Why farmers are ditching maize for fodder crops

Phylis Wangare gives feed to cows on her farm in Kinangop, Nyandarua county. [Courtesy]

Smallholder farmers often face the dilemma of subdividing the farm to grow food for the family and livestock feed.

Often a larger portion is allocated to growing crops for family consumption while forgetting that livestock are also a great source of nutrition hence require sufficient feed. 

But in Kinangop, Nyandarua County, some farmers have ditched growing maize which used to take a large portion of the farm due to high cost of production and are now growing livestock feed for their profitable dairy farming venture.

Nancy Runana, a dairy farmer who owns five acres of land, has dedicated four acres to oats, Kikuyu grass and Lucerne to feed cows.

Ms Runana says ever since she started giving the cows Lucerne which is rich in protein, milk production has increased which has seen her cut down on buying dairy meal which is costly. Initially, she used to buy two bags of dairy meal which used to last for one month but now she only buys one bag. 

Phylis Wangare at her farm in Kinangop. 

Lucerne takes three weeks to mature and she has planted it on about one acre to ensure sufficient supply for the cows. Lucerne contains 18-22 per cent crude protein

She mixes hay, oats and Lucerne which she feeds the cows

The farm has 10 Friesian cows which produce 150 litres of milk per day.

Runana milks the cows three times a day and the best cow produces 35 litres of milk per day. She has one worker on the farm.

“Giving cows sufficient feed ensures they produce sufficient milk and remain healthy,” she says.

Runana says she learnt how to feed dairy cows through training by Tulaga Farmers Cooperative Society and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro).

Tulaga has extension officers who often visit the farmers to advice them on good farming practices which has increased production.

She sells milk to Tulaga cooperative at 45 per litre and if one delivers more than 70 litres they can earn Sh47 or Sh48 per litre. The cooperative picks milk at the farmers door step hence cutting down on transport costs. 

Runana buys hay to supplement feed and each bale goes for Sh200. She purchases 150 bales at 30,000 which last for six months.

But she says transportation costs are a challenge and during the dry season at times the hay is not available or some unscrupulous sellers do not bulk the favourite Rhodes grass.

Another dairy farmer Phylis Wangare also ditched maize farming due to the high cost of production and has dedicated her three acres farm to grow livestock feed.

Wangare is a happy farmer after she was introduced to super Napier which she says has increased the cows milk production. She notes that before she started feeding the cows on super Napier they used to produce 10 litres each but this has gone up to 12 litres with the best cow producing more.

She sourced the super Napier seed from Ol Joro Orok and Nyeri and it takes three months to mature.

Wangare mixes the super Napier with Ryegrass and Lucerne which she grows on the farm. Super Napier contains 16-18 crude protein and Lucerne 18-22 per cent crude protein.

The Super Napier grass is a hybrid obtained by crossing the ordinary Napier (elephant grass) with pearl millet.

Super Napier has become the most sought after grass by dairy farmers due to its milk boosting capabilities.

Wangare so far has six Friesian cows which give 80 litres of milk per day. She also sells milk to Tulaga Farmers Cooperative Society.

The farmer hires five workers to help harvest the super Napier which she mixes with maize stocks to make silage for the cows. She has one worker on the farm.

She decries the low milk price saying Sh50 per litre would be ideal to enable farmers make good profit since she buys hay and dairy meal which are expensive.

Wangare is among farmers in Kinangop who benefit from training on good animal keeping practices and fodder production from Tulaga Farmers Cooperative Society and Kalro.

“I used to give cows inadequate feed but after training on how to properly feed them I started getting a lot of milk and my cows are healthy,” she says.

She says the farmers benefit from financing from Tulaga cooperative to expand dairy farming.

Tulaga extension officer Jacinta Muremi says they train farmers on farming as a business to enable them make their ventures profitable.

Muremi advices farmers to balance the cows feed by ensuring the dry matter is mixed with protein like Lucerne for good milk production.

Association of Kenya Feed Manufacturers (Akefema) Akefama Chairman Paul Kamau says feeds account for 66 per cent of milk production costs by smallholder dairy farmers and between 60 to 80 per cent in other livestock sub-sectors

“Kenya imports more than 70 per cent of the raw materials needed for manufacturing animal feed which has pushed up the cost,” he says.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture the country needs 55 million metric tonnes of feed annually but only provides 40 per cent.

To meet the current demand, the government requires 2.2m acres to produce 4.3 billion bales of hay at USD3.4 million in the next ten years.

To address the shortage, the government has partnered with the African Union-InterAfrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) through the Resilient African Feed and Fodder Systems (RAFFS) project to address the rising demand for livestock feed.

Simon Kuria, Director Kalro Arid and Range Lands Research Institute, Kiboko, says poor management of the grazing resources in the natural systems and limited adoption of improved pasture and fodder technologies has affected feed production.

Kuria reveals that improving livestock production, productivity and products utilisation is a key result area in the KALRO strategic plan for 2022 to 2027.

He says the agency has been working to improve feed availability by developing suitable pasture and fodder technologies, information and management practices.

Kalro has been working closely with Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) to register, formerly release and commercialise improved varieties of feed seeds. 

Kuria says four grass varieties namely CeCi TVT3 KBK, CeCi MGD1 KBK, ENMA KBK and CHROX KBK were recently registered by Kephis.

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