The rain season has started. Farmers need quality pasture seed to produce feeds for their cattle (beef and dairy), goats, rabbits etc.
Pasture is a basal diet for ruminants
Please take note of the following when you are buying pasture seed;
- Buy pasture seed (e.g. Lablab) or cuttings (e.g. Napier grass) from a reliable source such as the National Livestock Resources Research Institute, Nakyesasa and others.
Many farmers have lost money because they buy poor-quality pasture seeds from people who are just interested in making money. Poor quality pasture seed has a very low germination percentage.
- Make sure you know the type of pasture seed you want to buy. Some people sell pasture seed mixed with other species, sawdust or sand.
Please note that they are two cultivars of Lablab (Rongai & Highworth). Rongai has brown seeds and produces white flowers. It also produces a higher herbage yield than cultivar Highworth which produces black seed and purple flowers. Lablab cv. Rongai fodder is good for all types of livestock. Layers supplemented with Lablab forage produce high-quality eggs.
- Request the person selling the seed to provide you with information on recommended agronomic practices. This includes, seed rate; spacing; sowing depth; seed treatment (scarification, hot water treatment and/or inoculation for forage legume seed); sowing methods (row planting vs broadcasting or intercropping with food crops such as maize and lablab), fertilizer requirements; pest control; management, utilization etc).
Seek advice from extension staff, fellow farmers or researchers on recommended pasture seed species and seed rates for the area where you plan to plant the pastures. A farmer informed me that he was advised to buy 30kgs/acre of Chloris gayana at sh60,000 @ kg. The farmer wanted to establish 50 acres of pastures.
Seed rate depends on factors such as sowing method (row planting vs broadcasting); seed variety; intended use (seed multiplication, grazing system) and other factors.
- Good forage legume seed should have a germination percentage of over 85% and pasture grass seed like Chloris gayana (Rhodes grass) should have a minimum germination percentage of 40%. Pasture grass seed needs “a dormant period” of at least three months after harvesting the seed before it can be planted. An important function of seed dormancy is delayed germination, which allows dispersal and prevents simultaneous germination of all seeds. You can do a simple germination test on the seed you buy. A germination test determines the percentage of seeds that are alive in any seed lot. The level of germination in association with seed vigour provides a very good estimate of the potential field performance.
- lmported pasture seed is very expensive because of transport costs, taxes etc. The cost of locally produced seeds depends on the variety. Forage legume seeds such as Centrosema cost sh25,000 to 30,000 per kg (seed rate is 3 kgs per acre), and Green leaf desmodium (Desmodium intortum costs sh120,000 to 180,000 per kg. Seed rate is about 1 kg/acre. lt is important to mix pasture seed with sand (1 part seed to 2 parts sand) before you plant (row planting or broadcasting) to ensure equal distribution of seed.
- When you buy Napier grass cuttings, please take note of the following:
(a) Are you buying the right Napier grass variety? Some farmers mix cuttings of Kakamega and Pakchong 1 Super Napier.
(b) Many farmers sell half a sac of Napier grass cuttings at sh30,000. A full sac of cuttings should contain at least 320 cuttings depending on the variety.
Please note that many Napier grass varieties are susceptible to Napier stunt disease which can lead to a decline in herbage biomass yield by over 90 percent during the dry season. Make sure you manage your Napier grass fields using recommended agronomic practices. NaLIRRI has Napier grass varieties that are tolerant to Napier stunt disease.