World Jersey Newsletter. January 1996.
The history of the Jersey in Kenya is almost as long as the history of European setlement. In 1920 Bimbo`s Lad was imported by Lord Delamere, then leader of the settler community. This bull was the subject of the earliest documented record of the breed, and was later transferred to the Watts Williams, pioneers of the Jersey breed in Kenya.
The Watts Williams farmed at Ol Joro Orok on the eastern wall of the Rift Valley. They imported two of the first pedigree Jersey females - Eastwood Derby Day and Round Nancy from England in 1921. In 1929 Bryn Glas Napoleon and Bryn Glas Jeanette were the first two Kenya bred Jersey registered.
The 1920s and 1930s saw the Jersey population built up, mainly through grading up the indigenous Boran breed with pure bred Jersey bulls from England, Jersey Island, Australia and South Africa.
In 1936 the Jersey Cattle Society of Kenya was formed celebrations are planned for the 60th anniversary in 1996. The same year saw the introduction of A.1. in Kenya, and the next two decades saw a steady increase in the national Jersey population - its heyday came in the 1950s with some 360 medium and large herds in the country. Milk was then bought on a quota system with excess accepted as butterfat, giving the Jersey an advantage.
This periode was followed by independence in December 1963 which had major consequences for the dairy industry as a whole. Prior to independence local Africans were not allowed to keep exotic European breeds but were encouraged to grade up their indigenious stock with the Sahiwal breed.
The Kenya dairy industry experienced a successful transformation from an industry based on a few thousand mainly European large-scale farms into one dominated by the African smallholder with nearly 2 million small farms (less than 2 hectares and herds of five animals or less) providing 80% of the national milk production.
The Society opened its membership to all races, and introduced new production systems, such as zero grazing. The Jersey breed experienced a revival in the late 1960s, new herds were set up, new genetics imported, and some of the best animals in Kenya history were produced. Large numbers of Jerseys were exported to Uganda, Zaire, Tanzania and Zanzibar.
The 1970s and 1980s saw a significant regression because of Government intervention and domination with poor marketing and marketing and pricing policies, as well as the running down of government advisory services. 1993 saw the liberalisation of the dairy industry, and the future looks optimistic again.
At present the Kenyan Society is an active group, with about 80 members. There are probably less than 30 to 40 medium to large herds, with tens of thousands of samll herds with ten animals of less.
Now that management of milk recording has been given back to the farmers and the Kenyan Stud Book, it should recover from the previous period of insufficient funding and poor management. Some 400 new Jersey animals are registered each year, with some 1.000 cows milk recorded. The national herd is estimated at about 100.000 Jerseys in Kenya. Top lactation yields are around 6.000 kg. milk
Several provincial agricultural shows are held each year by the Agricultural Society of Kenya, culminating in the Nairobi International Show in early October. This latter show still includes a good display of Jerseys doing well over the years in the interbreed competitions) and traditionally uses overseas Jersey judges.
Having traditionally obtained Jersey genetics from England and Jersey Island, more recently Kenyan breeders have favoured New Zealand and Australia. In particular, the New Zealand Ferdon lines have been used - the Kenyan breeder has similar aims to his New Zealand counterpart, such as cows with the ability to convert cheap grass to milk, and who are good walkers with good feet and legs. Danish semen has also been used, but although yields were impressive, the conformation and style were not what the Kenyan breeder wants.