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1.0 Introduction
Proper feeding is essential to ensure that dairy cattle: Stay alive; Remain healthy; Are in
good body condition; Have enough energy to move; Produce enough milk for the calf
and extra for home consumption/sales (to earn money); Grow when and/or if young;
Become pregnant and give birth to healthy calves
Dairy cattle MUST eat different types of feed to supply the various nutrients they need
Therefore dairy cattle must eat a BALANCED diet. Cattle diets are usually called
The challenge of a farmer is to put together a balanced ration for their cattle from the
different feeds that are readily available
Roughage is the most important basic feed for dairy cattle and is mainly from forages
As land becomes scarce, many farmers are realizing the necessity for planning for
adequate forage for year round feeding of their dairy cattle
Farmers are likely to obtain high yields per unit area of land by planting high yielding
forages (both grasses and legumes)
When forages are planted, they would normally be called pasture leys (if grasses and
grazed directly) and fodders (for both grasses and mainly for legumes) if cut and fed to
dairy cattle
The forages can be fed either fresh (grazed directly or cut and carried) or dried (in form
of hay) or preserved as silage
2.0 Is it really necessary to plant forages?
Many types of natural grasses and weeds found in the farms, communal lands and by
roadside lands are good feed for a short time as they mature early and hence their feed
value does not remain high for most of the year
Thus they are insufficient for high producing dairy cattle
Due to the scarcity of grazing materials especially during the dry seasons, and as a
result of declining land sizes, planting forages and using the cut and carry system of
feeding is becoming increasingly popular
3.0 Popular Fodders and Pasture leys
Fodder have been identified as the most used livestock feeds on smallholder farms due
to their high forage yields
The most important fodders used by farmers are: Napier grass (which has very many
varieties e.g. Bana grass, French Cameroon, Pakistan hybrid, Kakamega 1-3, etc); Giant
Setaria; Oats; Sorghum (Columbus and Sudan grass); Lucerne/Alfalfa; MPTS (Leucaena,
Calliandra, Sesbania, Gliricidia, Mulberry, etc) and Lupins

The important pastures established as leys are: Rhodes grass (Boma; Elmba, Mbarara
and Masaba); Setaria (Nandi and Nasiwa); Coloured Guinea and congo signal grass
(Bracharia spp)
3.0 Preparing to establish forages (fodders and pasture leys)
The best time to plant forages is at the beginning of the rain season (preferably the long
rains but also during short rains)
The site is prepared by ploughing/digging by using the hands (jembes) and/or tractors
During ploughing, the land should be prepared to ensure it is weed free
If there is farm yard manure (FYM) it is reworked into the soil at this time
For the fields where the grass/pasture is to be established, the land is thoroughly
prepared by ploughing and after the weeds have started to appear, harrowing so as to
produce a fine soil texture (tilth)
Always buy the right type of fertilizers for use during planting forages. 1 bag (50 kg) of
TSP or 4 tons of FYM will be used per acre for Fodders and Pasture leys
Identify the source of the planting material early enough. This can be from mature
canes/ splits in the case of Napier grass or certified seeds in the case of pasture leys.
4.0 Establishment and Management of Napier grass
Once the land is prepared, Napier grass can be established by use of mature stems
buried along a row or contour, by cut stems planted at a 30 45 degree angle along the
row or by splitting up a mature bunch and planting splits
When establishing Napier grass along a row, the spacing used is 1 m by 0.5 m (or
approximately 3 feet by 2 feet apart)
The total quantity of material required to establish 1 acre of Napier grass is 7,500
splits/cane cuttings or 940 whole canes. This is approximately 1.6 2.4 tons of planting
material per acre
However, Napier grass can also be established using a method called Tumbukiza
o The spacing between holes is 3 feet by 3 feet
o 4 5 root splits/canes are used per hole (approximately 1.2 1.6 tons per acre)
o 1 2 Debes of FYM are used per hole
o This method uses less land, produces more herbage and shows faster re-growth
during the dry season
The plot should be kept weed free after initial planting and be weeded after every
Harvesting is done from 3 4 months after planting when it is about 3 feet (1 metre)

Thereafter the cutting interval will be 1.5 2 months (this depends on

Well managed Napier grass can produce up to 30 tons of fresh material from one (1)
acre of land
5.0 Establishing and managing pasture/ley grasses
The common pastures can be established and thrive well in areas with an altitude of

1200 2400 m above sea level and rainfall of between 700 2400 mm per annum
They can established through direct sowing; under-sowing (under maize, sunflower or

wheat) or through over-sowing (where natural pasture is being improved)

When being direct sowed or under-sowed, the land should be prepared to achieve a

fine, firm and weed free seedbed

Establishment should be done at the onset of the rains but preferably during the short

In establishing these pastures, the following should be observed:
Prepare the field to a fine texture (tilth) by ploughing and harrowing the field using
ordinary jembe, oxen or a tractor. The seedbed should be fine because of small seed size
Use a seed rate of 3 - 4 kg per acre of the seed and the following procedure should be
o Take the required seed rate per acre and mix with planting fertilizers
o Mix the 3 4 kg of seed with 2 bags (100Kg) of NPK (20:20:0) or 1 bag (50
o Mix the grass seeds thoroughly on level ground, spread evenly and divide
into four (4) equal parts
o Divide the seedbed into four equal parts
o Drill in rows 30 40 cm apart or broadcast (but avoid windy conditions)
o Cover the seeds in the drills lightly by pulling light tree branches
o Where weeds are a problem, 1 bag (30 Kg) of Oat seeds should be
incorporated into the mixture. Oats grow fast and are harvested once and fed
as fresh or made into hay
Weeding involves hand pulling all weeds such as Datura spp or wire grass
For a well established grass pasture/ley stand, harvesting should be done at piping
stage which will be after 8 12 weeks
Thereafter cutting can be done every 4 6 weeks for feeding of the cattle (use 150 m 2
per animal per day consuming 34 Kg fresh forage (or about 12 Kg DM)
The yield obtained is 3.2 4 tons per acre of DM or if to be made into hay, 120 250
bales per cut (equivalent to 450 600 bales per acre per year)
6.0 Establishing and managing leguminous fodders (Desmodium and Lucerne)

These thrive well in warm, cool and wet medium altitude areas (1000 2000 M ASL

and 1000 2000 mm of rainfall)

They are best grown in a pure stand although Desmodium can grown as a mixture with
Napier grass, under sowed in maize or as a cover crop in bananas or coffee
The land should be prepared to achieve a fine, leveled and firmed seed bed
For Desmodium the following should also be observed:
o There are 2 varieties that can be established: Silver leaf and Green leaf
o Where there are 2 rain seasons, establish during the short rains when using the
o Use 2 kg of certified/clean seed per acre. When using seed, add a rhizobia
o Alternatively, use cuttings from vines 60 cm long with soil attached
o Drill in rows 30 50 cm (approximately 1 1.5 foot) apart, with a depth of 5 cm
o Planting can also be through broadcasting
o Use 1 bag (50 Kg) of Single Super Phosphate (SSP) or bag (50kg) of TSP/DAP
per acre and top dress with 1 bag (50 Kg) of Single Super Phosphate (SSP) or a
bag (25 40 kg) TSP/DAP per acre.
o 1st harvest is after 4 months. Cut every 12 weeks by cutting at 10 15 cm above
the ground
o Where mixed with Napier, 1st harvest after 4 months and thereafter every 4 10
weeks when Napier is also being cut
o The yield obtained is 3.2 4 tons of DM per acre per year and 100 140 bales of
hay per cut when conserved as hay
o Pre-wilt if it is to be fed when fresh to avoid cases of bloat
For Lucerne the following should also be observed:
o Sow seeds at the start of rains, either in furrows (drills 30 40 cm apart) or by
broadcasting. If growing Lucerne for the first time, the seeds should be
inoculated with rhizobia. Alternatively, mix the seeds with milk or soil from
where the legume is growing to facilitate nodule formation and hence better
o Use 2 3 kg of certified seed per acre or if growing under irrigation, double the
amount of seed sown
o Cover the seeds to a depth of approximately 0.6 cm
o Apply 1 bag (50 kg) of Single Super Phosphate (SSP) or bag (25 Kg) of Triple
Super Phosphate (TSP) per acre or use 4 tons of FYM and top dress with 1 bag
(50 kg) of the SSP or bag (25 Kg) of TSP yearly
o Keep the plot weed free until full ground cover is achieved
o Harvesting should be done when the crop begins to flower. This is done by
cutting the Lucerne at 5 cm above the ground. Harvesting is then done every 5 to


7 weeks but if the Lucerne is grown under irrigation, harvesting is possible every
4 weeks (monthly)
Up to 4 8 tons of dry matter can be obtained per acre depending on
management. However, majority of farmers report a yield of 1.6 2.4 tons per
acre. However, the yield is bound to decline with the age, level of management
and the climatic conditions
Where soils are acidic (pH 4 9), agricultural lime is applied is required. Apply
at a rate of 4 bags (50 Kg) per acre
Lucerne is used as fresh forage or as hay. Fresh herbage is pre-wilted before
giving it to the animals. Alternatively, mix the Lucerne with the grass
Lucerne can also be made into hay by drying it under shade for 5 7 days. Using
normal sun drying will make it into hay in 3 5 days (but nutritional loss may
occur). From 1 acre a total of 80 120 bales can be obtained per year.

Programme Coordination Unit
Tel: +254-51-2210851
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P.O. Box 12261-20100 Nakuru, Kenya.