Some of you may have read a recent article about Bill Gates' "quest for a 'supercow.'" Here is our response.

Cross breeding European cow breeds with African isn’t a new or revolutionary practice. It’s been happening for well over 100 years across the continent. Indeed, Send a Cow has been promoting good animal management of crossbred dairy cows for three decades in an effort to improve milk yields whilst protecting cattle against regional diseases and the extreme heat.

As part of these efforts, we’re currently working with the Royal Jersey Agricultural & Horticultural Society to promote the world famous Jersey dairy breed to enhance milk production in Rwanda as Jersey cows are suited to the conditions in East Africa and are excellent milkers.  Crossbreeding a Jersey cow with a native cow has the potential for milk yields to leap from just 1-2 litres a day to 12-16 litres per day!

However, the idea of a ‘supercow’ is a sensationalist one. Outputs are tied to inputs, and a cow can only produce milk yields relative to the amount of feed and water consumed. In short, management of dairy cows is just as important as genetics – the cow is only as ‘super’ as the care and nourishment put into it.

Thus it is imperative that any crossbreeding schemes go hand in hand with training in animal husbandry to ensure that farmers are able to grow sufficient fodder and access enough water to enable their animals to thrive, just as Send a Cow does in our African programmes.

As a charity, we welcome the investment by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation into further research on cross-breeding, but caution that a focus purely on milk yields, without investment in the overall production of the farm system to support the animal, is unlikely to have the desired effect.

 

Paul Stuart, CEO