Letters to the Editor: How to feed a lactating dairy cow and grow canola

Saturday June 25 2016

Dairy cows in their zero grazing unit.

Dairy cows in their zero grazing unit. PHOTO | JAMES NGUNJIRI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

FEEDING A LACTATING DAIRY COW ACCURATELY
I am an auditor based in Nairobi and a telephone farmer with a small farm in an area with almost adequate rainfall throughout the year.

I built a zero-grazing unit back in 2011, bought three Friesian cows and as expected, with no experience and advice, fed them on wet napier grass and occasionally on maize stovers.

With time I realised the need to improve my herd with better breeds and today I have three good cows; good because two are lactating and giving about 15 litres each, one is in-calf and there are three heifer calves that I am rearing.

I have decided to breed my own cows after having failed to get good cows externally. Now having realised that I am taking too long to break even, I cut my coffee bush and planted one acre of potato vines and put maize on another acre.

I have inter-planted calliandra with potato vines. In addition, I have two acres with napier grass. I have extra land on which I can plant fodder but I have decided to pause and assess whether I am on the right path.

My problem is that even after reading extensively on dairy farming, I have not been able to know what proportion (in kilos) of potato vines, maize stovers and napier grass (dry) I should feed a single lactating cow.

I usually get conflicting and confusing information from varied ‘experts’. I usually give dairy meal at a rate of 5kg and 3kg for cows producing 12 and 4kg milk respectively and I am ready to add other ingredients like maize germ if I understand what proportions to feed.

For heifers that are now about five months old, what should be their daily feed and at what ration?

To obtain accurate estimation of feeds required for your cows, it is important to know the stage of lactation (number of days from last calving) and the weight. It is also important to note:

• That milk production decreases gradually from about two-and-half months after lactation.

• Maize stovers (>90 per cent), dairy meal (>85 per cent), napier grass wilted (±40 per cent) and sweet potato vines (±20 per cent) have different dry matter content.

• A cow (weighing 450kg) in early lactation needs 13 per cent dry matter intake, 20 per cent protein and 1.67 MCal Net energy for lactation.

Start with 3kg maize stovers, 5kg dairy meal, 7.5kg napier grass ad 15kg sweet potato vines. If calliandra is available, substitute 7.5kg sweet potato vines with 3kg calliandra.

Note that water and mineral licks should be availed to cows. Monitor intake and cow’s response to the feeds and adjust when required.

For calves (0-4 months), colostrum, milk or a milk replacer, calf starter and hay or pasture. Feeding will also vary with age.

Olivier Kashongwe,

Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University.

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I WANT TO GROW CANOLA AND GINGER
I would like to grow canola and ginger on my farms in Kitui County. Therefore, educate me on the following:
Canola oil plant:

Farmer inspecting his canola crop. FILE PHOTO |

Farmer inspecting his canola crop. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

  1. Can it grow in Kitui County, from Kyangwithya to Miambani along the seasonal Thua River?
  2. Where can I get its seeds if it can grow there?
  3. What is the temperature and humidity required to grow effectively and efficiently and high quality output for competitive markets?
  4. How much is the cost of planting and how much per kilo is the price of the canola oil seeds?
  5. What is the kind of soil required and rain quantity?
  6. How long does it take to mature?

Ginger:

  1. Can it grow there since it requires long frost-free growing season with high temperatures?
  2. Can I use irrigation to increase water for its development and growth, during the August to October dry period?
  3. Lastly, can the two crops be grown in Loitokitok, Kajiado County?

Paul Mbaluka,

Miambani/Kwa Ngeka,

Kitui Central.

Rapeseed (canola) is a crop in the brassicaceae (cabbage) family that grows best in the agro-ecological zones with altitudes ranging from 1,500–2,400m above sea level.

The crop is mainly grown under rain-fed conditions, although supplementary irrigation during critical growth stages such as flowering, pod formation and filling is recommended, if they coincide with the drought periods.

Canola performs well under a variety of well-drained soils, as the crop is sensitive to water-logged conditions.

The crop is also sensitive to extreme temperatures with an optimum temperature of 21°C. Temperatures below 10°C will result in delayed germination and uneven emergence, thus, staggered growth stages and uneven maturity.

The maturity period of canola varies depending on the variety and the agro-ecological zones. Generally, the crop takes between four to five months to mature and be ready for harvest.

Improved and high-yielding hybrid varieties such as Belinda from Bayer East Africa can be obtained from nearest agrovets.

There is ready market for canola, with major oil processing companies being the main buyers. Moreover, there exists other companies that also do bulking of the produce and deliver to oil processing companies.

Ginger is propagated from rhizomes that can be obtained from fresh produce market. Ginger does well in fertile well-drained loam soil, and thus will do well in the area.

Temperature is critical in any crop production, and so it is with ginger. The crop is sensitive to extreme temperatures, with extreme lows and frost conditions inducing bud dormancy and thus poor growth.

Due to the long growth period (seven to nine months), the crop is likely to suffer some moisture stress period and irrigation will be inevitable.

Sylvans Ochola,
Department of Crops, Horticulture and Soils, Egerton University.

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GROUNDNUTS IN HOMA BAY
I am a farmer from Homa Bay, interested in growing groundnuts.

Could you kindly let me know where to start, the right variety to grow and what to do so that my farming can be successful? Lastly, which other crops can do well in Homa Bay County, the area has fertile soil and two planting seasons in a year.

Dorothy Otieno

Nowadays in agriculture, you have heard people talk about smart farming, I would suggest that you adopt the same. To do smart farming, you must start with market survey.

In this way, you will discover which agricultural produce is on high demand but missing in that market near you or is far reachable.

You can do it for example at Kanyadhing market, Homa Bay, Kendu Bay, Rongo, Kamagambo and so on. When you return to you farm, establish the crop and variety on high demand in those markets you did survey.

With this, you would have created what is called your personal niche in farming (very smart). When people realise what you are doing, you would have gained a lot of thousands of shillings, especially if your enterprise is horticultural.

How do you start? You can start if you are sure you have settled on groundnut. However, please don’t do it because you have seen people do it and if you must grow groundnut, think about value addition to get a better market.

Next is to get your finances ready and follow by land preparation early enough. Without bias, I would also suggest that you think of watermelons, for I know this sells a lot in Homa Bay County.

With the crop, you may be able to sell it far from the lake region. Lastly, think about local vegetables with medicinal values recommended by the medics within the region. All these will sell.

Remember availability of water for irrigation in case of dry spell.

Peter Caleb,
Horticulture Scientist, Egerton University, Department of Crops, Horticulture and soils.

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HOW TO BEAT LOW WHEAT PRICES
Wheat farmers are experiencing a bumper harvest in Narok and other areas.

We are told we produce 30 per cent of the total consumption. Why are prices so low, less than Sh2,800 per 90kg bag price offered by millers in major towns?

On the farms, it’s less than Sh2,000. The flour in the supermarkets is over Sh110 per 2kg? Which is the best month to sell this produce?

Who is the best buyer (in terms of prices) in Kenya?

Geoffrey Mbobua,

Meru.

It is true that farmers have been experiencing bumper wheat harvest in major growing areas across the country, which should be translating to high income.

However, it should be noted that agricultural produce are highly affected by forces of demand and supply. During the bumper harvest, the supply exceeds the demand, as a result, the prices go down.

This adjusts with time though. The influence of the middlemen in this already fragile market complicate things for the worst especially for farmers. The price of wheat flour in the supermarkets and retails will be generally higher due to value addition and other processing costs.

The possible solution is to bulk the grain and deliver to large grain handlers such as Cargil/Lesiolo Grain Handlers, Kenya.

Sylvans Ochola,
Department of Crops, Horticulture and Soils, Egerton University.

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I NEED A TRACTOR
Where I can get an 18HP tractor?
Ogero Otekki

18HP 4x4 farm tractor can be acquired from Shijiazhuang Xingyue Machinery Manufacturing Co., Ltd., China through a number of machinery dealers in Kenya including Tractors Kenya Co (email: [email protected] ).

Prof. D. M. Nyaanga,

Faculty of Engineering,

Egerton University.