Introducing Dual-Purpose Goats: Lessons Learned

In the highlands of Western Kenya, milk is the primary source of dietary protein for many farming families. On small farms where land and forage are limited, goats have greater potential than cattle as milk and meat producers. They also supply cash income from sale for slaughter. Over the last ten years, a team of researchers from five Kenyan and U.S. institutions have worked on the development of dual-purpose goat (DPG) production systems in Kenya. The study concluded that, although problematic, DPG have the potential to make a significant contribution to the nutritional and economic well-being of the small farmer.

This on-farm research by the Small Ruminant Collaborative Research Support Program (SR-CRSP) included evaluating the nutrition and feed requirements of goats and meeting those requirements by using dual-purpose forage crops.

The research area is located about 30 km west of Kisumu. Farm size averages less than 2 ha, and the average family has more than seven members. After several years of station research and on-farm surveys 60 households in three communities were selected. Preconditions for farmer participation in the study were willingness to:

  • plant a fodder bank.

  • participate in group meetings.

  • follow health and feed resource mangement recommendations.

  • meet the minimal land, labor and other resource requirements.

  • preferably have no more than two milk cows, and to have at least two children to utilize milk and provide some labor in support of the DPG enterprise.
  • Toggenburg and East African crosses were the predominant breeds used. Each household received two DPG does and one yearling female. Up to 10 bucks were placed in each community. Placement began in September 1988.

    The first critical challenge was to meet DPG feed requirements without a net reduction in food and/or cash crop production. Emphasis was given to improving productivity of multi-purpose crops, on preserving forage for use in the dry season, and on intercropping food and forage crops.

    Maize, sweet potato, cassava, beans, and finger millet are traditional food crops grown in Western Kenya. Usually only a small area is given to any one crop. Many farmers intercrop maize with the other crops, which provides increased forage yields. Leaves are periodically harvested during the growing season for fodder.

    Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) was introduced to the area as part of the study, as a potential dual-purpose crop.

    One problem with using goats as a milk source was providing kids with enough milk while still having some for human consumption. According to this study, about 60kg of milk is required to achieve the recommended kid weaning weight of 10kg. Does with twins have little milk left over for human consumption. In this situation many farmers in developed countries purchase milk replacers so the twins will need less milk, and more is left for the family.

    Sweet potato vines (SPV) were tested as a milk replacer. SPV were first tested as a supplementary feed, for the kids up to 120 days. Kids were fed unlimited SPV and allowed to suckle half of their mother's udder. Others were fed SPV and allowed to full suckle. Additional milk taken from partial-suckled does was 185kg over a four- month period, while full-suckled does gave no additional milk.

    SPV was also evaluated as a milk replacer for kids weaned at 30 days. These kids were given SPV when they were two weeks old. After 120 days average weight of the full-suckled group equaled that of the early-weaned group, about 7.5kg. Goats that had not been suckled after kids were weaned at 30 days had given an average of 87kg of milk.

    From these findings it is recommended that farmers provide unlimited SPV to kids from 2 weeks of age, until their body weight reaches 10kg. In addition, kids should be allowed to suckle about 1/4 of their dam's milk production daily. This has shown to improve kid growth rate, enhance milk let-down, reduce the incidence of mastitis, and result in greater total milk harvested over non-suckled does.

    Farmers that followed the recommended management practices had high producing DPG. Lactation data was averaged from 124 does. Average duration of lactation was 79 days, with just less than 0.5kg milk harvested per doe per day in addition to the milk suckled by kids.

    Hurdles Ahead...

    In the first two years of the study, 23% of the does placed on farms died. Many of the deaths were due to pneumonia. Rebreeding was also not very successful. Due to a shortage of bucks in the communities, many does would remain unmated for several months. Even when enough bucks were available, breeding was a problem, because some farmers were not willing to care for a goat that would not provide milk or reproduce.

    The importance of the role of women in the project was initially underestimated. Women are playing an increasing role in the care of animals, as men are taking off-farm wage-earning jobs with increasing frequency.

    Despite these difficulties it was concluded that DPG have the potential to significantly benefit the small farmer. Three to five does per household should provide a small but consistent supply of milk throughout the year, a reliable source of protein, reduce the need to purchase milk, and provide additional income.

    P.P. Semenye, J.F.M. Onim, W.T. Conelly, H.A. Fitzhugh (1989). On-farm evaluation of dual-purpose goat production systems in Kenya. Journal of Animal Science. 67:3096-3102. Contact:

    Dr. Moses Onim
    P.O. Box 252
    Maseno, Kenya
    Fax: 254-35-45114