How dairy farmers can double their milk production

It takes approximately 500 shrubs of calliandra calothyrsus (Kalibwambuzi in Swahili) to feed a cow for a year. For 3 kg of calliandra and 1 kg of dairy meal, a farmers can get an extra two litres of milk for his/her cow.

With the plant maturing in approximately 12 months, calliadra can be pruned and fed to livestock for up to 20 years.

The shrubs can be grown in hedges around the farm perimeter or along the contour ridges to reduce erosion. The major advantage of this fodder shrub is that farmers do not have to stop growing other crops to make room for them.It is best to prune the shrubs to a height of about one metre to avoid shading nearby food crops.

With lack of inexpensive high protein animal feed, grazing land in short supply, and because of periodic drought, raising animals in Kenya is a risky business that can easily defeat the most skillful farmer. Fodder shrubs such as calliandra (milk shrub) could be the solution to these plagues.

Produce more milk

Fodder shrubs do not involve cash expenses or require farmers to take land out of production. Instead, dairy producers substitute small amounts of family labour for cash that would otherwise be spent purchasing commercial packaged feed.

According to World Agroforestry Centre, a Kenyan farmer who plants an average of 500 fodder shrubs, are able to increase farm income between $85 and $110 per year. The extra income can be used to pay school fees or household improvements considering majority of the small-scale dairy farmers are women.

Animals fed on calliandra produce thick milk and good fat. Not only does the shrub help animals to produce more milk it also boosts their health, especially when mixed with animal feeds.

The leaves and pods of 'milk shrub' are rich in protein. they constitute 40-60% of all ruminant feeds needed. They contribute 25% to animals' diet, compared to elephant grass and other grasses which contribute between 8% and 10%

Save money

Kenyan farmers who have adopted the technology, are producing enough milk in one year period and saving money on purchased feeds, to increase profits by $90 a cow.

Farmers who cannot buy specialised dairy feeds, can mix 2 kg of calliandra with other feeds such as maize bran (1 kg), one part shrub fodder (chopped and mixed with other protein-rich materials) to every three parts of nappier or other grass. If a farmer is not feeding dairy meal, feed each cow 6-10 kg of fresh fodder per day. If fodder and dairy meal are mixed, then feed 6 kg fodder and 1 kg dairy meal per cow per day.

When drying 'milk shrub', do this in the shade to avoid the loss of nutrients. The dried leaves can be stored for a long time. Before feeding animals on calliandra, cut it into 2.5 cm pieces so that animals can consume it faster. One mature cow needs approximately 500 shrubs throughout the year, while a mature goat needs about 150 shrubs.

Where and When to plant

Calliandra grows well and fast, especially near lake shores and around hills, and in areas with coffee trees. After one year, the shrubs can be harvested every 8-12 weeks. Cut back to approximately 15 cm after 6-7 years to promote new growth.

It is advisable to start planting calliandra during the rainy season. The planting holes should be approximately 20 cm wide and 60 cm deep and one metre apart.In the dry lands, the holes have to be larger enough to store more water. The topsoil is mixed with manure and thrown back into the hole.

For easy seed harvesting, maintain the shrub at a height of 2 m. A farmer can put manure or decomposed plant materials mixed with new ash around the plant. This helps calliandra to grow well in poor soil and also repels termites.

Shrub trunks are prone to pest attacks. As a solution, mix washing powder and water, and spray on the attacked part of the trunk, using a pump. Tiny insects that can attack the trunk, can be eradicated by destroying their nests. One can also smear wet cow dung or used car oil on the trunk or spray ash around the stem to repel them.

Note: Feed is the most important component of milk production, representing up to 70% of a farmer's production. Good quality cows will only produce good quantities of good quality milk if they have access to sufficient quantities of good quality feed and clean water.

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