Farmers can avoid dry fodder shortages by conserving it when it is plenty during the wet season. (Article from Organic farmer)
If we go by recent weather forecasts, the country is likely to experience a more severe drought in the coming dry season beginning next month. Livestock farmers might face problems in getting fodder and pasture for their animals. But this should not be the case if farmers plan ahead to determine their feed requirements and take fodder conservation measures.
Farmers have been blessed with adequate rains since the beginning of the year. The rains have provided most parts of the country with plenty of pasture. It may be too late to prepare hay or silage now, but after harvest, a lot of crop residue from maize, beans and other crops will be available this month and December. A wise farmer can make good use of these residues and improve their nutritional value by properly conserving them.
Planning ahead is the solution
Farmers should never wait for the dry season to start preparing fodder. It is always better to do this when there is plenty of green foliage on the farm. Excess grasses and legumes should be harvested during the rainy season. If they are slightly dried and stored, they provide high quality fodder during the dry season. Maize, Napier grass, fodder sorghum and fodder legumes can be chopped to make silage. Fodder trees give large amounts of high quality fodder, which is cheaper than buying hay or even feed concentrates.
Tumbukiza and fodder shrubs
If you have planted Napier or other fodder shrubs using the Tumbukiza method (in pits), you may start to add water at the rate of 1 to 2 buckets into every pit every week as soon as the rains stop. The pits retain water better during the dry season and the grass will keep on growing. Fodder legumes such as leucaena, calliandra, lablab, desmodium or purple vetch can still be harvested for some time into the dry season. They can be used dried or wilted and will supplement the low protein and mineral content of low value feeds such as maize stalks.
Collection of crop residue
All crop residue such as maize stalks, bean residues or mature pasture grasses should be collected and dried as early as possible, if possible while they are still green. You may start to strip the lowest maize leaves as soon as the cobs have produced silk. Go through the field every week and strip the lowest leaf of each plant for feeding or for drying and storage. Take care not to remove the leaf directly below a cob and the one above it. When the cobs have reached the soft dough stage, the maize can be cut above the top of the cob. These procedures will not affect maize yields. After harvest, you do not have to waste time collecting the remaining crop residue! You will see, this is work that is worth investing in!
Conservation of crop residue
The next step is to store the residues under dry and shaded conditions that conserve their nutrients. A good structure such as a store is best. You should at least prepare stacks in the shade of a good tree. Direct grazing of animals on crop residue is wasteful: Nutrients are lost quickly in the rain and sun, and the animals trample on the residue, spoiling it through urine and droppings. Therefore, put the fodder in a trough or on a stack where a large percentage of it can be consumed. This saves you money you may have to spend later in buying extra fodder.
Using polythene bags to store fodder
During the wet season there is always excess fodder that animals cannot finish eating. Farmers can either store it as hay or put it into silage bags. Here is how to use polythene bags to store silage:
- Chop the fodder into small sizes as explained above. Spread a sheet or canvas tent onto a flat surface. Place 100 kg of chopped fodder on it. Spread it evenly on the canvas.
- Dilute 3 kg Kasuku tins of molasses in 3 litres of water. Sprinkle it on the fodder while turning it.
- Tie one end of a 2-metre long polythene bag (1.5 metres wide, 1000 gauge) polythene bag. Put the fodder into polythene bag, press and compact it as much as possible. Compact it more while adding until all the fodder fits into the bag. Tie the top of the bag while allowing all remaining air in the bag to escape. Place some weight e.g. a stone on top of the bag to make it more compact. Place the bag in a safe place away from sunlight or rain. The silage is ready for use after two months. It can be stored longer as the farmer wishes.
- Expel the air after every time you open the bag to remove silage and tie it tightly to avoid spoilage. Polythene bags cost about Ksh 110 per metre while molasses costs Ksh 300 for a 20-litre jerrycan. In a day an average dairy cow (550 kg body weight), producing 10 to 15 litres of milk requires 16 kg of silage, 4 kg of fresh Napier grass, 6 kg of grass (Rhodes, Kikuyu etc) and 6 kg of concentrates.
- All animals should have an unlimited supply of water throughout the day.
Treatment of maize stalks
Maize stalks are available in plenty after harvest. They contain only a few nutrients, and animals find them tough to chew while in this state. There are some methods farmers can use to make it more palatable for their animals:
•Chopping increases acceptability of residues.
•Soaking in water increases residue intake.
•Crop residues are poor in minerals. Sprinkling them with mineral salt is therefore useful and increases intake.
•Soaking in diluted molasses overnight increases intake and provides energy.
•Leguminous fodders are rich in minerals and proteins and increase digestibility of crop residues. They should be supplemented at a rate of not more than 30% of the ration. This corresponds to 10 to 15 kg of fresh leaves (or 3 to 5 kg of dried leaves) per day per cow.
•Concentrates like dairy meal or seed cakes improve protein and energy content of the ration and support milk production.
Hay making is easy and cheap
Harvest forage when the feeding value is high. Pasture for conservation should be cut after 4-6 weeks of re-growth, then dry and store it. Cut the pasture when half of the plants have flowered. Morning is the best time to cut forages for hay because more nutrients are conserved. A mixture of grasses and legumes with a lot of leaves is ideal. The legumes increase digestibility and intake of the conserved forage. Grasses such as Rhodes grass, Congo Signal grass, Guinea grass and Kikuyu grass, are good for hay production.
Dry the cut pasture as quickly as possible. Use a rake to turn the forage several times; this allows quicker wilting. Drying for 2-3 days should be sufficient, depending on the moisture content of the grass. Over-drying gives poor quality hay. Once dry, the hay can be stored loose or in bale-stacks in the field and in the barn. In the field, it should be stored on a raised mice-proof platform to avoid damage by rodents and termites. It should also be covered to avoid damage by rain and sunlight.
Good quality grass hay is able to sustain milk production during the dry season. An average sized cow will require one bale of hay per day if no other feed is available. Remember that when feeding dry matter, a constant supply of water is essential.