Sahiwal: Easy to handle dual-purpose breed

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Sahiwal is a breed of Zebu cattle, which is loved for its ability to give high quality milk with high butter fat content. It is fairly resistant to tick borne diseses and thrives in arid and semi-arid areas where pure exotic breeds find it difficult to cope.

Among small scale farmers, the breed is used for milk production, while in ranches, it is used primarily for commercial meat production. The biggest advantage of the Sahiwal is its higher milk production compared to the Boran; its weaners are healthier and heavier (60 – 75 kg). 

The Sahiwal originated from Sahiwal district of Pakistan, and reared in the Punjab region of India. Sahiwal is known for its easy calving, rapid weight gain, heat and drought tolerance, capacity to cope with bloat, hybrid vigour and longevity (they can reproduce up to 20 years). Sahiwal beef is noted for its even fat cover and leanness. The breed was introduced in Kenya in the 1930s and 1940s and has been bred in the marginal areas for both beef and milk.

Physical characteristics

Sahiwal’s colour ranges from reddish brown to red, with varying amounts of white on the neck, and the underline. In males, the colour darkens towards the head, neck, legs, and tail. The tail ends with a black switch. The breed is also known for drooping ears. The hump is massive, but in the female it is nominal. At the KARI multiplication centres (Naivasha and Perkerra), adult females weigh 460 kg and males weigh 680kgs, though higher values for males have been documented.

According to research conducted by KARI, the breed is a good milk producer – compared to other local breeds and is capable of an average of producing about 8-10kgs per day, with a fat content of 4.5 %, within an average lactation period of 10 months. Sahiwal has larger teats compared to other Zebu breeds, making milking easier. 

They produce small calves (average weight of 27kg) without difficulty or requiring assistance. Sahiwal is also relatively resistant to tick-borne diseases, though not as much as Boran. These characteristics make the Sahiwal attractive to the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya.

Kenya has made great contribution to the improvement, conservation and distribution of the Sahiwal genetic pool. This takes place at the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute’s National Animal Husbandry Research Centre. Due to its excellent performance, KARI Naivasha established the National Sahiwal Stud (breeding farm).

The farm has two main objectives (i) to produce pure-bred Sahiwal cattle for use in the arid and semi-arid areas, and (ii) cross breeding of Sahiwals with exotic breeds such as Friesians to produce a breed that is suitable for milk production in both high and low rainfall areas.

The success of the breeding program has also seen the Sahiwal exported to South Africa where it is being reared both as a pure breed and used for cross breeding with BrahmanSimmental and the indigenous Nguni. In Kenya, Sahiwal has more advantages over other Zebu breeds in the market. It's used for dual-purpose production in middle to lower-potential areas. In fact, the animal is so popular among the Maasai. Its color is referred to as rangi ya pesa (the colour of money).

Cross breeding

Kenya has enormous genetic resources of Sahiwal cattle that is used as source of breeding stock and semen for the country and Africa.

Sahiwal is an excellent grazer, able to use pastures in arid and semi-arid areas, making it a good alternative choice for farmers who are not interested in zero grazing or want to have both milk and beef. Cross-breeding with Fresian, Jersey or Ayshire increases the milk production potential of its heifer. A Sahiwal-Friesian cow gives higher milk yields compared to a purebred Sahiwal, yet it does not eat as much as the Friesian breed. The breed is also resistant to most of the common cattle diseases compared to the Fresian. According to research conducted by KARI, the Fresian-Sahiwal cross gives average milk yields of 15-18kgs per day. Calves grow faster and so heifers can be served early.


Sahiwal thrives on natural pastures - including Kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum), star grass (Cynodon plectostachyum) as well as raised fodder grasses like Boma Rhodes (Chloris gayana), Foxtail grass (Cenchrus Ciliaris) and Fodder Sorghum, among others. It is advised that the cows are grazed rotationally in paddocks to give grasses time to re-grow.

Water and mineral licks should be provided as the farmer desires. Sahiwal cows kept for milk production can be supplemented with a protein legume and concentrate for more milk production.

Health management

Ticks pose a major risk to cows in pasture areas. Dip or spray animals with acaricide once a week to prevent tick bone diseases. To prevent internal parasites, deworm animals regularly every three months and as is necessary depending on the helminth feacal egg count.

In addition, routine vaccinations against diseases like Foot and Mouth, Anthrax, Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD), and other epizoonotic diseases should be done. East Coast Fever (ECF) vaccine is now available and given once in the animal’s lifetime for Foot and mouth disease. Anthrax vaccinations were given twice a year.

Notice: KARI (Naivasha and Perkerra) has both Sahiwal and Sahiwal-Friesian crosses that are periodically sold to breeders and farmers. Talk to the centre directors of the two stations on 0770735453 and 0773479017 respectively for more information. Farmers can get Sahiwal Semen from Kenya Animal Genetic Resources Centre (formerly CAIS). Talk to an Artificial Insemination (AI) agent or semen distributor in your area.

>>Share your experiences with TOF and fellow farmers. Send email to [email protected],  leave a comment below this article or SMS to 0715 916 136.


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