International Women’s Day: Female African Dairy Farmers

The numbers on a poster on the Health For Animal website marking International Women’s Day on the 8th March, caught my attention: two thirds of the 600 million poorest livestock keepers globally are women. 90% of the income they earn is ploughed back into their family or society.

In East Africa, dairy is the biggest industry for female livestock keepers. This is a population of small holder farmers that produce milk for their family and sell any excess often through milk collection hubs. The farms are often without electricity and so things like refrigeration to keep milk cool are simply not possible.

Bridgit Muasa, a veterinary surgeon from Kenya, has recently completed her PhD studies which began by examining the use of progesterone as a heat detection tool alongside mount detectors in Scotland and subsequently worked with small holder farmers in East Africa.

One aspect of her work in Africa was working with small holders in Kenya to evaluate whether a rapid progesterone test, P4 Rapid, could assist in fertility management for the farmers. One part of her work, looking at the use of progesterone testing as a way to determine non-pregnancy one cycle after artificial insemination won the annual BSAS Prize for Industry in 2019. Her study population involved 66 cows (pure Holstein- Friesian, Ayrshire & Guernsey or crosses of these breeds) on 30 small holder farms in central Kenya. There pregnancy is normally detected about 90 days or some 4.3 cycles after insemination, representing a considerable delay before the animal is reinseminated if she failed to become pregnant following AI. 

In the non-pregnant cow, progesterone levels rise and fall in an approximately 21 day cycle, with low progesterone coinciding with heat when the cow is fertile. In contrast, progesterone levels rise in the pregnant cow and, as long as the pregnancy is maintained, remain high throughout pregnancy. Thus examining milk progesterone levels at around 3 weeks after insemination permits early detection of failure to conceive signified by low progesterone. 

Examining progesterone levels in milk on days 22 and 24 or on day 24 only provided a highly sensitive and predictive method of detecting non pregnancy and there was no additional benefit from testing on 3 or 4 days. The study concluded that testing on days 22 and 24 after artificial insemination provided a method of early detection of non-pregnancy in small holder dairy cows.

“a highly sensitive and predictive method of detecting non pregnancy”

Maggie Fisher

I acknowledge Bridgit and everyone else who is seeking to introduce cost effective tools to assist small holder farmers to support themselves, their families and their communities. See P4Rapid for a rapid, pen side oestrus detection tool.