This paper explores effects of animal and manure management in a dairy unit on the nutrient economy of crop-livestock farms in East Africa. For this purpose, 8 cattle management scenarios have been developed based on farming systems in Mbeere, Kenya (extensive), Wakiso, Uganda (semi-intensive) and Kibichoi, Kenya (intensive). Three baseline scenarios represent present-day cattle management; five improved scenarios use the same dairy breeds but have improved nutrition, using younger grass, more legumes and moderate amounts of concentrates. These improvements strongly increase milk production per cow, but also N, P and K excretion in manure. The 8 cattle management scenarios are combined with 2 levels of manure management technology: a baseline technology, reflecting actual manure management and related losses of plant nutrients, and an improved technology with lower losses. Nutrient losses for each technology level have been derived from a thorough analysis of published information. This showed that current systems of collection and storage of the excreta of confined dairy cows are associated with large nutrient losses, in particular of N. These losses cause serious deficits on the N, P and K balances of the crop-livestock farms. Therefore, significant external N, P and K inputs and better manure management are required to sustain the production levels assumed and to avoid further soil fertility depletion in the region. The paper identifies several possibilities for this and concludes that there is a strong need for integral on-farm studies aiming at development of sustainable dairy production systems.