Livestock Research for Rural Development 28 (9) 2016 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

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Breeding efficiency and lifetime production performance of Holstein-Friesian Dairy Cows at Alage dairy farm, South Western Ethiopia

Haile Berihulay and Yoseph Mekasha1

Ministry of Livestock and Fishery, P O Box 62347, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
1 Institute (ILRI), P O Box 5689, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


A retrospective study was carried out at Alage dairy farm, Ethiopia, using 14 years data (1999 to 2013) to estimate breeding efficiency (BE), herd life (HL), productive herd life (PHL) and life time milk yield (LTMY). Fixed factors considered were parity (6+), season (3) and year (7). Data were analyzed using the General Linear Model of SAS.

The overall means for BE, HL, PHL and LTMY were 82.3%, 2128 days, 1117 days and 4666 kg, respectively. Year of birth has significant effect on BE (p<0.001) HL, PHL and LTMY (p<0.01). Parity has significant (p<0.05) effect on BE while, season of calving has no effect on the parameters studied. The results obtained for HL, PHL and LTMY declined as year advanced, which indicate change in the feeding and health care practices and high rate of involuntary culling at early ages. Improving reproductive management such as estrus detection system, proper time of insemination, proper feeding and health care practices, and minimizing rate of involuntary culling at the early ages are required for optimal breeding efficiency and lifetime production in the study herds.

Key words: AI, breeding efficiency, Ethiopia, herd life, longevity


Ethiopia has the largest cattle population in Africa. Recent report (CSA, 2012) indicated that the cattle population is estimated at 52.1 million heads. However, productivity of indigenous cows is low and yield about 230 kg of milk per lactation (MoA 1997). Thus, per capita protein consumption from the cow milk is not more than 10 g/day (FAO 1996). Crossbreeding program has been started in the early 1970s with the view of increasing milk production at the national level.

The Alage farm was started its dairy activity in 1983 with 300 females and 4 males of Holstein Friesian origin brought from Stella, Holetta, and private dairy farms around Addis Ababa. A considerable amount of information has been collected on reproductive performances of the dairy cows. The data were previously analyzed for reproductive performances (Amene et al 2011).

However, profitability depends on herd life which in turn is affected by the breeding efficiency of cows at the farm. Longer herd life gives opportunity for voluntary culling and decreases replacement cost per lactation thus enables a cow to achieve its maximum capacity of performance at maturity (Essal 1998; Enyew Nigussie et al 2000).

However, the breeding program at Alage farm was not evaluated for breeding efficiency, lifetime milk yield, herd life and productive herd life. The information thus obtained would further throw light on the evaluation of breeding efficiency and lifetime traits of Holstein-Friesian cows under tropical condition of mid rift valley area. This study was therefore undertaken to bridge this information gap. The objective of this study was designed to evaluate breeding efficiency and lifetime production performance of Holstein-Friesian dairy cows at Alage farm, Ethiopia.

Materials and methods

The study site

Alage dairy farm is located at 217 kms South-West of Addis Ababa in Shashemene highway. "Geographically the study site is located at about 38 30 East and 7 30North" at an altitude of 1600 meters above sea level. The area is characterized by mild subtropical weather with minimum and maximum temperature ranging from 110C to 29 0C. The area experiences bimodal rainfall distribution with annual value ranging from 700-900 mm. The three defined seasons in the area based on rainfall distribution are: short rainy season, long rainy season and long dry season lasting from October to February, March to May and June to September, respectively (Million et al 2010)

Herd management

Feed stuffs for the herd included hay, green feed and concentrates. Dairy cows received a daily maintenance ration about 2 kg concentrate with an additional production ration up to 1/2 kg per kg of milk yield. Cows over seven months pregnancies were provided with up to 4 kg concentrates per day. Feedstuff for the other classes of livestock included mainly hay and green feeds. New born calves suckled their dams until five days from birth. Thereafter they are bucket fed and the amount varies according to their age. From 5 to 35 days of age calves receive up to 5 litres of milk per day, from 35 to 65 days of age 4 litres and from 85 to 100 days of age up to 2 litres of milk. Thereafter they were given about one liter of milk per day until they were weaned at the age of 120 days. Besides, hay feeding was undertaken except for calves under the age of one month.

Animals were checked for their health by fulltime veterinarians on the farm and regularly vaccinated against common infectious diseases such as contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP), anthrax, blackleg, bovine pasteurellosis, lumpy skin disease and foot and mouth disease. Regular preventive treatments were administered against prevalent endo- and ecto- parasites. Mastitis, Tuberculosis and Abortion, were common on clinical case book records.

Data collection and dderivation of study variables

Data collected from 1999 to 2013 on birth dates, calving dates, total milk produced and date of disposal were used. From the collected information, the following dependent variables of interest were derived; breeding efficiency (BE) as the {(N-1)390 + 960} / (age at each calving) where; N-1 = the number of calving intervals with N calving, 390 = is the upper limit of desirable calving intervals (days) and 960 = is the lower limit of age at first calving (days). The estimated coefficients were expressed as percentage (Gebeyehu et al. 2005; Million et al., 2006).

Lifetime milk yield (LTMY) was the total amount of milk produced by a cow during the period she stayed in the herd, herd life (HL) asthe difference between date of birth and date of disposal, and productive herd life (PHL) the total number of days from the first calving to last day in milk.

Data management and analysis

The data collected were entered into Microsoft excel software for preliminary assessment of data distribution. The fixed effects in the study were year of birth/calving, season of birth/calving and parity. Three seasons were established based on weather and climatic conditions of the area: June to September as long rain season, March to May as short rainy season and October to February as dry season. Since there was no sufficient recorded data, year of calving/birth was categorized into seven periods: period-1 (1999-2000), period-2 (2001-2002), period -3 (2003-2004), period-4 (2005-2006), period-5 (2007-2008), period-6 (2009-2010) and period-7 (2011-2013). Six parities were considered since only few cows had completed more than 6 lactations. After preliminary assessment, data were subjected to analysis of variance using General Linear Model of SAS, 2008 Version 9.2. The following mathematical model was applied to analyse all traits:

Yijn = +YRi + Sj+ eijn


Yijn= dependent variable (BE, HL, LTMY and PHL) of nth cow born in ith year of birth, jth season of birth

= overall mean

YRi= the fixed effect of ith year of birth (i=1, 2, 3...7; 1= 1999-2000; 2=2001-2002............

7= 2011-2013)

Sj= the fixed effect of jth season of birth (j=1, 2, 3; 1= dry season (Oct-Feb.); 2=short rainy season (March-May); 3= Long (main) rainy season (June-Sept.)

eijn = random residual error term

Results and discussion

Breeding efficiency

Year of calving and parity significantly (p<0.001) influenced BE, while season of calving had no significant effect (table1). The overall mean of BE was 82.3%.

Table 1. Least square means for Breeding Efficiency (BE) of Holstein Frisian cows at Alage dairy farm


Breeding Efficiency (%)



Overall mean



Year of Calving























Season of Calving


      Dry season



      Short rainy



      Long rainy




















      6 and above



a-c LSmean with different superscripts in the same column for the same effects are significantly different;
*** = P<0.001; ** = P<0.01; * = P<0.05; ns = not significant;
N = Number of observations; SE = standard error

The overall mean of BE (82.3%) obtained in this study is comparable with the range of 80-81.9% reported for Holstein Frisian cows in central Ethiopia (Berhanu et al 2011) and for crossbred cows in central highland (Million et al 2006). However, this finding was higher than that of 66.3% and 73.12% reported by Gosh (2005) and Lateef et al (2008) for HF crossbred cows at Cheffa farm, Ethiopia and Punjab Pakistan, respectively. In contrast, this finding is lower than 95% reported by Kiwuwa et al (1983) for the various HF crossbred cows at Asella farm, Ethiopia.

Breeding efficiency was significantly affected by year of calving in this study. Similar finding were reported by Million et al (2006) and Kiwuwa et al (1983) for crossbred cows.The present result indicates that the breeding efficiency of the herd at the farm improved as year advanced. Lower breeding efficiency was observed in the early year (1999-2000); while the highest was recorded in the near years (2011 – 2013). This lower BE might be associated with poor management decision such as low heat detection, timing of insemination and poor insemination techniques because in the farm people involved in heat detection were only present at regular working hours (office hours) whereas, the highest recorded during the latter years might be due to change management system as year advanced. Consistent to this study Lateef et al (2008) stated that breeding efficiency might be affected by fertilization rate, number of services per conception, conception rate, calving rate, service period and calving interval. Improved management in all these factors would be helpful. According to Goshu (2005) lower breeding efficiency value could indicate lower herd management practice, high abortion rate and prolonged AFC and CI.

Season of calving had no significant effect on BE. This might be associated to the zero grazing practice in the farm, which makes the effect of seasonal variation in forage developments and feed availability minimal. The absence of seasonal effect on breeding efficiency was reported by Million et al (2006) for crossbred cows. However, Ageeb and Hayes (2000) and Goshu (2005) reported significant effect for Holstein Friesian at Sudan and crossbred cows at Cheffa farm Ethiopia, respectively.

The significant effect of parity on BE in the present study (table 1) is consistent with previous reports (Million et al 2006; Goshu 2005) for crossbred cows and which is gradually improved from the first to the fifth parity and decreased then after. Improvement in the fertility of older cows following systematic culling at the younger ages could be the key. Similar pattern of age related difference was reported by Kiwuwa et al (1983) and Enyew Nigussie et al (2000).

Herd life, productive herd life and life time milk yield

Year of calving significantly (p <0.001) influence HL, PHL and LTMY, while the effect of season of calving is not significant (table 2).The overall means of HL, PHL and LTMY for the farm were 2128 days, 1117 days and 4666 kg, respectively.

Table 2. Least square means for Herd life (HL/Longevity), Productive Herd Life (PHL) and Life Time Milk Yield (LTMY)



HL (days)

LTMY (mg)

PHL (days)




Overall mean


2128 ±101

4666 ±214


Year of birth







































Season of birth




      Dry season





      Short rainy season





      Long rainy season





a-c LSmean with different superscripts in the same column for the same effects are significantly different;
*** = p<0.001; ** = p<0.01; * = p<0.05; ns = not significant;
N= Number of observation; SE = standard error

The mean HL of 2128 days obtained in this study is comparable to 2198 days (6.02 years) for crossbred dairy cows in Ethiopia reported by Enyew et al (2000). However, lower than 3048 days were reported by Gebeyehu (2007) in Holstein Friesian cows at Stella farm, Ethiopia. The mean HL in the present study was lower than the optimum recommended HL value of 9.35 years that optimize the economic and biological limits of dairy cows. Short herd life indicates involuntary culling of cows due to repeated breeding (Enyew et al 2000).

The overall mean of LTMY (4666 kg) obtained in this study was by far lower than 12749 kg and 25423 kg reported for crossbred cows in Ethiopia (Goshu 2005) and Holstein Friesian cows in Pakistan (Atil et al 1999), respectively. This lower LTMY might be linked to high involuntary culling intensity of cows at early age due to disease problems.

The overall mean of PHL (1117 days) obtained in this study was lower than1301 and 1753 days reported by Goshu (2005) and Gebeyehu et al (2007), respectively. This PHL is lower compared to the literature result variations in management system within the years. Faust (1993) reported that more than 90% of differences among cows in productive life are due to management and environment.

Herd life, productive herd life and life time milk yield were significantly (p <0.001) influenced by year of calving. All variables were short during latter years (2009-2013) and long during the early years (1999-2008). As year advanced progressive declining trend was observed in all variables; this might be due to selling animals at early age and high rate of involuntary culling. Gebeyehu et al (2007) stated feeding, health care practices and high rate of involuntary culling could decline herd life and productive herd life and life time milk yield of cows. Abebe (2005) also reported that disposal causes 51.9% of Friesian cows at Stella farm, Ethiopia were sold at early age which could be other reason for low lifetime performance.

Season of calving had no significant (P > 0.05) effect on HL PHL, and LTMY in the present study. This non-significant effect may indicate the necessity of placing efficient feeding and health management system during the subsequent growth and lactation periods. Similar findings were reported by Thorpe et al (1994) and Goshu (2005).



The authors are grateful for the financial support provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, Ethiopia. They would also like to thank the management of Alage dairy farm for their unreserved cooperation during data collection.


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Received 1 November 2015; Accepted 19 July 2016; Published 1 September 2016

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