By Patrick Mudavadi EADD Kenya dissemination facilitator
Lack of adequate and high quality feed is a major constraint to dairy cattle production on smallholder farms, particularly in dry periods. In north rift, south rift regions and parts of central Kenya, the prolonged dry season can last up to 6 months and during that period dairy cattle can be sustained on conserved forage and fodder from the high yields produced during the rainy season, when there is often an excess. Conservation can be through tube silage technology, appropriate for the smallholder dairy farmers with less than 10 animals.
Harvested fresh green forage and fodder (napier grass, maize, forage sorghum, kowkandy, and other crops grown, especially to feed animals) is chopped into one-inch lengths, mixed with molasses diluted in water (ratio of 1 to 2 or 3 litres) and then packed about 400 to 500kg tightly into a two and a half (2.5) metre length of 1.5 metres wide polythene tubing. When the tube is full and tied at both ends, the farmer has a large cylindrical airtight bag in which the forage or fodder mixture ferments, turning into silage, until it is ready to use in the dry season. The quality of silage obtained, with maximized nutrient preservation, depends on fresh forage or fodder quality, the ensiling process and use of molasses. For example, napier grass should be ensiled when 1 metre in length (101 days after planting). Properly ensiled material can store up to one year without losing quality.
Disseminating tube silage: Methods and lessons
Demonstrations on polythene tube silage making were carried out, initially, in 5 dairy management groups (DMGs) with a membership of between 15 to 20 people who are shareholders or supplying milk to Tanykina dairy plant (Kipkaren) and Olkalou dairy plant (Olkalou) from a location in each of the two sites. The five groups were assembled in one place and sensitized on dry season feeding as a constraint to dairy production.
Five demo farmers were then identified from each of the DMGs, and thereafter step by step training and demonstration on tube silage making conducted on one demo farm, with the polythene tube and molasses provided by the project.
The dissemination facilitators (DFs) then selected Training of Trainers (ToTs) from the DMGs and government frontline extension staff (FEWs) working in the areas and gave them a thorough grounding in the tube silage technology and how to help farmers adopt it. The Tots are then used to carry out demonstrations for the other DMGs.
The polythene tube silage is currently spreading like “bush fire” in the two sites:
- From the initial 10 demonstrations, additional 40 have been set up by TOTs with backstopping from the FEWs and DFs.
- Individual DMG members are giving money to purchase the polythene tubing and molasses for making tube silage on their farms (2.5 metre polythene tubing @ KES 750 and molasses @ KES 400 for a 20 litre Jerri can).
- TOTs charging a fee to make the silage for the DMG members.
- In general, the technology is highly liked by small scale dairy farmers in the two sites for conserving excess forage or fodder for the dry season.