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Effect of housing improvement and other factors on the growth of heifer calves on Kenyan smallholder dairy farms


This trial evaluated average daily gain (ADG) effects of heifer calves (< 1 year old) from affordable housing improvements to the roof and flooring on 150 randomly allocated smallholder dairy farms. During the 16-month data collection period, bimonthly farm visits were used to measure weight and other animal- and farm-level factors on the 187 study calves. Multivariable linear regression was used to model ln ADG and ADG during pre-weaning and post-weaning periods, respectively. Median pre-weaning and post-weaning ADGs were 0.307 (interquartile range (IQR): 0.227–0.398) and 0.487 (IQR: 0.354–0.675) kg/d, respectively. In the final pre-weaning model (p<0.050), factors positively associated with ln ADG were calf age at first acaricide application, and total number of calf pens, while factors negatively associated with ln ADG included calf mortality risk over the last 5 years and calf age at first ad lib access to water. In an interaction term, for calves from parity 3+ dams, ADG was lower when milk was fed twice/day than thrice/day, with no difference in calves of lower parity dams. In the final post-weaning model, housing improvements increased ADG by 5.6%. Other factors positively associated with post-weaning ADG were feeding of calf pellets, wheat bran, maize bran, and hay. Calf age at first introduction of concentrate and calf mortality risk over the last 5 years were negatively associated with ADG. In an interaction term, ADG was high when there were faecal coccidia oocysts and when calves had visual or physical contact with their dams, but low when faecal coccidia cysts were present, and these dam-calf connections were absent. In a second interaction term, ADG increased with more calf pens for female principal farmers, while remaining low for male principal farmers. In conclusion, while controlling for other factors of ADG, making affordable calf housing improvements enhanced ADG, particularly during the post-weaning period.

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This research was made possible with the financial support of the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre and University of Prince Edward Island. The funders had no role in the design, conduct or writing of the research.

The authors would also like to gratefully acknowledge the support of Kiambu and Murang’a County governments, local dairy cooperative societies, and farmers who graciously allowed us into their farms. Further, thanks are given to Charles Muraguri and Isaac Karuri who were field assistants, and Edith Keya and Beatrice Mutende who processed the faecal samples.

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Correspondence to Peter Kimeli.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval and farmer consent

This study was approved by the Research Ethics Board and the Animal Care Committee of the University of Prince Edward Island (#6007717). The study was explained orally to all participants, and signatures for informed consent were obtained from all the participants in the study.

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Kimeli, P., VanLeeuwen, J., Gitau, G. et al. Effect of housing improvement and other factors on the growth of heifer calves on Kenyan smallholder dairy farms. Trop Anim Health Prod 53, 120 (2021).

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  • Smallholder
  • Zero-grazed
  • Daily weight gain
  • Housing
  • Weaning