A study was carried out to assess dairy production practices in eight selected areas of the Ethiopian central highlands. Overall, 320 smallholder farmers (40 from each of 8 study sites) were randomly selected for individual interviews using a semi-structured questionnaire. Dairying (43%) was reported to be a major source of income for farm household. The major feed sources for dairy cattle includes grazing on natural pasture (62%), grass hay (94%), crop residues of barley (57%) and wheat (53%). Mastitis (66%), blackleg (18%) and foot and mouth disease (10%) were the most common dairy cattle health problems. On average, 1,977 Ethiopian birr was estimated for milk disposed from infected udders and cost of medication against various animal diseases per household/year. Artificial insemination and natural mating using genetically improved bulls were the two breeding methods for dairy animals. The average charges of artificial insemination and bull services were estimated to be 29 and 81 birr, respectively. The average milk yield per cow was 10 liters/day. Milking was dominantly done by housewives twice a day. Average calving interval (14 months), age at first calving (31 months), and lactation length (9.4 months) was reported for crossbred cows. The major dairy production constraints identified in this study were shortage of feed, poor nutritional quality, high veterinary cost and shortage of veterinary clinics and veterinarians. Thus it is recommended that there is a need to conserve feed, introduce improved forage species and improve animal health services, which will enhance the productivity and profitability of the dairy sector in the study areas.
Key words: Dairy production, feed, health, reproduction
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