By Dr. Jolly Kabirizi, a smallholder dairy farmer
Availability of nutritious fodder throughout the year is very essential for profitable dairy cattle farming. But feed availability (quality and quantity) varies from season to season. Therefore, every dairy farmer must preserve surplus fodder (forages and crop residues) to ensure continuous regular feed supply for dairy production, either to sustain growth, fattening or milk production, or to continue production in difficult periods when market prices are highest.
Conserved forages can take the form of: (a) hay, (b) haylage and (c) silage. It is important, to keep this fact in mind “At best, conserved forages can rarely match the nutritive value of fresh forage because some highly digestible nutrients (sugar, protein, and fat) are lost during fodder conservation and storage”.
Impact on herd productivity (milk, reproduction, meat, health, etc.)
- Improvement of meat production (hay) and/or milk (silage) during the dry season when prices are highest.
- Increase in birth-rate and reduction in mortality rate.
Hay is fodder conserved through drying to reduce moisture content so that it can be stored without rotting or becoming moldy. Reducing moisture content slows down the rate of growth of spoilage microorganisms. Hay can be made out of pasture grasses, legumes or a mixture and these can be natural and planted grasses.
Pasture grasses suitable for hay making include: Brachiaria ruziziensis, Brachiiaria brizantha (Common signal grass), Chloris guyana (Rhodes grass), Cynodon dactylon (Common star grass), Panicum maximum (Common guinea grass), Setaria anceps (Nandi grass), Hyparrhenia rufa (Thatching grass), Pennisetum cladestimum (Kikuyu grass), Cenchrus ciliaris (Buffel grass) and Themeda triandra (Red oat grass).
Some of the fodder legumes suitable for hay making are: Calliandra calothyrsus (Calliandra) Leuceaena leucocephala, Medicago sativa (Lucerne /Alfalfa), Dolichos lablab (Lablab bean) and Sesbania sesban.
There’s a science to making hay. First, farmers must choose the right pasture species to suit their environment. They then establish and manage the pastures using recommended agronomic practices. This ensures that the pasture plants are healthy. Pasture legumes and grasses should be mixed to make better-quality hay.
A mixture of Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana) and forage legumes
Major benefits from intercropping pasture grasses and legumes
- A mixture of Rhodes grass and forage legumes improves nutritional quality of the hay. Forage legumes have a higher nutritive value than grasses and also have the ability to ﬁx atmospheric nitrogen through their symbiotic association with rhizobia.
- The mixture has a potential to produce higher total herbage biomass yields, suppress weeds and improve soil fertility.
- Integration of forage legumes into a grass fodder system provides an effective means of increasing livestock productivity.