Farmer-to-Farmer Ethiopia Success Story

Farmer To Farmer Slide
Volunteer Vinton Smith (right) with host Yared Abebe (left) at Yaya Dairy Farm, Ethiopia, where transformative changes are doubling milk production.

Average milk yields in Ethiopia stand at around two liters per day, so the 11 liters that Yaya Dairy Farm in Ziway was producing by early 2023 was already above average. This is attributed, in large part, to the type of cows the farm raises, which are Holsteins. Despite this, the farm’s owner, Mr. Yared Abebe, felt that the farm could produce more milk if it improved its management practices and techniques. He turned to the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program for help and was astonished by the rapid impact of that support. Twelve months on from the F2F assignment, conducted by volunteer Vinton Smith, Yaya Dairy Farm was producing an average of 21 liters per cow—almost doubling production in one year. Mr Abebe doesn’t work alone. As well as his employees, he is supported by Dr Lemi Korso, a local veterinarian. As astonished as Yared by the rapid improvements, Dr Korso has spent the past year sharing the newly acquired dairy management practices with approximately 100 other farms in the region, even showing them videos taken from Yaya Dairy Farm so they can all learn the new techniques for themselves. Yared has played his part, too. “Other farmers come to our farm to learn from us,” Yared says. “I share all of the new milking and feeding techniques I learned from Vinton with other farmers.”

This story began with an initial analysis conducted jointly by CRS and Yaya Dairy Farm which concluded that the feeding, housing and hygiene conditions of the cows were all areas for improvement. The farm was facing high operational costs that were eating into profits, and inadequate management techniques meant that feed was being prepared in a haphazard way, with no differentiation being made of the needs of the dairy cattle at different stages in their growth. Based on this analysis, CRS wrote a scope of work and posted it on the F2F website calling for a volunteer willing to travel to Ethiopia and support the farm. The call was met by Mr. Smith, an Executive Sales Representative at Elanco Animal Health.

When Smith came to Ethiopia, he found Yared Abebe eager but unable to meet the high local demand for dairy products. He had founded the farm in 2016 after selling his car and using the money to buy two cows. Since then, the number has risen to 45 heads of cattle but still, due to productivity challenges, the amount of milk the farm produced was falling short of the considerable local demand.

Vinton’s assignment began in early February, 2023. His immediate impression was that the farm, settled on the outskirts of Ziway, a few hours south of the nation’s capital and next to a 170 square mile lake, was, “So different than any others I’ve worked with in the past and certainly different than farms in the

United States.” Wondering how to tackle the sizeable task ahead, he spent the first day of his assignment observing, asking questions and provoking reflection. “I wanted to help them figure out what could be improved by pointing out opportunities,” he explained. “If they could learn how to identify and diagnose problems, their improvements would continue.” This approach continued throughout Vinton’s two week stay with the farm, with him constantly returning to the fundamental mantra: “What is one thing we can figure out today that will make tomorrow better than yesterday?”

It soon became clear there were three key issues to address: 1) access to water, 2) feeding techniques and 3) milking procedures. An additional challenge was the farm’s record-keeping.

Without adequate intake of water, cows become dehydrated, and their milk production suffers; 88% of milk consists of water. This was a relatively easy fix, given the amount of water locally available. Vinton pointed out the extent to which the cows were dehydrated by noting the color of their urine. As soon as Yared saw this, he purchased several barrels which he and Vinton fashioned into fully replenished water troughs, easily accessible to all the cows.

Next, they turned their attention to the feeding techniques. Although they were adding concentrate to wet brewers’ grain and straw fodder, they were saturating it in water and failing to mix it properly. Consequently, the cows were somewhat reluctantly ingesting a sloppy mix that was low on nutrients, and the fortified dry feed was being left at the bottom of the trough and later thrown on the compost pile. This was both a waste of money and a failure of a crucial element of dairy cow nutrition. After Vinton showed them a new method of preparing the feed, the dozen farm workers were surprised to see the cows tucking in with renewed enthusiasm. Not only did the cows start to eat better but the consistency of the manure they produce also improved, indicating that the cows were healthier and better equipped to produce more milk.

Changing the milking technique proved to be the hardest challenge. Yared and his colleagues were adamant that applying Vaseline to the cows’ teats and “stripping” them (squeezing them while sliding their hands in a downward motion) was the best way to milk the cows. However, stripping tends to lead to ‘blind quarters’ or dry teats, and this was in evidence as one of the workers pointed out that some cows only produced milk from three of their four teats. Vinton’s suggestion was simple and, although they had grown to trust him by now, they were still somewhat skeptical that it would work. Vinton suggested that they first clean the teats with an iodine solution, gently stimulating the cows’ milk “let-down” response, then simply squeeze the teats, without applying Vaseline, and without stripping. To their surprise, milk began to flow from all four of the cows’ teats.

At this point, Vinton told them something they found even harder to believe. He said that over time they could likely double their milk production. Given that Yared’s market outlets included local cafes, restaurants, hotels and schools, this sounded like a dream scenario, not only for his business, but also for the local community. The need for milk was significant but he had never been able to improve production to better meet that need. With the improvements that the farm has seen, Yaya Dairy Farm can now provide a serving of milk to 600 more school children every day.

For Vinton, his Farmer-to-Farmer experience was gratifying but he gives the credit to Yared and the farm and their willingness to try new methodologies. He believes this is at the core of the assignment’s success. And the future remains bright, as he explains,

“Bottom line, it is absolutely realistic for Yared to set a goal to reach 25 liters next and then a goal of 30 liters. This can be achieved through continued nutritional improvements with concentrate feed from his feed processing center and then improving forage quality. Past and future improvements will enable his cows to also have longer lactations, increasing from 6-8 months to 8-9 months, leading to even more milk being available for people in the local community.”