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What you need to make quality feeds

Ndima Kanini Academy director Lincoln Njogu feeds his dairy cows at the institution's cow sheds in Nyeri county. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

In the recent past, dairy farmers have been quitting the venture due to the skyrocketed cost of feeds. A 90- kilo bag of dairy meal rose to Sh2,400 from Sh1,950. As a way to cope, dairy farmers have been trying to formulate their own feeds but many are not doing it right. So what does it take to do this right?

For starters, a cow fed on grasses alone cannot achieve its full milk yield potential hence there is a need to give it supplementary feeds. Commercial supplements such as dairy meals make up 20 per cent of the total cost of milk production.

Making dairy supplements using locally available and less expensive feeds can help farmers to realise higher milk yields at a lower cost of production. To make a balanced home-made dairy supplement, work with a veterinarian to provide a workable feed formula.

The key factors to consider before embarking on this include the number of cows, age, production status, available raw materials and transport costs. For the supplement to be useful to the cow, it must contain balanced proportions of energy, protein and minerals.

Examples of high energy feed maize germ, wheat pollard, molasses, maize bran and wheat bran. High protein feeds include Lucerne hay, cottonseed cake, soya bean meal, sunflower seed cake, Sesbania leaves, Calliandra leaves and fish meal. Sources of minerals include Dicalcium Phosphate (DCP), limestone, rock phosphate and Mineral Premix.

The formula provided by the Vet shows you how much of each to mix to get a high-quality feed.

Concentrates (grains) and roughages

There are two major categories of feed: concentrates (grains) and roughages (pasture, hay, silage). Roughages are high in fibre while concentrates are high in protein or carbohydrates.

For an animal to grow normally and to gain weight efficiently, the amount that it eats in one day must contain enough energy foods and protein. Pasture is high in energy, protein, and palatability when it is in a vegetative state.

However, it can have high moisture content and it can be difficult for high-producing animals to eat enough grass for maximum productivity. As pasture plants mature, palatability, digestibility, and nutritive value decline, thus it is important to rotate and/or clip pastures to keep plants in a vegetative state.

Making hay

Hay is forage that has been mowed and dried for use as livestock feed. It is the primary source of nutrients during the dry season. Hay varies in quality on basis of plant species. Proper harvesting and storage are necessary to maintain the nutritional quality of hay. Hay is a moderate source of protein and energy. Good grass hays have energy as legume hays, but legumes have 50 to 75 per cent more protein and three times as much calcium.

Silage preparation

Silage is the feed produced by controlled fermentation of high moisture herbage. Silage can be made from forage or grain crops. As with fresh forage, the high-producing animal often cannot consume enough high moisture silage to meet its nutritional needs. For small and medium-sized flocks, silage bags make silage feeding a possibility.

Urea is not a protein supplement but is a source of non-protein nitrogen for protein synthesis by rumen bacteria. It should be used only in conjunction with high-energy feeds such as corn.

Urea, which is 45 per cent nitrogen and has a crude protein equivalent of 281 per cent, should not supply over one-third of the total nitrogen in a diet.

Vitamin and minerals supplements: Farmers mixing their own simple rations should use supplements that contain vitamins and minerals. These supplements can easily be combined with whole grains or by-product feeds to create a balanced concentrate ratio.

Complete mineral mixes are recommended when grazing low-quality roughages and during gestation and early lactation. The most important minerals are calcium, phosphorus, salt, and selenium.

When a well-balanced ration is fed, the only necessary supplement is salt and can be added by placing a salt block in the pasture or by providing salt in a pan or trough.

Many feed companies offer “complete” mixes of feed, balanced for the needs of the animals of a particular age and production class. Complete feeds should not be mixed with other grains, because this may create nutritional imbalances.

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