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How To Manage Napier Grass

by Wangah Wanyama
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Weed Control:  Napier grass requires frequent weeding hence a minimum of two rounds of weeding, three weeks after planting and three or four weeks before first harvest. Weed encroachment in Napier grass fodder fields results in large economic losses to dairy cattle enterprises. Weeds compete for water, light, and nutrients, and reduce forage productivity.

Controlling weed infestations, therefore, is key to achieving greater dairy cattle performance and maintaining increased land productivity. Weeds in Napier grass field can be reduced through intercropping with forage legumes. Management strategies to control different weed species, include herbicide use at the appropriate, rate, and the timing of application; and manual weeding.

Top Dressing with Fertilizer: When cutting Napier grass fodder, large quantities of nutrients are removed. To stimulate the growth of Napier grass well into the dry season, half of this amount can be applied towards the end of the rainy season.  High yields of Napier grass fodder can be maintained with application of fertilizers such as Urea and NPK;  dairy cattle slurry; a mixture of cow dung, urine and feed left over available from the zero-grazing stable. The rate of application of cattle slurry will depend on soil fertility. Manure/slurry should be buried between Napier grass rows to avoid loss of nitrogen. The slurry is applied after the onset of long and short rainy seasons. Consult your extension staff for the right fertilizer rates.

Irrigation: Irrigation is essential for high yields. A furrow system is quite satisfactory, applying water about every 10 days during the dry weather.

Harvesting Napier Grass Fodder: The first cutting is expected 10 to 12 weeks after planting, when the plants are about 60 cm high. This will depend on Napier grass variety, soil moisture and soil fertility, weeds, pests and disease control. It is recommended that the cutting be done at a height of 5 cm from the soil/ground.  This is to allow for more growth of new shoots. Cutting intervals depend on Napier grass variety, rainfall availability and the level of management. Successive harvests should be done when the crop is about one meter high.  If properly managed, Napier grass remains productive for more than 6 years.  The quality of the grass is reflected by a dark green colour. Do not let the grass overgrow because it becomes more bulky then, but the quality is reduced seriously.

Napier Grass Fodder Yield: The yield of Napier grass mainly depends on the cultivar (variety), agro-ecology, climatic conditions, management (including fertilizer application practices) and other edaphic factors.  On-farm studies show higher fresh biomass yield (60 -150 tons/ha) with fertilizer application compared to fresh biomass yield of 20 tons/ha where no fertilizer was applied.

Feeding Value of Napier Grass fodder: Apart from variety, the nutritional qualities of forages are influenced by the climate, soil nutrition, season, fertilizer application and cutting management practices and age at harvest. Napier grass contains crude protein of 9 to 16% when harvested from 10–15 weeks. Dry matter content of Napier grass fodder varies from 16.5 to 24.0 percent. Consequently, great care should be taken to determine the optimum time when planning to harvest Napier grass in order to maximize both yield and nutritional qualities.

Compiled by Dr Joplly Kabirizi

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