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Now Is The Time To Plant Grasses

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“Just like we plan to grow food for human consumption, we must do the same for animals,” says livestock farmer Brian Natwijuka.

He says the planning process starts at the same time farmers prepare to plant food.

“It does not matter whether you keep animals because you can grow pastures for sale to farmers who have cattle,” Natwijuka says.

In many countries, there are people who gross pastures for sale, even when they do not have a single animal of their own. This is very big business. In Uganda though, although the livestock sector is growing, very few people are practicing it.

The commonest grasses and pastures include chrolis gayana, napier, elephant grass, setaria and lab-lab. Pastures like chrolis gayana can produce as much as napier can produce over 200 tonnes per acre, while brachiaria mulato can produce over 30 tonnes per acre.

A kilogramme of dried grass goes for between sh300-500 in Uganda. Average investment is sh2-4m per acre of grass. This means that a farmer can earn as much as sh12m from an acre of chrolis or brachiaria mulato.

According to Dr Jolly Kabirizi, a livestock nutrition specialist, establishing a new pasture requires good management to get the pasture growing quickly and vigorously. Key factors to consider in establishing a pasture:

-Soil testing

-Seedbed preparation

-Selecting pasture species adapted to the specific area

-Seed quality

-Seed dormancy

-Seed rates

-Sowing methods

-Depth of sowing and fertiliser requirements.

  • Seed bed preparation

The timing of seedbed preparation is an important key to the success or failure of pasture establishment. Seedbed preparation must be done before the rains begins. A well-prepared seedbed is required to creating a favourable environment in which seeds will germinate, emerge and grow and to destroy unwanted plants and weeds.

  • Select pasture species adapted to the specific area

Selecting the right pasture species or species mixture is extremely important. When establishing a pasture, it is important to match pasture species to the site, soil type and type of feeding (zero-grazing, open grazing, animal species and class). Consult your extension staff.

Good pastures must have the following characteristics:

(i) Tolerance to cutting

(ii) Resistance to drought

(iii) High nutritive value

(iv) High palatability, and

(v) High biomass pasture production.

  • Seed quality

Poor quality seed will affect germination of the seed and lead to poor and prolonged pasture establishment. Seed germination and contamination with weeds should be checked. Seeds should not be stored for too long, they should be planted as soon as possible to ensure a high germination rate. Good pasture seed should have a germination percentage of about 30% for grasses and at least 70% for legumes.

  • Sowing

Pasture crops can be propagated using vegetative materials or seed. Vegetative planting materials are often used for pasture grasses because:

(i) Adequate grass seed of good quality (e.g. brachiaria or signal grass) is often not available;

(ii) Grass seed is too expensive and often beyond the reach of most farmers;

(iii) The viability of most grass seed is often too low, and;

(v) Some pasture grasses, for example, napier grass do not produce seeds.

Vegetative materials can be obtained by breaking up larger clumps into pieces or using the small tussocks along the stolons that establish readily. Vegetative materials may be in form of rhizomes, stolons, stems, splits, cuttings, potted seedlings and rhizomes.

Grass and legume seeds to be planted should be mixed with some sand in a ratio of 1:2 (sand:seed).  This allows even distribution of seed and minimizes wastage of seed. The mixed seed can be sown by broadcasting or sown in rows.

Spacing for row-planted seed is 30cm between rows. Planted seed must be lightly covered with soil using a rake or a tree branch to ensure good seed and soil contact and for protection from birds and being washed away by rain.

In case seed is used, it is desirable that the germination percentage do not go below 75% and 30% for legumes and grasses respectively.

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