Jersey cattle adapt well to various climates and production systems compared to other high producing exotic cattle, Dr Solange Uwituze, the Deputy Director General of Animal Research and Technology Transfer at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) has said.
Experts in animal husbandry concur that, unlike many breeds originating from temperate climates, the Jersey has the ability to effectively tolerate heat.
Gahiga Gashumba, the Chairman of Rwanda National Dairy Farmers' Federation, told The New Times that Jersey are the right choice for farmers in Rwanda's Eastern Province, which is prone to drought that often causes pasture and water shortages.
"Jersey cows have quality milk. They should be kept in Eastern Province because they tolerate heat and eat less," he said.
Uwituze observed that for a Rwandan farmer considering to produce milk, Jersey cows and Jersey crosses are the most beneficial cows to keep when considering production and returns from milk.
She was speaking to The New Times ahead of the World Jersey Cattle Bureau annual meeting and tour scheduled from June 17 to June 21, 2019 in Rwanda.
"They are the best breed for smallholder farmers in Rwanda because, Jersey cows eat less feeds compared to the quantity of milk they produce; use forage well and adapt to hot environment," Uwituze said.
"In brief, Jersey cows have a small size and, therefore, eat less with limited land where cows depend on forage as main feed. Jersey is appropriate breed under small scale farming," she indicated.
The main objectives of the conference are to create a forum for Jersey cattle breeders from all over the World to discuss improved methods of breeding, feeding and management under varied agricultural conditions and by the use of the Jersey breed in the most constructive manner, to discuss classification, inspection, type, milk recording, import-export regulations, value of Jersey milk in relation to other milk, among other things.
The Jersey is a British breed of small dairy cattle from Jersey - the largest of the Channel Islands, between England and France.
The Jersey cattle are relatively a small breed which are raised primarily for milk production.
Jersey cattle are popular and famous for high milk production and also for high butterfat (important in cheese and ghee making) of their milk, Uwituze observed.
Uwituze said that the Rwanda cattle population is estimated at 1.3 million, of which 41 percent are local breeds, 16 percent pure exotic breeds and 43 percent crossbreeds.
"The Jersey cattle genetics is significant in Rwandan cattle population as a result of the crossbreeding of local cattle with Jersey cattle semen. Each year, around 100,000 cows are inseminated with Friesian and Jersey semen (60 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively)," Uwituze said.
Total milk produced in Rwanda was estimated at more than 816,700 metric tonnes (over 816.7 million litres) as of June 2018, out of which, 36 per cent comes from pure breed cattle, 56 per cent from crossbreeds and 8 per cent from indigenous cows, according to information from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.
At individual cow, Uwituze said that average milk production under good management ranges from 15-20 litres per jersey cow per day.
Generally, she indicated, Jersey cows produce 81 per cent of Friesian milk volume-wise, but added that in low inputs system like smallholder farmers in Rwanda, production changes and Jersey can be more beneficial.
She observed that cattle crossbreeding program being done in Rwanda as part of bovine genetic improvement has the objective of increasing the improved genetics (Friesian and Jersey) in our cattle population.
For that, semen from best Jersey and Friesian bulls are used to cross with local cows or upgrade crosses to pure improved cows. This is going on well and around 100,000 cows are inseminated with these quality semen which give more than 40,000 improved calves per year.
Call for higher prices for Jersey milk
Gahiga said that given that the milk produced by Jersey cows is of high quality, characterised by high fat content, it should attract higher prices.
"Factories making ghee should choose Jersey milk because it has high fat content. But, farmers should get higher income from such milk which can also incentivise them to breed such cows," he said.