The weatherman has warned that the coming months are going to be drier, consequently affecting farming activities.
According to the Meteorological Department, the October, November and December season will be characterised by depressed rainfall driven by la niña conditions.
The warning is a call to farmers – who are growing crops or keeping animals – to prepare lest they are caught unawares.
For livestock keepers, it cannot be gainsaid that dry spells are a great danger because most farmers depend on the rains to grow fodder.
A range of measures, however, would come in handy for you to beat the dry weather and emerge unscathed or at least reduce the effect.
First, any obvious cull animals should go as soon as possible. This would give you control of your stock by reducing feed demand to allow for better nutrition of the productive cows.
Grow more pasture grasses that mature early, give good yield with reasonable nutrients and are highly palatable before the dry spell sets in proper.
Grasses like Kikuyu, cenchrus species and brachiaria are known to provide high quality fodder during dry seasons and surplus can always be conserved.
DROUGHT TOLERANT FEED SOURCES
Though drought is expected, soils normally have retained water capacity just before the onset.
So broadcast grasses with nitrogen fertiliser to increase their response for greater dry matter yields. But this should be well-timed.
Silage making is another beneficial move. This is the time to harvest that high fodder plant like yellow maize for silage making.
The more silage you make and store, the better. Drought-tolerant feed sources like sorghum fodder will also turn out to be beneficial for silage making.
During dry spells, feeds like concentrates and conserved fodder like hay get scarce and become expensive.
This means feeding all your animals to their preferred optimum will be expensive, therefore, compromise will be necessary.
In readiness for the dry spell, make hay to maintain supply of quality of feeds to your stock.
Heifers are potentially the best animals in the herd yet low quality forage limits growth rates and lengthens their time to first calving. Hay will, therefore, help you supply them with quality feeds.
In-calf cows at this time need closer attention and care. Extra feeds will be required for them and their soon-to-be born offspring.
If not well-taken care of, they may lose body condition and produce less milk after calving down and compromise on reproductive efficiency.
Irrigation assists the establishment of fodder for continuity of production during dry periods. If resources allow you to irrigate, regularly monitor soil moisture levels to help develop a good working plan.
Remember water will soon be scarce. Therefore, it is advisable to fully water the best part of your farm instead of poorly watering the whole farm.
Keep heat stress in mind. This occurs when heat load is greater than the animal’s capacity to lose it and consequently it alters their production.
Minimum measures can be employed during these times like providing access to clean drinking water at all times, keep the animals in good sheds, reduce walking distance and speed of the cows during grazing and handle the animals with care.
When preparing for extended dry periods, it is important to understand the importance of water management. Ensure that your stock has enough water as the demand will definitely increase. Existing farm water storage points should also be filled if possible.
Drought affected stock can consume large quantities of sand and dirt, poisonous plants or excessive amounts of indigestible materials leading to impaction in the gut.
This is especially so for open grazing animals. During the dry period, the animals lurk everywhere in search of feeds with rubbish pits especially in the urban and peri-urban areas being a favourite site.
Monitor the animals as they may consume plastic bags and other unwanted materials leading to death.
CONTROLLING DISEASES AND PARASITES
Some poisonous plants like lantana camara during dry spells remain green, therefore, attractive to animals. Farmers should, therefore, be careful on where their animal graze.
During the dry spell, parasites and infectious diseases are common. This is due to increased transmission in crowded conditions around water and feed sources.
Poor nutrition associated with drought periods also make animals easily succumb to diseases as a result of low immunity.
Further, sanitation and hygiene is often compromised during the dry spell due to limited availability of water.
Farmers, therefore, tend to clean the cowsheds and the animal beddings irregularly, exposing their animals to diseases.
Some of diseases to watch during the period include Foot and Mouth Disease and East Coast Fever caused by ticks. The parasites and flies can be controlled by spraying.
The writer works in the Department of Animal Science, Egerton University and the founder of www.dairycloud.co.ke
- If making silage from maize crop, harvest the plants at dough stage. Then chop them into tiny pieces with a chaff cutter or a pulveriser.
- A pulveriser is preferred to a chaff-cutter as it crushes the stems, the cobs and the grains releasing the sugar needed for fermentation.
- Then lay the chopped fodder in a bunker where a clean polythene sheet has been spread.
- Put there in small bits as you compress by stamping with feet to a layer of 1½ft.
- Compacting is crucial as it helps remove air. If not well-compacted, the silage will attract air and it will heat and rot.
Molasses is normally mixed with water at a ratio of 1:3 and added after every layer.
- The silage is then covered with a polythene sheet and left for 21 days to ferment before being offered to the cows.