Tanzania Dairy Genetics

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What’s in a Name anyway

In human societies, a name is a very important element of one’s being. It’s the key identifier of an individual, and a nameless individual would be considered either a pariah, a conman or lost!

However, at the human relations level, the name has an even more profound function. It serves as the main handle through which human interactions subsists.


It therefore is rather interesting that a large majority of farmers in our study sites do not give names to their animals. Could it be a remnant from pastoral communities who have large herds and couldn’t possibly name all of them? I have asked farmers about this, and they say, it’s never occurred to them to name the animals, it’s just not something they do. They do identify the animal by their features, such as the white and black spotted cow, the brown skinned cow, the big horned cow etc.


Farmers in other regions of East Africa give very interesting names to their animals. Cows that have names of events, or prominent personalities such as Ocampo etc are mostly wild and problematic ones. Docile and more manageable cows get names that are flattering, some of them derived from characters in Spanish soap operas and related romantic ideals. Names such as Pendo (Love), Maua (Flowers) come to mind. Farmers are so spot on in this that you can actually determine an animal’s behavior patterns or character from its name. This derives from the fact that farmers name their animals a few months after birth.


There are yet other farmers that give names based on the physical description or appearance of the animal. Names such as ‘white patch on the head’ or ‘the spotted one’ are rife, especially in the Rift Valley region of Kenya.


It has been suggested that cows that are called by name actually have higher milk yields. This is not folklore but seems to be related to the physiological and biochemical processes that control milk production. A more relaxed animal will have better milk let down.


It would be interesting to see whether there is a significant difference in milk yield between animals that are addressed by their names and those that are nameless. Exciting times ahead!

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