Sourcing fodder poses a big headache to many dairy farmers. Brachiaria, a grass repatriated to Africa from Brazil, is good for grazing, can be baled as hay, and increases milk production.
‘From a distance it resembles Napier grass, but on a closer look, the difference becomes more pronounced. Growing up to 1.5 metres in optimal soils and climatic conditions, the Brachiaria grass, with its dark green blades, produces seeds unlike Napier.
‘This fodder repatriated to Africa from South America is causing excitement among farmers selected for pilot studies by research organisations. Its outstanding features include high and ability to capture atmospheric carbon into soils. With a crude protein level of about nine per cent, it is becoming the preferred choice of farmers who have been using Napier or Rhodes grass with a protein content of around eight per cent.
‘Many farmers have concerns about the declining performance of Napier grass due to the high incidence of diseases such as stunt and smut. Besides higher yields, this grass can be made into hay or fed to livestock while fresh from the farm. It is harvested four months after planting and can be cut every two months up to the seventh or even the 10th year.
‘Its yield ranges between 18 and 20 tonnes of green fodder per acre and when dried and baled as hay, it gives 8.5 to 10 tonnes. Rhodes grass, which has been a favourite fodder among zero grazing farmers, yields eight tonnes of green grass in the rainy season.
Brachiaria grass is indigenous to Africa, but has been growing wild until recently. It was taken to other parts of the world, including Australia and South America, where it was improved to get superior varieties, some of which arc now being promoted in Kenya.
‘For the last two years, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) has been evaluating four varieties of improved Brachiaria grass on fields in north-western Kenya, lower eastern, coastal lowlands and central high lands,” explains Dr Donald Njarui, the Scientist at KALRO, who leads the research programme in Kenya.
‘The programme is part of larger initiative Jed by Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub, in partnership with KALRO, Rwanda Agriculture Board, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture [CIAT], Grasslanz, and AgResearch, that aims to increase the livestock productivity in East Africa.
‘It is funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). The programme commenced in late 2013, and later, four improved varieties: Basilisk, MG4, Piata and Xaraes were provided to farmers. It has been experimented and produced positive results in Malindi, Kilifi, Machakos, Makueni, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Nyandarua, Nyeri, Embu and Meru counties. . . .’
Courtsey of ILRI