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4. Non-traditional production systems

Ranching systems

Ranching systems consist of labour-extensive enterprises specializing in one or more livestock species and producing mainly live animals for slaughter (for meat, skins and hides), but also for wool and milk. Management is characterized by grazing within the fixed boundaries that delimit tenure. Ranches are generally commercial enterprises, with generation of a cash income as the primary function of the livestock raised on them. In addition to its management and production objectives, ranching differs from traditional pastoralism in:

Ranching systems can either hold both breeding and growing stock or specialize in rearing/fattening animals, according to environmental and economic conditions (Jahnke et al., 1988). Although found in all the zones of sub-Saharan Africa, ranching systems are commonest in the arid and semi-arid zones of East and southern Africa and occur only sporadically in the drier parts of West and Central Africa. Ranches are also found in the humid zone of Central and West Africa but are not a predominant form of land use there. A few ranches are also found in the highlands.

Ranches generally exhibit improved herd, pasture and water management. Records are kept, herding patterns are closely adapted to the needs of different animal groups, and more external inputs are used (labour, purchased feed, inputs for animal health, etc.).

Smallholder dairy systems

Smallholder dairy systems may be characterized as mixed systems whose principal output is milk for sale. They are found mainly in the highlands. Smallholder dairy systems predominate in the high-potential highlands of Kenya and occur to a lesser extent in other East African highland areas.[5] Livestock production is integrated with the growing of subsistence crops, such as maize, beans and potatoes, and of cash crops, including coffee, tea and pyrethrum. Besides engaging in crop farming and keeping other livestock, smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya also typically keep two or three dairy cows with their offspring (KARI/ODA, 1996). These are mostly grade animals, but some are zebu or zebu x taurine crosses.

In the Kenyan highlands, the herds are composed of 80 percent female cattle and 20 percent male (mainly young males). Breeding bulls are not important in this system and represent less than 1 percent of the total herd. Gitau et al. (1994) report a species composition of 4.3 dairy cattle, 2.5 goats and 2.7 sheep, a ratio comparable to that reported by Ngategize (1989) for the highlands of the United Republic of Tanzania (four cows, two goats and three sheep). In the same study, cattle herd structures comprised 35 percent cows, 33 percent heifers, 18 percent immature bulls, 8 percent breeding bulls, 5 percent steers and 1 percent non-breeding bulls, with a mean of 3.6 head of cattle per household (Ngategize, 1989).

Table 21 shows the characteristics of mixed farming systems in the Kiambu district of Kenya. These systems have a median farm size of 0.75 ha and a median cattle herd size of three cows. The farms practise zero grazing, free grazing or a combination of these. In general, land ownership is private rather than communal and livestock management varies from family to family, with some families keeping grade cattle under improved management regimes involving stall feeding, use of concentrates and disease control.

Table 21. Characteristics of smallholder dairy farms in Kiambu District, Kenya





Farm size (acres)




Proportion of land for dairy (%)




No. of dairy cows




No. of sheep




No. of goats




1 1 acre = 0.4047 ha

Source: Gitau et al. (1994)

Contribution of livestock to household income

Table 22 summarizes the findings reported in the literature on the contribution of livestock to income in smallholder dairy systems. Livestock contribute between 30 and 80 percent of the gross farm income of smallholder dairy farmers in the Kenyan highlands. Ashimogo et al. (1998) considered cash income from farm and other sources and obtained a relatively low contribution of livestock to household income of 9.3 percent in the Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions of the United Republic of Tanzania. Recent studies of smallholder intensive dairying in the Kenyan highlands suggest that the net returns to family labour amount to about US$1 000 per year (Baltenweck et al., 1998).

Table 22. Contribution of livestock to household income in smallholder dairy systems

Contribution (%)1












Stotz (1979)

35 (47)

40 (53)3



Central highlands, Kenya

Murithi (1998)

9 (11.4)

73 (88.6)



Arusha and Kilimanjaro, United Rep. of Tanzania

Ashimogo et al. (1998)

1 Numbers in brackets refer to percentage of income from farm activities only

2 n.r. = not recorded

3 After including purchases and changes in herd value as part of output, the contribution of crops to the total value of agricultural output rose to 62% while that of livestock declined to 38%

Map 1. Definition of study area and agro-ecological zones in sub-Saharan Africa

Map 2. Estimated cattle population density in sub-Saharan Africa, 1994

Map 3. Estimated distribution of ruminant production systems in sub-Saharan Africa

Map 4. Estimated beef offtake (kg/km2) in sub-Saharan Africa

Map 5. Estimated milk offtake (kg/km2) in sub-Saharan Africa

Map 6. Estimated beef offtake (kg per capita) in sub-Saharan Africa

Map 7. Estimated milk offtake (kg per capita) in sub-Saharan Africa

Map 8. Estimated oxen workdays per km2 in sub-Saharan Africa

[5] Although smallholder dairying is mainly found in the highlands of Kenya and other East African countries, peri-urban dairy systems are found virtually throughout sub-Saharan Africa (Staal et al., 1997).

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