Some 16km from Nakuru Town along the Nakuru-Nairobi highway sits the Moi Forces Barracks, Lanet. The military facility is one of the government installations in the area, the other being the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro).
At Kalro, we meet Dr Naftali Ondabu checking on brachiaria grass on the institution’s fodder farm. Dr Ondabu, a livestock specialist, is seeking to ensure cattle farmers do not lack feeds to offer their animals come rain or shine.
“Feeds consist of up to 60 per cent of the total cost on livestock farms. These costs have risen due to climate change, especially for farmers in arid areas,” he says.
Dr Ondabu is teaching farmers how to make nutritious feed blocks from various fodder grasses, in particular brachiaria, which are then stored and fed to animals especially during the dry period. Seeds of Gold finds him and his team preparing to harvest brachiaria grass.
“This looks like napier grass but it is not. Napier grass no longer thrives in different parts of the country because of pests and diseases. Brachiaria, which grows well in most regions, is more nutritious.”
The grass only takes two months to mature and harvesting can continue for up to 10 years.
“From brachiaria, a farmer can harvest some 18 tonnes of grass per acre but when dried and turned into hay, it produces about 10 tonnes due to loss of moisture.”
Besides brachiaria, one can also use Boma Rhodes and lucerne grass to make feed blocks.
To make the feed blocks, one puts two litres of molasses mixed with one litre of warm water into a basin, then adds 2kg of dry brachiaria grass or any other kind of fodder grass.
HIGHLY NUTRITIOUS FEEDS
Well-dried fodder mixes easily with molasses and minimises the risk of rotting later. The mixture, placed in a normal basin, makes between 2-3 feed blocks.
“In the mixture add two handfuls of dolichos beans powder for protein, two tea spoonfuls of table salt for taste and lemon rinds that act as a preservative, then you stir the mixture thoroughly until no fluid leaks out. Then put the mixture in the machine used in brickmaking or a similar gadget that can be made easily on the farm to attain a rectangular or square shaped feed blocks” he says, noting besides dolichos, one can use dried and ground desmodium or lucerne leaves.
The blocks are then put under the shade for about three to four days. The highly nutritious feeds are ready to be given to the animals thereafter.
“One can also put the feed blocks inside a greenhouse for drying. In fact, this is the best place because temperatures are usually higher inside, which speeds up the process of hardening the feed blocks.”
Small-scale livestock farmer can, however, store the feed blocks in a well-ventilated room without any moisture.
“Moisture is avoided to curb the emergence of moulds, which are associated with dump environment and are poisonous,” he notes.
The blocks are high quality feeds that are readily available all year round, says Dr Ondabu, adding that they are cost-effective and easy to make and store.
“Feed blocks’ shelf-life depends on how you preserve them because their purpose is to be used during the dry season when other feeds are not available,” he says, adding that they can last up to three years without losing nutrients.
The feed blocks, according to him, comprise of all nutrients that an animal needs. “It is advisable to give livestock water after feeding them.”
He notes that if one intends to make feed blocks from napier grass, it must be dried thoroughly unlike brachiaria which can be used while raw. Moreover, brachiaria has fine particles and crude protein that are easier to digest compared to napier.
“Maize stalks cannot make good feed blocks because they are concentrated with much starch and sugars, unless you choose the protein source from desmodium or lucerne grass.”
He says Kalro introduced the blocks to improve the yields of production in dairy animals, especially in arid areas of Samburu, Garissa, Marsabit and Kajiado but they can be made and used by all farmers.
“The feed blocks are to help farmers take care of the changing climate pattern. They are part of climate-smart feeds,” he notes, adding the blocks can be supplemented with other feeds.
Rose Nelima, a livestock breeding specialist, at Kalro, Lanet, says the feed blocks are a good replacement to normal grass and napier grass that don’t thrive when the weather conditions are bad.
“Poor quality grass cannot sustain the body requirement of the cattle. They come with negative impacts such as loss of body mass, but not when one is utilising the feed blocks.”
Miriam Wangare, a farmer in Wanyororo A in Lanet, is among those who are using the feed blocks.
She has been using them for the last two years after switching from napier grass. “Unlike silage which consists of molasses and starch only, feed blocks are more nutritious.”
She made her last blocks in November last year from brachiaria grass which she grows and she supplements them with napier grass.
Get it fast
Brachiaria is a tropical grass species that originated in Kenya, and was improved and embraced by dairy and beef farmers in Brazil, Colombia and Australia. It is commonly known as the Maasai, Tanzania or Mombasa grass.
The beauty of brachiaria grass is that it allows farmers to boost meat and milk production while reducing methane emissions that contribute to global warming.
Differences in forage and feed quality are a key reason cattle in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa contribute relatively more methane per kilo of meat or milk produced. Boosting dairy production is critical in fighting poverty among farmers.