The establishment of a new dairy herd farmers can opt to acquire quality animals through Embryo transfer technology, heifers, and in-calf heifers.

How to start a dairy herd using modern technologies

Throwback edition: This article is an exam that I wrote at Strathmore Business School during my post-graduate in the AGCO Agribusiness Qualification Program.

 Course : Agricultural Science. I am always grateful to our lecturers who taught us things that are very relevant to my daily work!

The establishment of a new dairy herd farmers can opt for many strategies to acquire quality animals. These include use of Embryo transfer technology, purchase of young heifers, and purchase of in-calf heifers.

Question 1: As an adviser to a new farmer wanting to set up a new herd can you explain the arguments for and against each of the strategies being proposed?

The above proposed strategies are common practices in animal breeding. They address the evaluation of genetic value of livestock animals with superior characteristics for example high growth rate, milk quality and quantity..Etc. In order to come up with a herd with desired characteristics, the farmers must first of all have a quality breeding stock.

Advantages and disadvantages of embryo (ET)

Embryo transfer technology is a dairy breeding practice that consists of collecting fertilized egg (embryo) from a donor cow and transferring it to a synchronised recipient to complete the gestation period.


  1. Increased reproductive potential: Many ova can be harvested and fertilised in-vitro. The resulting embryos are transferred into a recipient cow. Naturally, a cow can only give one embryo per gestation.
  1. Fast genetic improvement
  1. Good when superior cow is not physically fit: even if the superior cow is not physically fit for example due to old age, illness, injuries etc, it can still continue reproducing
  1. Can be used with infertile animals: ova can be harvested from infertile animals and fertilized in-vitro and later transferred to a recipient.
  1. Financial benefit: if the embryo transfer is success, the resulting calf is of guaranteed superior quality with high productivity. This enhances the returns on investment.
  1. Future use: Ova and other superior genetic materials can be stored and made available for future use.


  1. Technical skills: the technology requires high level trained personnel with technical knowledge and experience. It is delicate and should be well monitored especially the process of embryo flushing,
  1.  Expensive: Cost of equipment’s is high, in addition to high cost of hiring skilled personnel,
  1. Low success rate: the technology involves various processes fertilization, flushing, preparation of recipient…which exposes it to possible contamination leading to low success rate.
  1.  Labor and time consuming: every process of embryo transfer is carried out by a team of skilled professional. 

Pros and cons of purchasing a young heifer

This strategy consists of buying a heifer of preferred superior characteristic. A heifer is a female cow that has never given birth.


  1. There is guarantee of improved breed with high productivity from the heifer.
  1. Less technical skills required unlike embryos transfer,
  1. Saves time: a farmer can acquire as many heifer as possible without spending time on reproduction


  1. Expensive: the farmer will incur a lot before the heifer becomes productive
  1.  Labor intensive: the feeding program of a heifer is labour intensive because it consists of artificial suckling and feed formulation.
  1.  Risky because the heifer is exposed to illnesses and infertility, unlike the case of purchasing an in-calf heifer.

Merits and demerits of purchasing an in-calf heifer

An in-calf heifer is a young female cow that is pregnant for the very first time.


  1. Saves on time: the farmer only needs to develop skills of managing the final stages of gestation. The farmer doesn’t need to go through the prior step of selection of breeding stock and reproduction.
  1.    Needs less skills in terms of reproduction and breed selection
  1.    Eliminates the necessity to rear a bull
  1.   The farmer is able to start earning returns after a shorter period of less than nine months.


  1. Requires skills in calving and feeding of calves
  1.   Expensive: in Kenya, an in-calf heifer costs approximately ksh 300,000 which is relatively unaffordable
  1. Risky: it could happen that the sperms were not taken from a quality bull

Question 2: You are also approached by a large farmer cooperative who also wants to improve the quality of their animals. What breeding strategies would you recommend for such a group?

As a consultant in animal breeding, I would start by analysing the human resource and financial ability of the cooperative before recommending any strategy. I addition, would look through their business plan to understand their growth strategy in terms of herd capacity, productivity and set timelines.

Assuming that the cooperative has already selected a breeding stock, I would always recommend Artificial Insemination because of its affordability and high success rate. In Kenya, AI services cost on average Ksh 3000 per cow.

Why Artificial Insemination?

Artificial Insemination is the transfer of semen from a bull and implanting it into the uterus of a cow using specialized equipment. AI is the most commonplace practice in animal breeding, especially for cows. I would advise the farmer to use AI because of the following facts:

  •   Conception rate with AI is relatively high, estimated at 60%

  •   Semen can be shipped from overseas from improved breeds
  •  Affordable: In Kenya it costs roughly KSH 3000 per cow
  • Possible to store semen for future use even after the bull is dead or unable to reproduce
  • AI prevents injuries to animals that can occur due to natural mating,
  •  Removes the cost of having to keep a bull on the farm

Question 3: What pitfalls should the farmers watch out in the roll out of the solution?

The technique is fairly complicated, and also it can only be administered by certified veterinary doctors. It also calls for use of specialized equipment.

One of the key pitfalls to watch out in this process is timing and synchronization. Farmers must detect the heat periods in cows and act accordingly within a very narrow window.

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