Livestock

How to grow and manage grass for maximum nutritional value

Growing grass might be easy but if you do not follow the right growing guidelines you will end up making loses.

The grass is the most affordable source of feed for most livestock businesses. Grass provides livestock with vitamins and minerals which boost growth and milk production. Grass can grow in most soils in Kenya making it readily available and convenient. However, green grass on the fields is not always readily available due to drought, etc hence the need for farmers to make hay. Hay is green grass (or any perishable forage) that has been cut and dried to be stored for use as animal fodder, particularly for cattle, goats, sheep, and other farm animals that eat hay. Making hay enables you to safely store and easily transport livestock fodder without danger of spoilage, while keeping its’ nutrient loss to a minimum.

Hay gives livestock an upper hand as they can still maintain their milk or animal production during the dry season. The benefits of hay are as clear as rain but making it requires a lot of considerations. If you do not follow the right steps, your hay might get spoilt and you will lose time and money.

You need to grow and harvest hay at the right time

Timing is crucial. Growing grass might be easy but if you do not follow the right growing guidelines you will end up making loses. Farmers need to grow hay at the right time so that the harvest period coincides with the right weather. Do not harvest your hay during the rainy season. Hay needs to be harvested when there is no rainfall around the corner.

Sugars and fructans are water-soluble, so if the hay is rained on (or soaked in water), the overall non-structural carbohydrate (i.e. sugar) content will be reduced.

Hay should be harvested when the plant is still young.  When you cut the grass when mature, their lignin content increases and traps the nutrients within indigestible cell walls. Forage crops produce more yield as they mature but nutritive value and palatability decrease at first bloom or heading (anthesis stage), so good hay must be harvested to balance the best quantity with quality.

Select good grass varieties 

Select grass varieties that have the most leaves. An example of good grass varieties that do well is Boma Rhodes grass and Brachiaria grass. Good hay retains as many leaves as possible since the leaves contain 2/3 of the protein. Harvest the crop at the best stage for maximum nutritive value and yield.

The adaptation of a grass variety, or its potential longevity in the field, is determined greatly by genetic cold-hardiness traits, and its tolerance of other sites, soil, and use conditions. When selecting a forage species, or several species for use in a seed mixture, first consider their appropriateness for the intended use (e.g pasture, hay, etc.) and for the expected longevity.

Among the other factors affect the suitability of a forage species are:

  • Soil pH level
  • Drought tolerance
  • Soil drainage
  • Fertilizer nutrient requirements
  • Intensity
  • Harvest or grazing

Green colour shows quality

Green hay is more attractive to livestock. It is also an indication that the hay is rich in vitamin A. Bleached colour on hay indicates exposure to a lot of sun or rain. This means your hay has an oxidation of vitamin A and other essential nutrients are still available. Nevertheless, any type of hay needs to be supplemented with an appropriate vitamin-mineral mix.

Good storage is everything when it comes to hay

Hay storage losses vary greatly depending upon several factors, but storage technique is of utmost importance. Losses of dry hay stored inside a barn are usually of little concern. However, even for barn stored hay, losses rise sharply as moisture levels increase above 20 percent.

Quality hay should be baled between 13 and 17 percent moisture. Hay over 18 percent is at risk of molding, and this poses a huge risk. The most important things to look for in a hay storage site are good ventilation, protection against moisture.

Virtually all feeds have some mold spores. The presence of excessive mold if inhaled by the animals may cause coughing, heaves or allergic reactions. Before purchasing hay, be sure to inspect the inside of at least one bale.

Never store hay near any flammable materials or objects that may be a source of heat, such as tractors or other farm machinery.

Similarly, hay should be stacked on wooden pallets or tires to allow air to circulate underneath and reduce contact with any damp surfaces. The bottom layer of bales should be stacked on their sides, with the twine facing sideways instead of upward. The unevenness of the surface promotes air circulation which reduces the chance of mold growth.

Although the greatest risk occurs during the first two weeks after the hay has been stored, spontaneous combustion can remain a possibility for up to two months. Hay should be monitored daily for heat for at least two weeks, longer if you suspect the hay was wet when baled

Feeding Livestock

Cattle can waste up to 50 percent of hay fed. It can be a challenge to know the best methods for feeding. While it is impossible to eliminate all waste, keeping the above considerations in mind and working to minimize waste by cattle after feeding can help you get the most out of your hay supply.

It is also important to keep bales directly off the ground, so they don’t wick moisture, and selecting an open area away from trees for stacking bales; this will help to dry following wet periods. 

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Graduate Farmer

Graduate Farmer aims is to empower young men and women from becoming job seekers to creators through the agribusiness value chain.

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