Smallholder dairy cattle production is a major source of income, milk, manure and employment in Uganda.
However, economic benefits are limited by feed shortages, especially during the dry season resulting in low animal productivity.
The quality and quantity of elephant grass fodder, a major forage in smallholder dairy systems decline during the dry season.
Maize seed is planted at a spacing of 75cm x 50cm using two seeds per hill and a seed rate of 20 kg/ha.
After the first weeding (about three weeks after the germination of maize seed), lablab seed is introduced between maize crop rows at spacing of 1m x 1m using two seeds per hill.
Fodder and grain yields and cob size are increased by about 26, 7% and 6%, respectively when maize is intercropped with lablab.
Improved total fodder (maize stover + lablab) yields could be attributed to efficient utilisation of water resources and soil nutrients in the intercrops.
The relatively lower yield of maize stover in intercrops compared to monocrops could be due to the smothering effects of lablab vines on the maize stalks during the third month after planting the maize seed.
Lablab vines grow vigorously twining around the maize stalks and resulting in a reduction of maize stover yield.
Maize grain yields improve by about 7% as a result of intercropping lablab with maize. Delaying the planting of lablab thus enables the earlier sown maize to grow without competition.
The quantity of fodder produced from an intercrop of maize and lablab could support a mature cow producing about 13 litres of milk/day at a rate of about 12 kg of dry matter/day of residues from maize and lablab intercrop for about 247 days.
Therefore, if a farmer establishes 0.4 ha/yr of an intercrop of maize and lablab in addition to fodder from 0.5 ha of a mixture of elephant grass and forage legumes, there will be sufficient fodder to feed a lactating dairy cow (about 450 kg live weight) throughout the year.
However, it is important to note that feeds from an intercrop of maize and lablab when fed alone may not be able to support very high levels of milk production.
This is because of low protein and energy content. Supplementing with forage legumes or fodder trees such as lablab and/or Calliandra calothyrsus and a concentrate and improving the overall management of the forages using recommended management practices (such as use of improved maize varieties and manure/or inorganic fertilisers; proper harvesting height) are possible methods of improving the forage quality and quantity.
Maize and lablab intercropping technology is of particular importance to resource poor crop-livestock farmers.
It improves the quality and quantity of fodder to fill the feed gap during the dry season.
Improved feed supply from the intercrops will have a positive effect on the carrying capacity and hence increase milk yields, growth rate and reproductive performance of the animals.