Dear Joseph Happy New Year, I started diary farming late last year just in time to tap into the lush vegetation that followed the rains. I must say I have not had any feed challenges up to now but the few veteran farmers I have talked to have warned that feed is the greatest challenge in dairy farming. I have taken their advice and am planning to make lots of silage. But I don’t have any experience, please help.

Victor Kibisu, Kakamega County.

Dear Victor, Happy New Year! Congratulations on embarking on dairy farming. It’s an exciting journey, and I’m here to offer guidance on silage-making, a crucial aspect of ensuring a consistent and nutritious feed supply for your animals.

Silage-making is a process of preserving fresh fodder under controlled anaerobic conditions. Here’s a simple guide to help you get started:

Fodder Selection

Harvest fresh fodder like grasses, clovers, lucerne, maize, millets, wheat, or sorghum. Choose plants that are in abundance during the rainy season.
Chopping: Cut the fodder into smaller pieces to facilitate compaction and fermentation.

Pack the chopped fodder into a silo to eliminate almost all oxygen. This controlled anaerobic environment promotes fermentation.
Advantages of Silage

Silage maintains its nutritive value for an extended period compared to hay.
It can be made during cold periods when vegetation is plentiful.
Silage is palatable and digestible, promoting increased milk production and animal growth.
Requires less storage space compared to bulky hay.
Disadvantages and Cautions

Silage making is labour-intensive and requires specific equipment. Careful handling is crucial, and poorly stored silage can rot. Avoid using fodder crops recently sprayed with herbicides.
Cut grass at an appropriate height to minimize contamination.
Feeding Cows

Silage is ready for consumption after three weeks but is best used after two months.
Assess quality based on color, smell, texture, and appearance. A pleasant acidic smell indicates good fermentation. Remove silage in small quantities and use promptly to prevent spoilage.
Cautionary Notes

Silage can be contaminated with harmful bacteria, so quality assessment is crucial. Awful smell, molding, moisture, and heat are signs of rotting. Prioritise silage for milking animals due to its high nutrient levels. Dispose of any spoiled silage and only feed quality fodder to your animals.

Silage-making is a valuable skill in dairy farming. While it requires effort and equipment, the benefits in terms of consistent and nutritious feed for your animals are well worth it. Remember, there’s plenty of literature available on silage-making for further insights.

[Dr. Othieno is a veterinary surgeon and is currently the head of communications at FAO- Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO]