One of the main determinants of successful dairy farming rests on the shoulders of the feeding budget. Dairy cows need a daily supply of quality feed to cater for body maintenance, production, and pregnancy. Milk and feed are directly related. If you short-change your cow on feed quantity or quality, you will get less milk. When a cow gets inadequate feed, she goes under stress quickly. It only takes a few days for you to notice the difference in both her health and milk production. In the event there is a food crisis on the farm, she will use her own body reserves in order to maintain milk production. This then causes a domino effect which affects her reproduction cycle. The chances of the cow giving birth are then greatly reduced – her calving period will be extended.
Many farmers in Kenya cite high feed costs as one of the main challenges that cause them to not perform. Lack of planning, however, also plays a big role in this predicament. Let’s be honest. Only a handful of beginner farmers in Kenya actually plan with proper research and wisdom. The rest rush and get into dairy farming after reading exaggerated success story articles and brief word-of-mouth strategies of successful dairy farmers in their region. The main points they hear are the costs involved in building a zero grazing unit and buying cows. They never slow down to hear the nitty-gritty involved in feeding a dairy cow. Feeding is usually placed in the work-in-progress category. It is solved slowly after the farm structures have already been built and the cows purchased. When they lose a cow or two from hunger, they start to panic and scramble to solve the problem.
If the cost of feed is the problem then farmers should start looking for affordable feeding strategies. Hitting two birds with one stone. Solving their cow hunger problem and improve on their milk production. One such strategy is growing Bracharia grass. It has more than 15% crude protein on a dry matter basis. It can reach 20% with good management. Brachiaria has been praised as the wonder fodder. Brachiaria grass is indigenous to Africa but has been growing wild until recently. It was taken to other parts of the world, including Australia and South America, where it was improved to get superior varieties, some of which are now being promoted in Kenya. There are two varieties of Brachiaria, namely Mulato and Mulato II, produced by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).
It looks similar to Napier grass from a distance, but on a closer look, you will see that they have differences. Some of the differences between Brachiaria grass and Napier grass are;
- Brachiaria grass has thicker leaves.
- They do not have irritating hairs that define Napier grass.
- Brachiaria grass also produces seeds, unlike Napier grass. Its seeds do not lose their hybrid vigor, meaning that you can plant the seeds and still get a good result.
- Brachiaria grass does not take up lots of nutrients from the soil.
- Napier grass is vulnerable to diseases like Napier stunt and Napier smut diseases. Brachiaria is resistant to these diseases.
Benefits of Brachiaria Grass
- Brachiaria grass produces a lot of forage yearly. This will ensure your dairy cows always have ready feed.
- It can give you an output of 15,000 Kg of dry matter per acre per year.
- Brachiaria is drought tolerant and adapted to poor soils. It plays a huge role in soil conservation, soil fertility improvement, increasing bio-diversity and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Brachiaria is best propagated by seeds. It is however also possible to grow it from vegetative material. If you want to grow Brachiaria on a large farm, it is better to use seeds. You will need 2.5-3kgs seeds per acre.
Bracharia grass is harvested after 4-5 months. You can serve it as hay or silage.
Growing Brachiaria will not only increase your milk production but it will also save you money. It is high yielding and can be conserved during harsh weather conditions.
Leave fresh cut Brachiaria grass to wilt in a dark place for a day before giving it to your cows. You can start by feeding your cow 15-20kgs per day.
You can buy seeds from Amiran Kenya.
Do you already have Brachiaria grass on your farm? What is the milk yield performance? Did it change once you started using? Share with us your insights in the comments below.