What to feed livestock on, especially dairy animals during the dry season when grazing land becomes a dry mass of shrivelled brown grass or patches, is a big challenge for most small-scale farmers.
During this period, many farmers resort to using maize stalks and other crop residues, which are often in plenty, to tide them over.
For most, these are just a stop gap measure to keep the animals feeling full and ensure that they survive until the next season.
They either feed the animals on the stalks as they are, or let them graze on the farm. Some chop up the stovers or soak them in water in the hope of making them more palatable.
However, most of these methods are not efficient enough to provide adequate nutritional value to the animals and result in high wastage and very low intake, also leading to low milk productivity, and loss of body weight.
Animals are known to lose a fifth of their weight during the dry seasons due to lack of sufficient feeds. Maize stalks are not easily digestible due to the high levels of fibre, low protein and energy levels. Lignin in the stalks hinders microbial activity – breaking down of fibre to simple nutrients that can be absorbed – in the rumen, thus making the nutritional content of the stalks low.
The low content of nitrogen and lack of readily available carbohydrates also limits microbial activity in the rumen. But maize stalks can be turned into some nutritious feed for your animals during the dry season and help solve the problem of lack of quality fodder.
According to research, treatment with urea (the fertilizer) can increase the crude protein content available in the stalks, boost intake of the by-product by cows, increase live weight gain and milk production.
Urea breaks down the ligno-cellulose bonds of stalks, increasing rate and extent of rumen microbial digestion. It also increases the nitrogen content.
Urea is easily available and can be handled safely. It is cheaper than other products, is easy to apply, requires little water and energy, and is kind to the environment and animals. So instead of burning stover after harvest or leaving it to the rats and other pests, collect it, store it and turn it into nutritious feed.