Do you imagine what the hay you happily receive from far off places could bring to your farm? I have no intention of scaring farmers or discouraging the importation of fodder.
But as farmers carry out the patriotic duty of ensuring food security to Kenyans, they should be aware of the risks of bringing in fodder from areas out of their land.
Top on the list is introducing diseases to the farm. The most common viral diseases are foot and mouth and malignant catarrh fever, bacterial illnesses such as anthrax and parasitic like east coast fever.
In addition to diseases, farmers may import undesirable, toxic and invasive plants to their lands and areas.
In recent times, when the weather was favourable, a lot of hay was exported from Kajiado to other counties.
Kajiado has the reputation of having a large vibrant population of the Ipomea purpurea plant, which is poisonous to livestock. The plant is also very invasive.
The seeds of Ipomea purpurea can be transported in hay to new locations.
It is therefore important for farmers to understand the challenges they may face from where they source fodder.
It is also important for growers of fodder to ensure they control diseases, parasites and undesirable plants on their farms.
Unfortunately, some traders harvest the fodder from wild locations where the grass has grown naturally without control.
They cannot even give the history of the animals that may have traversed the area or the undesirable plants that may have seeds there.
As we experience more effects of global warming, rain patterns become more erratic and farmland sizes become smaller due to population growth, the demand for fodder will continue increasing.
Commercial fodder production
It may be time that the government sets standards for commercial fodder production in an effort to protect farmers from unscrupulous traders who do not care about producing and supplying clean, safe and high quality grass.
A majority of local fodder producers operate large tracts of land where they take good care of their crops.
Due to the long time it takes for fodder to grow free of any livestock or wild animals, most farms are fairly disease and parasite-free.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
I dealt with a case of an outbreak of tick-borne diseases on a zero-grazing dairy farm two weeks ago.
The last time there was such an outbreak was three years ago when young stock had been put on pasture to save on production cost.
The manager called and said they had had several cases of east coast fever, red water and anaplasmosis within a short period of time.
They had noticed a lot of small brown ticks on the animals, especially in the ears.
He said they had traced the tick problem to about 7,000 bales of hay they obtained from Nyandarua County on a farm they had newly leased.
The manager added that the ticks were so many that even workers were finding it difficult to handle the hay.
The ticks appeared hungry and would crawl over the bodies of the employees as they handled they hay.
I know that creepy feeling of ticks on the skin. I recall one nasty experience in Machakos County months ago.
The problem is that even when the ticks have gone, you get episodes of psychological feeling that they are still there.
The manager said they had been spraying the cattle once every two weeks after controlling the ticks on the farm.
They had now reverted to spraying once per week but workers still found ticks on the animals, especially after feeding.
I advised the manager to escalate the spraying to twice weekly because the tick challenge had increased greatly.
The dilemma, however, was what to do with the large quantity of contaminated hay.
The farm had very limited options. They could destroy the hay and then treat the store with an acaricide or anti-tick chemical on several occasions to eliminate the parasites.
The manager told me that was what they did some years ago on a farm where they had a similar problem.
In the current scenario, the destruction option was not viable since there is a general scarcity of hay across the country.
Furthermore, it was going to be very expensive, considering that a bale was going for Sh350.
The other option was to wash the animals twice per week and hope no tick would attach on the cows to cause disease.
The ticks would eventually die out due to the acaricide on the cattle and starvation for those in the store.
The best option, I explained to the manager, was to fumigate the hay and the store with phosphine gas combined with washing of the cattle with acaricide two times a week.
The downside of this was the high cost of fumigation.
I discussed with a colleague who provides fumigation services and he confirmed he could do it.
Fumigation involves sealing the store to make it air tight, then placing a calculated number of phosphine tablets strategically in the building.
The tablets slowly release phosphine gas, which kills ticks over four to seven days.
The gas does not leave traces or residue in the hay.
It is therefore safe for the cattle to eat the fumigated hay and for workers to enter the barn after fumigation.
Ideally, hay from tick-infested areas should be fumigated before transport.
The farm opted to do heavy spraying of the cattle to control the ticks.