The traditional systems of selling cattle in Uganda recognise that meat is a byproduct. Cattle are kept mainly for milk, while bulls are usually slaughtered, especially if a farmer is a dairy keeper.
Save for a few farmers, cattle being prepared for beef ‘suffer’ more than those kept for milk.
However, there is obvious scope to improve this traditional and inefficient system through strategic feeding of good forage to fatten bullocks for beef or to buy animals from others, and fatten them.
The common practice has been that fattening is done using the natural grasses on free range.
This costs a lot of time, hence the need to plant exotic grass to get quick results. As a caution, do not stock cattle for fattening unless you have the supplementary grasses ready on the farm.
These grasses include napier; guatemala, lablab, sorghum and brachiaria mulato. All seeds can be got from the National Agriculture Research Organisation/National Livestock Resources Research Institute (NARO/NaLIRRI), in Namulonge, Tororo and other centres.
Napier /elephant grass (ebisagazi)
Napier grass remains the dominant forage for cattle in Uganda, especially under the zero grazing system. The grass can withstand at least four to six cuttings per year, yielding 50 to 150 tonnes of fresh forage per acre.
It grows in altitudes ranging from sea level to 2,000 metres above sea level. It can grow in most places across Uganda and does best in areas that receive at least 1,500mm of rainfall per year.
Napier can grow in almost any soil, but does better in deep, fertile and well-drained ones. It is drought resistant.
To plant it, cut canes with three to four internodes and insert in the soil leaving one internode uncovered. The cane can be obtained from plants that are about to flower with the stems still green.
Dig a hole with width of 15-20cm and a depth of 15-20cm at a spacing of three-feet between rows and a two-feet between crops. Apply one or two handfuls of farm manure before planting. It takes three to four months before the first harvest.
Harvesting can continue for an interval of six to eight weeks for five years.
This grows well in areas that also sustain napier grass. To plant it, prepare root splits of 30cm in length. A root split is when the root of a mature plant is cut into lengthy pieces. Plant one root split per hole.
Apply one handful of farmyard manure in each hole. At three to four months, it is ready for harvesting. Keep harvesting for three to four years with an interval of eight to 12 weeks between harvests.
Brachiaria mulato grass
It grows in well-drained soils of medium fertility with a pH of 4.5-8.0. You can do soil testing to find out the pH (level of acidity). However, it grow in less fertile acidic soils.
Mulato can be established using seeds, planted in a well-prepared seed bed with a spacing of 1x1m or prepared vegetatively from cuttings and splits of mature grass.
The rooted splits are then planted at a spacing of 1x1m. It grows faster, establishing 85% of ground cover in two months after planting. It is ready for harvesting after four months.
Yields from cattle fattening
The cattle must be fed the correct quantity of the right feed mixture so that they grow efficiently, utilise the feed efficiently, produce good quality meat, thus maximising your profit.