Often, many small-scale farmers rely only on pasture to feed their dairy animals, but it is the amount and quality of feed you give your cows that plays a major role in determining the milk they produce.
Just like human beings, your cows need a good diet to keep them healthy and produce optimally. There are various dairy feeding systems, but a successful system will include provision of necessary nutrients to each cow at the correct time to maintain maximum milk production. To get the most ensure that an animal is fed on forages, grain, protein and minerals, either individually or in various combinations.
Legumes and grasses are a major source of forage for dairy animals. They are excellent sources of protein, carotene, calcium and other minerals, if harvested and stored properly. High quality forage will be consumed in larger amounts and is more digestible than mature, lower quality forages. If fed in balanced rations they will supply much of the protein and energy needs for milk production.
Forages also contain a lot of fiber but have less digestible nutrients. They help maintain rumen digestion, stimulate rumen microbial growth, rumination and saliva production. Pastures are also a good source of nutrients if well managed. Dairy animals eat about three per cent of their body weight every day in forage, such as hay or grass. An animal weighing about 450 kilogram’s consumes upwards of 13 kilos of hay daily experts say.
“Natural grass, which include Napier grass, star grass and Kikuyu grass are very essential for milk production and are a source of energy, since they contains carbohydrates. They are also used for building the body,” says Naivasha-based livestock officer, Alex Mathenge, adding that a farmer should feed a cow on 70 per cent dry matter like hay.
Giving animals grains will boost milk production. They contribute to the energy needs of the animal. These include barley, which is a good source of energy and protein, oats, cottonseed, whole or fuzzy, which is a medium protein, high fat, high fiber, and high energy feed. Maize on the cob meal is a high energy feed relished by cows. It contains 10 per cent less energy than shelled maize, which are one of the highest energy feeds for use in dairy rations.
Proteins are essential for maintenance, growth and milk production. They also assist in food digestion. Sources of proteins include fish meal, legumes and fodder, desmodium and vegetable grass among others. Proteins also produce energy which assists in the digestion. Without protein, the digestive system of a dairy cow is very poor and may lead to the collapse of the rumen.
Minerals are needed for bone and teeth formation, hormone actions, enzyme activation, and water balance. The minerals needed in largest amounts by dairy cows include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, chlorine, sulfur, and potassium. Sodium and chlorine are usually provided in form of salt. Minerals required in small amounts include iron, copper, manganese, zinc, iodine, cobalt, and selenium. Most of these minerals can be bought from agro vets. They are either formulated, powder form or block.
The livestock officer says most dairy animals are heavy feeders and should be fed almost on a 24-hour basis for maximum milk production.
Some recommended fodder by agriculture researcher Kari
A common nitrogen-fixing leguminous plant and ideal short-term crop of high nutritive value. It is highly acceptable to different classes of livestock and valuable in vetch/cereal mixtures. It can be used as hay or silage for livestock fodder. Vetch is commonly used in zero grazing production systems although light grazing promotes re-growth.
Sorghum-sweet potato vine silage
This is fodder sorghum mixed with sweet potato vines and preserved through natural fermentation in the absence of oxygen. It comes handy during the dry season. Sorghum fodder is best for silage at hard-dough stage of the grain. The nutritive value varies with management; therefore, careful handling is necessary. Sorghum is rich in energy but has low protein content making it necessary to supplement with high protein fodder like sweet potato vines. The vines increase sorghum silage intake leading to increased milk production.
Indigenous fodder plant
Indigenous fodder plants are found along rivers, forests, road reserves and un-utilized fallow land. They remain productive from season to season. Under good management, these plants can be more nutritious and productive than foreign (introduced) fodder plants such as Napier.
They can be harvested during the crop growth period and dried for feeding livestock during the feed scarcity dry months. Varieties recommended for leaf production are Guzo and 2836.