I am a dairy farmer based in Meru. I have about six dairy crosses of Friesians and I feed them mostly on napier grass. Off course I supplement with concentrates and mineral licks. I have not seen any nutritional ill health; although I keep asking myself whether am doing the right thing as concerns feeding. Please tell me more about Napier and what I need to change in my farming. [Njeru William, Meru]
This crop – Napier
Napier Grass also called elephant grass or Uganda grass is a versatile forage that has secured its niche as a staple for livestock. It grows well in a wide range of ecological zones, and can mildly resist drought; choosing to be dormant until the right weather comes by. Napier grass is only beaten by frost and water logging which are rare in this part of the world. Its leaves give a voluminous harvest, and it is very palatable.
Napier is propagated through stem cuttings planted in furrows 75 cm apart both along and between the rows. It matures at three months and will be ready for a second harvest after a month. This is to say that Napier is a prolific crop and a good plantation can ensure a steady supply of fodder throughout the year.
Apart from being a good forage napier grass shoot holds tightly onto soils and can effectively control soil erosion. If your farm is sloppy- grow Napier across the contour to control soil erosion and add fertility to the soil. Agronomists have also found it a good player in integrated crop pests management as a pull crop. When grown alongside maize or sorghum it pulls stem borers reducing their erstwhile damage.
Good Nutrition – Good Crude Protein Content
This is where Njeru’s answer lies, Napier Grass is rich in crude protein at 8- 12 per cent. What does this mean? Crude protein is a measure of how much protein is contained in a feed by measuring how much nitrogen it has. Nitrogen is a building block for the amino acids that yield proteins. The good measure of Crude Protein in Napier makes it ideal for dairy animals because this nutrient is needed for milk production, for reproduction. Crude protein is needed for body condition maintenance for adult livestock and the growth of the young stock. It also serves to boost the immune system hence keeping diseases at bay.
Good Crude Fibre Content
Napier has 26 – 28 per cent crude fibre. What does this mean? Crude fibre is an undigestible component of the feed that is composed of cellulose and lignin. Fortunately, ruminants can digest this to release energy through microbial fermentation. But that said crude fibre is not bad it helps digestion by stimulating rumination, and the production of saliva and subsequently adds to the digestibility.
Last but not least is the digestibility of Napier stands at 55-58 per cent and this by all indications is a good measure. Digestibility is the difference between what is ingested as feed and what is excreted as faeces.