The most notable constraints to improving dairy cattle production are related to animal nutrition.
To obtain increased milk yields, improved pastures, especially mixtures of grass and legumes can produce large quantities of high quality feed for dairy animals at a low cost.As farmers get ready to plant food crops, those with animals should also plan to plant pasture for their animals.
Establishment of pasture
- Before establishing new pasture or renovating existing pasture, the farmer must evaluate the farm’s forage needs. It is important to consider how the forage will be used (grazing vs hay), what species might be more suitable to the area and what resources (equipment, money, and time) are available.
- Renovating a pasture should be based on existing percentages of the desirable species present in the pasture. The following criteria could be used:
- Selecting the right pasture species
- The pasture species selected must be adapted to the climate and soil where they are to be sown, and also be suitable for their intended use.
- Forage legumes
- Belong to the legume or bean family (Leguminosae)
- Produce foliage that is rich in protein with a desirable amino acid composition
- Common pasture legume species include Lablab purpureus (Lablab), Macroptilium atropurpureum (Siratro), Centrosema pubecens (Centro) and others
- Pasture grasses
- They are plants used as feed for livestock in the form of hay, green feed, silage and haylage.
- Grown both in field and fodder crop rotations and apart from crop rotation and many forage grasses grow on natural grasslands.
- Responsive to increasing nutrition and can produce an additional 100 kg of herbage in the growing season for every kiligramme of nitrogen applied.
- Fodder trees/multi– purpose trees
- “Multipurpose trees” play a significant role in feeding dairy cattle, goats and rabbits.
- Provide a source of fuel wood, employment, regulate the climate, wind breaks, timber, environmental protection, eco-system for wild game, shade, and soil fertility through manure
- Source of income from sale of seed, seedlings, conserved leaf hay etc.
(b) Soil fertility
- The first step is to obtain an accurate soil sample, and apply the recommended amounts of lime and fertiliser prior to seeding.
- The area extension agent can be contacted for assistance on how to take a proper soil sample.
(c) Seed quality
- Seed of most pasture legumes have hard seed coat that restrict entry of water. These seeds cannot germinate readily without pre-sowing treatment or until natural weathering has occurred in the field.
- To archieve rapid establishment of pasture legumes with high degree of hard seeds e.g. Centrosema pubescens and Macroptilium atropurpurem (Siratro), it is important to “break” the seed coats before sowing. A simple viability test
- Randomly take 100 seeds from the seed you intend to use. l Put water on a bloating paper and put the seed on the wetted paper. l Make sure the seeds get enough light and water.
- After seven days, count the number of seeds that have germinated.
- Percentage of planted seeds = Number of seeds that have germinated x 100 100 Good pasture seed should have a germination percentage of over 30% for grasses and over 70% for legumes.
(d) Seed treatment
- The seed of most forage legume species contains a high proportion of ‘hard seeds’. The seed coat of such seeds will not allow the seed to take up moisture and thus to germinate unless it is treated in some way.
- For a rapid germination and establishment, seed should be treated either by mechanical scarification or by immersion in hot water–both techniques readily suited to commercial practice.
- Hot water treatment
- Soak seed in warm water for about three minutes.
- The seed is then soaked in cold water over night and dried in a shade in the morning before planting.
- Seed treated this way can be stored and dried in the shade in the morning before planting.
- Mechanical scarification
- Rubbing seed between sand papers is effective.
- Use of fungicides and insecticides
- Seeds may also be treated with fungicides and insecticides like acetylic (for instance to reduce ant theft in surface sowing), or lime coated where soil acidity is marginally high for species.