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IN the last issue we talked about pasture management, the stocking rate and stocking methods. Today we talk about how this established pasture can be conserved for future use by the dairy farmer.

Fodder is food for cattle. Fodder conservation is a treatment given to a fodder to preserve it for some time. This is done because the fodder so preserved has a higher feed value for the cattle than grazing during the dry season.

The quality of pastures usually drops, therefore, roughages of higher quality should be made available to supplement grazing especially after the rain season.

For milking cows, the yields may drop and the body condition may also drop. To maintain the yield and body condition of the milking animals, they should be supplemented with different roughages which can be conserved and used to supplement pasture during the dry season. The farmer can therefore choose from what has been established such as grass/legume hay, fodder legumes or from the following leucaena, lucerne, maize or sorghum or even napier grass.

Preserving the feed

If preserving the feed as grass or grass/legume hay, the farmer must make sure that cut material must be dried over a period of two to three days to get the dry matter content of 80 percent or more and this is what is referred to as hay.

In this situation, the pasture field is reserved from grazing to allow the grass grow to the early flowering stage before cutting. As flowering proceeds, the quality drops but the quantity increases. When it comes to the time of cutting the material is usually left in the field until such a time when the moisture is low enough to allow safe storage without spoilage. During this time the material must be turned once per day to allow it to dry evenly. An  activity of this nature is usually done at the end of the wet season when the chance of rain is low. However, should it rain then the material should be turned more often to avoid spoilage of the cut material.

Collection of hay

Collection of hay from the field can be done when it rustles on handling. And if it is to be stored, it should be stacked loosely and under a shelter. When hay is made from a legume fodder crop or grass/legume pasture, the turning over of the material must be minimal this is because the legume leaves can easily drop off. The legume hay can be baled or stacked one to two days after cutting.  The stacking must allow air circulation for further drying. For a small dairy farmer hay making is labour intensive in the absence of machinery and loss of dry-matter is high during handling.

Grass hay/or grass/legume

Grass hay or grass/legume hay is valuable as fodder reserve in cases of loss of good grazing through fire or drought. A farmer can rely on this for constant supply of roughage very much needed by milking cows.

The grass or grass/legume material can also be used in making good quality silage.  Farmers are best taught when this is demonstrated practically. However, here are a few hints on silage making.

–    Cut the grass or legume into short lengths, it is still okay for long cut or uncut grass but the only problem this takes longer to ferment and is likely to get spoiled.

–    In good weather allow the cut material to wilt for a few hours, this improves preservation of silage when ensiled.

–  Addition of molasses does improve   fermentation as more sugars are available for the bacteria. Molasses is also recommended for all grass silage.

–    Sealing or closing needs effective compaction. The silo should be filled as quickly as possible and once it is full the surface of the silage should be above the level of the surrounding ground especially in case of a pit or trench. The air must not be allowed to enter the heap.  Use materials that would not contaminate the material or silage.

Covering with soil

Covering with soil alone will result in some spoilage especially the top layer of the silage.  There are various types of silos that can be made to conserve or make silage from. These are silage pit or trench silo. For such when done or dug should not be where ground water is high otherwise water many collect at the bottom. The other type, the silage clamp is made above ground using poles which are then clamped to form two sides of the silo and then silage is heaped in between and compaction done in the usual way.

Good quality hay

Great care is needed to make a good quality hay and silage and to reduce losses of plant material in cutting, transport, storage and feed.

The best time once again to make hay is at early – flowering stage.

At this level, the nutrient level of the grass is still high.  Hay can also be made at the late-flowering stage when there is fear of rain damage. The only problem is such type of hay would be of poor quality and the animals’ intake is usually reduced.  For silage, good quality is made from fresh grass which is high in feed value.  Grass in most cases is better when made at an earlier stage of growth, and grass needs only to be wilted for a few hours as earlier mentioned. For silage if it is made before flowering when quality is high, dry matter will be lower. The poor quality type of grass silage is often made from grass which is at a later stage of growth when fibre content is high, and for such cow’s intake is lowered.

A dairy farmer can use the following fodder legumes: –

–    Cowpeas, can be harvested for hay or silage at the green pod stage, and if the crop is left to mature, the seeds are harvested and used for making concentrate feed. The grazing or browsing of cow peas can make a valuable contribution to early dry season feeding.

–    Soya bean, this has a high protein content and is also valuable in making concentrate rations.

Dairy farmer

A dairy farmer however, with sufficient land to grow pasture and fodder crops would be in a very good position to obtain consistently high milk yields all year round. This is because a high quality forage can always be produced. This can only be achieved if the farmer is able to carry out the irrigation activities for such crops.

–    Lucerne, it is a good fodder crop to grow under irrigation if the farmer is to get high yields of protein required by the animals. It is also high in minerals and vitamins but low in energy hence, it is best fed as a supplement to a high energy feed such as maize silage. It can also be cut and fed directly to the animals (cows) but control should be exercised as large amounts can cause bloat if large quantities are consumed.

–    Leucaena:  It is a leguminous shrub or small tree. The branches can be fed green immediately after cutting or can be stacked and allowed to dry, the leaves can then be stripped off and stored in bags for later use. These can be used to provide the protein part of a concentrate ration.

It is safer to feed by hand to avoid poisoning but usually it has no problem if small qualities are fed each day to dairy cows, that is shortly after milking.

I hope there will be increased milk production for all dairy farmers following these articles

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