Improvement of livestock production: Community based goat production, Kenya


Crossbred milking goats have proved to be a popular source of cash income, household daily milk requirements and manure for smallholder farmers in medium to high potential zones of Kenya. The three-quarter Toggenburg crossbred appears to be the most suitable in terms of both milk production and growth rates. This DFID project improved management techniques, and assessed different East African and Toggenburg crossbreds. Following is a description of the applied technology.



Goats form an integral component of the livestock sector in Kenya, and the goat population is estimated at 10.9 million spread throughout all the agro-ecological zones. In particular, goats are suitable for small scale resource poor farmers: they are cheap to acquire compared to cattle, they require little land, they reproduce quickly, and they are able to feed on a wide range of forages. As a result, goat rearing is an important activity for resource poor farmers under the mixed crop-livestock production systems that are commonly practiced in Kenya.

Dairy goats have considerable potential in the highlands of Kenya, where a majority of the population live. There has been significant interest in the use of crossbred goats, but although dairy goats have been introduced in various parts of the country, most projects have not taken sustainability into account, and the benefits have ended soon after the funding ceases. In previous attempts to genetically improve the local goat populations, breeding programmes have generally been centralised and research-centred, with minimal farmer participation. In addition, the contributions and/or preferences of the farmers intended to benefit from such efforts are usually ignored, leading to delays in the adoption of the technologies, low adoption rates or total failures.

From the surveys conducted during the study the farmers reported a range of different reasons for keeping dairy goats:

  1. To have enough milk for the family.
  2. To have goats to sell in emergencies.
  3. Goats take very little fodder therefore easy to manage.
  4. Goats have very good and high quality milk.
  5. Goats have many good benefits milk, meat, manure.
  6. Goats can finish my poverty.
  7. Feeding goats is easier than feeding cattle.

There are a number of factors that act against livestock keeping by small-scale resource poor farmers. These include: lack of grazing and feed resources due to limited land; lack of water; inappropriate land tenure systems (subdivision of land owned by most resource poor farmers); poor management systems and practices; high prevalence of animal diseases; low animal genetic potential; inaccessibility or costs of farm inputs; lack of access to technical information (extension services); lack of market information; and poor infrastructure.

This project was a community-based project set up in collaboration with FARM-Africa (see Technical Report, (FARM AFRICA 2005). The project introduced the Toggenburg dairy goat for cross-breeding, and set-up a sustainable community-based animal health delivery system and an improved feed resource base. The project also established farmer-to-farmer and extension-to-farmer training programmes aimed at creating a favourable environment to enable the improved goats to realize their full potential for milk and meat production.

An important outcome of the project was a clear demonstration that the productive capacity and success of any livestock population, whether local, introduced or cross-bred, can only be obtained if the assessment is carried out under their normal or intended conditions, in other words in the farmers¿ fields working with the farmers rather than under the more artificial, unrealistic or perhaps optimum conditions of a research station.

The research activities included:

  • Recording the productive capacity of local and crossbred goats in farmers flocks, and based on this making recommendations as to the best choices for meeting requirements for milk and meat production under local conditions.
  • Characterization of farm resources and the capacities for keeping and maintaining local or different grades of crossbred goats.
  • Recording physical and economic inputs.

Improved Goat Breeds

There are two indigenous goat breeds in Kenya, the Galla and the East African. These are less productive and therefore the project introduced the Toggenburg dairy goat from stocks in the UK to upgrade the genetic potential of the indigenous goat breeds.

According to the farmers interviews, the characteristics of a good goat should include:

  1. High fertility.
  2. Produce enough milk.
  3. Grow fast reaching maturity early.
  4. Good body structure.
  5. Big udder and a long neck.
  6. Straight back line and a soft udder.
  7. Well attached udder with two equal teats facing forward.

From the farmers interviewed, three traits were considered to be the main breeding objectives for the goat development in Meru Central and South districts of Kenya. Farmers considered the most important traits to be:

  1. Milk production.
  2. Growth rate.
  3. Manure for crop production.

These formed the basis of the breeding and management objectives in this project. The results of this study demonstrate that crossing of the Toggenburg dairy goat breed with the indigenous Kenyan meat goat breed (East African) is economically beneficial, as it results in significant improvements in growth rate and meat production potential. Reasonably high growth rates are achieved at farm level, and are better than those achieved at experimental stations. The results indicated that a three-quarter Toggenburg, one-quarter indigenous goat appears to be the most appropriate upgrade level in terms of survival, growth rate and milk production. The latter two traits were considered the most important by the farmers. The three quarter genotypes performed very well compared to local goats, pure Toggenburgs and the F1s. For additional information on farmer/community preferences and how these guided the initial breeding programme, see the technical report by (FARM AFRICA 2005).

For more information on the organization of the community based breeding programme and its management, see 'Sustainable genetic improvement of goat meat and milk production in Kenya: a case of the Meru and Tharaka-Nithi dairy and animal healthcare community-based breeding programme' by (AHUYA and OKEYO 2001), including especially figures 1 and 2 in that publication. The breeding strategy includes:

  • The establishment of a breeding unit for pure Toggenburgs, with the main objective to produce pure Toggenburg for expansion into new groups and also replace old bucks at the buck station. This is done by the community and is important since one of the constraints was a source of breeding stock. (Community-run breeding units overcome the problems inherent in other management models which generally fail after project funding ceases).
  • The establishment of buck stations for crossbreeding Toggenburgs with local goats, to produce the three-quarter genotypes. These stations are again run and maintained by the community.

Dairy Goat Production Handbook

The project also produced an illustrated Dairy Goat Production Handbook (KABERIA, MUTIA, and AHUYA 2003). This has the following main sections:

  1. Introduction to goats.
  2. Why keep dairy goats?
  3. Housing the goat, including plans for a goat house.
  4. Feeding the dairy goat, including the advantages of stall-feeding, and the types of feed that should be supplied.
  5. Kidding, or what to do before, during and after the does give birth.
  6. Husbandry techniques.
  7. Milking.
  8. Breeding, including what can be done to improve the productivity of local goats.
  9. Keeping records
  10. Goat health

Animal Health Services

The project's capacity building and enhancement activities involved the development of practical management and operational procedures to compliment and enable the most favourable breed improvement option to succeed, as well as development of an appropriate organizational structure to involve farmers and provide cost effective services.

Part of this experience is encapsulated in a publication 'Delivering affordable and quality animal health services to Kenya's rural poor' (FARM-AFRICA 2003). This publication presents community based solutions to animal health care service delivery in order to improve the livelihoods of both pastoralists and settled communities. It documents the experiences of community based animal health work in Kenya and illustrates a decentralised system of community controlled service delivery. In addition to providing an analytical account of the social and economic benefits, the effectiveness and economic viability of such community based service delivery, it also outlines lessons learned during the process to influence the practice of others interested in decentralised animal health systems.

A veterinarian-supervised animal health system tested by FARM-Africa and the Department of Veterinary Services during 1996–2003 proved to be effective in delivering high quality, affordable animal health care to livestock keepers in the marginal farming areas of Meru South and Meru Central districts of Kenya. The three levels of service providers were vets, animal health assistants (AHAs) and community based animal health workers (CAHWs), all of which have established viable enterprises providing their owners with a long-term livelihood as well as creating much needed employment in rural areas. As an indicator of the success of the system, the services provided were used by over 80% of users who were not part of the FARM-Africa Dairy Goat Project, indicating a real demand for such a decentralised animal healthcare system.

Underpinning the entire system was that each service provider approached their role as a business, took out loans and received training in business management skills. The strong links between vets, AHAs and CAHWs also led to the establishment of additional fora, such as the Meru Animal Health Workers Group, which will not only provide vital support to its members but will also represent their interests to the government.

The major impacts of the system are undoubtedly increased access to veterinary services and drugs from rural areas at vastly reduced costs; improvements in disease surveillance, increased community awareness of animal disease; successful intensification of dairy goat production and finally, improved range and supply of livestock and agricultural services.

Extension messages

  1. Upgrading locally adapted, but 'less' productive local goat breeds with exotic dairy breeds such as the Toggenburg, can enable farmers to quickly and flexibly match the available genetic resources to the existing production environment in a social and economically beneficial way (providing both milk and meat).
  2. Participatory farmer-group approaches can help resource poor farmers to mobilize resources and inputs from among themselves and various service providers for sustainable breed improvement and development. Farmer group approaches provide relatively easy access to otherwise expensive but high quality genetic material and affordable animal health delivery system.
  3. Farmers should keep simple livestock records to help them in making management decisions. Demand driven and farmer adapted farm records provides an effective means of realizing or facilitating effective genetic evaluation and improvement.
  4. The establishment of a breeders association, in this case the Meru Goat Breeders Association (MGBA), represents a critically important component within the 'extension' system. In this case MGBA was important for:
    • Overseeing goat improvement activities,
    • Setting standards for the Meru Goat breed that is under development,
    • Overseeing and ensuring that all goats owned by MGBA members are registered,
    • Organising for goat inspection, training and village shows to promote goat recording and improvement and aid in the dissemination of information.
  5. The processes involved in community-based goat improvement require close, genuine and highly interactive linkages between various players, where farmers, policy makers and other service providers are important. This will result in a partnership that is likely to enhance the sustainability of a farmer-led goat improvement programme.
  6. A crossbred animal, three-quarter Toggenburg (exotic) and one-quarter local goat, proved to be the most promising genetic composition of dairy goats that could be recommended for the resource poor smallholder farmers in Eastern slopes of Mount Kenya.

References and Further reading

FARM AFRICA (2005) Community-based Goat Productivity Improvement in Central and South Meru Districts. DFID Livestock Production Programme, Final Technical Report, Project R7634. 11 pp.

KABERIA, B., MUTIA, P., and AHUYA, C. (2003) Farmers Dairy Goat Production Handbook. FARM Africa and Mediae, London, UK.

FARM AFRICA. (2003) Delivering affordable and quality animal health services to Kenya's rural poor. FARM-Africa, Nairobi, Kenya.

AHUYA, C.O., OKEYO, A.M., and HENDY, C. (2001) Community-based livestock improvement: a case study of FARM-Africa's goat improvement project in Meru, Kenya. Paper presented at the 28th Tanzania Society of Animal Production, Scientific Conference, Tanesco Training Institute, Morogoro, Tanzania , 7-9 August 2001.

AHUYA, C.O., OKEYO, A.M., MOSI, R.O., MURITHI, F.M., and MATIRI, F.M. (2002) Body weight and preweaning growth rate of pure indigenous, Toggenburg goat breeds and their crosses under smallholder production systems in Kenya. 2 pp. Presentation at the International Conference on Responding to the Increasing Global Demand for Animal Products, Merida, Mexico. 12-15 November 2002.

AHUYA, C.O. and OKEYO, A.M. (2001) Sustainable genetic improvement of goat meat and milk production in Kenya: a case of the Meru and Tharaka-Nithi dairy and animal healthcare community-based breeding programme. 19 pp. Presentation at the International Conference on Responding to the Increasing Global Demand for Animal Products, Merida, Mexico. 12-15 November 2002

AHUYA, C.O., OKEYO, A.M., MOSI, R.O., MURITHI, F.M., and MATIRI, F.M. (2002) Body weight and preweaning growth rate of pure indigenous, Toggenburg goat breeds and their crosses under smallholder production systems in Kenya. pp. 85-86. Responding to the Increasing Global Demand for Animal Products: Programme and Summaries 38.

AHUYA, C.O., MATIRI, F.M., OKEYO, A.M., and MURITHI, F.M. (2002) Community-based goat productivity improvement in Central and South Meru Districts of Kenya: characterization of farm resources and capacities for keeping local goats or different grades of crossbred goats. In: Goat keepers cluster reports.

AHUYA, C.O., OKEYO, A.M., and MURITHI, F.M. (2004) Productivity of cross-bred goats under smallholder production systems in the Eastern highlands of Kenya. 7 pp. In: Small stock in development: Proceedings of a workshop on enhancing the contribution of small livestock to the livelihoods of resource-poor communities, Hotel Brovad, Masaka, Uganda. 15-19 November 2004. Natural Resources International Ltd., Aylesford, UK. ISBN: 0-9546452-5-1.

Contact details for DFID research project teams

To view table, click here.

Evidence of validation

To view table, click here

e-Resources - audio-visual material

The following audio-visual material related to this project is also available from FARM-Africa at

FARM AFRICA (2005). Goat Story Video. 3:32 mins. [4742Kb WMV format]

This video provides a unique insight into the Meru Dairy Goat and Animal Healthcare Project, Kenya, in which poor rural communities breed their local goats with the Toggenburg breed, dramatically increasing both milk yields and income. Available from:

FARM AFRICA. (2005) Dairy Goats Drive Development. 6:20 mins. [1486 KB MP3 format]

The hardy dairy goat is proving to be a key factor in improving the livelihoods of some of the poorest communities in East Africa. In Meru, for example, in the Eastern Province of Kenya, more than 30,000 families are thriving as a result of a dairy goat programme started by FARM-Africa nine years ago. Patrick Mutia, the coordinator, talks to Sarah Gillam about its impact.

FARM AFRICA. (2005) Bridging the Gap - the Critical Role of Community Animal Health Workers. 6:23 mins. [1515 KB MP3 format]

There's been resistance among many professional vets in Kenya to the idea of community animal health workers despite the lack of services in the rural areas. Dr Boniface Kaberia, a vet and livestock advisor with FARM-Africa tells Sarah Gillam, why community animal health workers are so vital for poor people and their livestock.

FARM AFRICA. (2005) Providing Veterinary Services for Poor Rural Communities. 6:26 mins. [1510 KB MP3 format]

Very few vets set up independently in Kenya, despite the growing need for animal health care in the rural areas. One of the few vets to do so is Dr Alice Kamau, a private vet in Meru in the eastern province of Kenya, who tells Sarah Gillam how she works with FARM-Africa providing services for poorer people and their livestock, as well as running her business in town.

FARM AFRICA. (2005) Dairy Goats are Special. [1445 KB format].

The cross-bred dairy goat has been a huge success in Kenya and as a result there's a long waiting list for this precious commodity. Chief Samson Kimathi Kambi is the Chairman of the Meru Goat Breeders Association and tells Sarah Gillam why the dairy goat is so special.

Health and safety

The researchers, their institutions or this website cannot be held responsible for any damage resulting from the use of the materials or methods described here. The application or use of treatments, processes and technologies is the sole responsibility of the user.

DFID disclaimer

This technology is an output from the Renewable Natural Resources Research strategy funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), for the benefit of developing countries. The views expressed are not necessarily those of DFID.


Technology selected and record compiled from original project documentation by Natural Resources International Ltd, with funding from DFID's Central Research Department (Communications). Implementing and advising on this process were: Karen Wilkin and Tina Rowland (joint project leaders), Andy Frost, Vino Graffham, Jody Sunley, Liz McVeigh, RNRRS programme staff, FAO's Research and Technology Development Service, FAO's LEAD programme, DFID's Central Research Department, Ken Campbell, Graham Farrell (Plant Clinic), Simon Eden-Green, Peter Golob, John Esser, Liz Betser (360º Responsibility). Validation domain reviewed by the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), Simon Eden-Green and Peter Golob. Uploading by Random X Solutions Ltd. For more information, please contact Karen Wilkin, NR International Ltd or Tina Rowland, Random X Solutions Ltd.

Complete listing of all uploaded documentation for this technology

Más información

FARM AFRICA. (2005) Community-based Goat Productivity Improvement in Central and South Meru Districts. DFID Livestock Production Programme, Final Technical Report, Project R7634. 11 pp.

KABERIA, B., MUTIA, P., and AHUYA, C. (2003) Farmers Dairy Goat Production Handbook. FARM Africa and Mediae, London, UK.

FARM AFRICA. (2003) Delivering affordable and quality animal health services to Kenya's rural poor. FARM-Africa, Nairobi, Kenya.




Fecha de creación

Mié, 28/06/2006 - 18:43

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