agricultural extension officers from each AEZ. This resulted in sample sizes of 268 for coastal lowlands, 171 for mid-altitude eastern region, 132 for central highlands and 215 households for north western highlands, giving a total of 786 farmers.

Table 1. Distribution of sample respondents by region and agro-ecological zones


Agro-ecological zones

Household heads

of males

Number of


Coastal lowlands

Coastal Lowlands 3




Coastal Lowlands 4




Coastal Lowlands 5




Mid-altitude eastern region

Upper Midlands 3




Lower Midlands 4




Central highlands

Upper Highlands 2




Upper Highlands 3




Lower Highlands 3




Lower Highlands 4




North western highlands

Upper Midlands 3




Upper Midlands 4




Lower Highlands 3








Information was collected from farmers using a pre-tested structured questionnaire. The information collected included livestock ownership, management, and milk production. Data were collected through face-to-face single visit interview, discussion and observation between October 2013 and March 2014.The household head or the most senior member of household present was interviewed.

Data analysis

Data was coded and entered in a spreadsheet and analysed through descriptive statistics using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 20 (IBMC, 2011). Difference in herd size was evaluated using General Linear Model Procedure of Statistical Analysis System (SAS 1987) and mean separated by Least Significance Difference (LSD) (Steel and Torries 1981).

Results and Discussion

Livestock inventory

Livestock are important component of the smallholder farmers who practice mixed crop-livestock farming system in Kenya (Njarui et al 2009). In the semi-arid area where crop production is marginal, livestock plays additional functions of providing investment, employment, and risk reduction opportunities. Livestock also represent a “saving account”, providing an economic security against frequent crop failure (Njarui et al 2009).

From the study, farmers kept different species of livestock, from big ruminants such as cattle to the emerging livestock such as bees as a mean of diversifying risks. However, the proportion of farmers owning different livestock species differed among regions. Likewise, the average number of livestock owned by farmers differed (p<0.05) among the regions (Table 2). In the coastal lowlands, zebu cattle (the local breed of cattle) were most popular and were owned by 71.3% of farmers followed closely by local goats (70.9%) and poultry (65.3%). Each household owned an average of 8.89.8 zebus animals and this number was more (p<0.05) than in the other regions. In contrast, only 34.3% of farmers owned dairy cattle (either pure exotic and or cross bred of exotic and indigenous) with average herd size of 4.85.7 animals. Low ownership of dairy cattle in the coastal lowlands has been attributed to the prevalence of tsetse flies and tick-borne diseases (Maloo et al 1994). In the mid-altitude eastern region, slightly more farmers owned dairy cattle (69%) and zebu (61.4%), and the average herd size was 3.12.1 and 4.74.5 animals, respectively. The average number of zebu cattle owned in mid-altitude eastern region was much lower than that reported by Rukadema et al (1981) of 8.4 tropical livestock unit, an indication that livestock numbers have been declining over time. The decline is attributed to diminishing land holdings due to increased population resulting to sub-divisions. In the mid-altitude eastern region, the zebus are important in providing draft power for land preparation and weeding in cropland.

In central highlands and north western highlands, a high proportion of farmers owned dairy cattle (81-100%) compared with the zebu (2-17%). While in the central highlands farmers had on average more dairy cattle (5.04.1 animals) than zebu (1.0 animal) in north western highlands, farmers kept almost an equal number of animals (6.07.3 dairy versus 5.84.4 zebu cattle). Muia et al (2011) reported a similar number of dairy cattle (5.3 heads/household) in central highlands. The main dairy cattle comprised of Friesian, Aryshire, Jersey, Guernsey and their crosses with local zebu. The high percent of farmers with dairy cattle in central highlands was attributed to the high value they attach to them for milk production. The region is near the major urban centres and the market for milk is guaranteed.

Across all the regions, small ruminants were popular since they can easily be sold off to generate cash in event of emergence and are more resilient to droughty condition. Further, their feed requirement is low compared with the cattle. Nevertheless, sheep were less popular than goats among people in coastal lowlands and in mid-altitude eastern region due to their traditional beliefs. The proportion of farmers who owned other livestock species was generally small (<20%) except for poultry which on average were owned by over 79% of farmers.

It is interesting to note that bees and rabbits are important emerging livestock in mid-altitude eastern region while rabbits were important in central highlands and this was due to the increased demand for thier products. Further, availability of a range of trees species in semi-arid provide suitable ecosystem for bees to thrives due to abundant forage.

Table 2. Proportion of farmers owning livestock and the average number owned among the sampled households in 4 regions of Kenya

Livestock species

% of farmers

Mean number of livestock± SD


eastern region


North western



eastern region


North western


Dairy cattle











Zebu cattle











Local goats











Dairy goats

































Poultry (local)











Poultry (layers)











Poultry (broilers)












































* No livestock were reported

Livestock production system

In this study, the different production systems of dairy cattle are reported as other ruminants were normally grazed. Nevertheless, the local poultry were kept under free range system while the exotic (broilers and layers) were confined and feed delivered. The three management systems for dairy cattle; stall feeding, semi-intensive and grazing were common in all the regions. However, there were variations in the proportion of farmers practicing each system. This variation has been reported by Njarui et al (2012) for dairy farming in Kenya and Uganda. Grazing system was prevalent in the coastal lowlands (57.5%) while stall feeding commonly referred to as zero-grazing was predominant in the mid-altitude eastern region (65%) (Figure 2). Where the grazing systems were practiced, the dairy cattle were herded together with other livestock species, the zebu cattle, goats and sheep thus no animal received extra attention in terms of feed in response to its milk production potential. In the zero grazing system, the animals were normally confined and feed was delivered (Figure 3). In central and north western highlands almost an equal proportion of farmers kept their dairy cattle under semi-intensive and grazing system. In the semi-intensive system, animals were grazed on pastures during the day and stall-fed additional forages in the evenings.

Stall feeding was mainly due to limited land sizes and high population density, and these findings are in agreement with those of Staal et al (1998) in central highlands of Kenya. Farmers mostly prefer stall feeding as the land sizes become small (Mburu et al 2007). Njarui et al 2012 reported that stall feeding in peri-urban areas of Kenya was attributed to small size land. However in the coastal lowlands, grazing was preferred because the herd size were relatively large (8.89.8 animals) and land size was also large thus farmers could afford to set aside land for grazing and crop production. In the mid-altitude eastern region the animals were kept under zero-grazing (Figure 3) as labour was an issue and further, households kept few animals. Waithaka et al (2002) associated stall feeding with commercial practice and grazing system for subsistence. This was mainly because in grazing system, no or limited feed supplements are offered to lactating cows to boost milk yield. However there are other advantage of stall feeding such as reduced incidence of infectious and tick borne diseases.

Coastal lowlands Mid-altitude eastern region
Central highlands North western highlands
Figure 2. Production systems for dairy cattle in four region

Figure 3. Dairy cattle in zero-grazing unit
Livestock management

The major activities performed in livestock management included chopping of feeds mainly for animals kept under stall feeding, herding, milking and spraying. Other activities included fetching water for livestock and transporting milk. Labour allocation in the households showed that all the genders had a role to play in various activities in livestock management but the proportions of their contribution varied across the regions. This is consistent with worked reported by Njarui et al (2012) in peri-urban areas of Kenya and Uganda for dairy cattle. In the coastal lowlands, both men and women performed most of the activities in livestock management (Figure 4). Men contributed highest labour in spraying/dipping (44.7%) while for women it was fetching water (40.2%). This is in contrast to the mid-altitude eastern region and central highlands where most of livestock management tasks were performed by hired labour and men, respectively. This scenario was also reported by Njarui et al (2009) who found that hired employees were the major source of labour in running the dairy unit in other part of semi-arid region of eastern Kenya. The major role of women in livestock management in the mid-altitude eastern region was milking (49.4%) while in central highlands it was fetching water (46.2%). In the mid-altitude eastern region, youth migrate to urban centres in search of employment due to high risk of farming in the region and this explains the use of hired labour in livestock management. In the north western highlands women performed most of the livestock management duties and contributed over 40% of labour in milking, fetching water and transporting milk (Figures 4). Njarui et al (2012) observed that women contributed the highest labour to tasks that were performed daily while for men, it was mainly tasks performed weekly like spraying and dipping.

Overall, the contribution of children in livestock management was generally low. Nevertheless, it was relatively higher in coastal lowlands compared with the other regions. This was attributed to early drop-out from school because parents were unable to pay their school fees beyond primary education due to high poverty level (KNBS 2010).

Coastal lowlands (n=268) Mid-altitude eastern region (n=171)
Central highlands(n=132) North western highlands(n=215)
Activity Activity
Figure 4. Distribution livestock management roles among gender in four regions
Milk production

Milk production is reported for the zebu and dairy cattle since only a few farmers owned the dairy goats. Dairy cattle are important for supplying milk to meet demand from increased population (Njarui et al 2012). Milk is the most important product from dairy cattle and yield depends on genetic and environmental factors. Obviously the dairy cattle produced more milk than the zebu cattle. The average milk production for dairy cattle was highest in central highlands (11.8 litres/cow/day) followed by mid-altitude eastern region (10.4 litres/cow/day) and lowest in coastal lowlands (7.8 litres/cow/day) (Table 3). Dairy animals produced highest in central highlands because farmers invested commercial concentrates to their dairy cattle although the quantity of feed given was low (<2 kg/cow/day) and was not commensurate with amount of milk produced. However, milk production in north western highlands was similar to that reported by Ongadi et al (2007) in western Kenya. Lukuyu et al (2011), Omore et al (1996) and Staal et al (1998) attributed low milk yield to poor nutrition and lack of supplementation with high proteins. Muia et al (2011) reported milk production of 8.4 litres/cow/day in the central highlands while Mungube et al (2014) reported milk yield of 6 litres/cow/day in the semi-arid region of eastern Kenya. It is interesting to note that although the average milk production was low, some cow produced over 30 litres/day implying that there were farmers who keep dairy cattle of high genetic potential. However, the mean production from the zebu cattle was generally low (<4 litres/cow/day) and this is basically due to their low genetic potential even with good management. In the coastal lowland, Ramadhan et al (2008) reported milk production of up to 2 litres /cow/day for the zebu cattle.

It should also be noted that milk production was normally highest during the wet season and this was attributed to the fact that animals are able to access good quality feed and decline during the dry season. Lanyasunya et al (2006) also attributed poor performance of smallholder dairy herd to inadequate feeds.

Table 3. Milk production among dairy and zebu cattle in four regions



Household with
lactating cows

Milk production (litres/cow/day)





Mid-altitude eastern region





North western highlands





Coastal lowlands





Central highlands





Dairy cattle

Mid-altitude eastern region





North western highlands





Coastal lowlands





Central highlands





* No farmer reported to own zebu cattle



We are grateful to the smallholder farmers who participated in the survey. Thanks are due to the provincial administrative officers and Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in the region where the survey was conducted or their support and the staffs of Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) from various institutes and centres for administering the questionnaires. Our gratitude is extended to the Director, of former KARI for the support. This study was an undertaking between BecA and KALRO and was funded by Sida.


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Received 14 December 2015; Accepted 4 March 2016; Published 1 April 2016

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