Forget napier grass, try these fodder shrubs

Mary Gichuki in her Limuru farm where she grows fodder shrubs. PHOTO | HARRI JUNTILLA

What you need to know:

  • They are cheaper to grow and more nutritious for milk produc-tion, says Mary Gichuki who supplies her neighbours with the rare feed

Mary Gichuki walks around her five-acre farm in Limuru Town describing various livestock fodder shrubs.

“Here I have calliandra, mulberry, trichandra, sesbania sesban, bitter lupin and double bean,” she explains.

“All these plants are good sources of protein. They enhance the quality of milk and productivity in all farm animals.”

Mary has grown livestock fodder shrubs for several years.

She says many farmers do not know about the crops, thus relying on Napier grass and commercial feeds.

This sometimes results in low milk production and weak, disease-prone cows.

Fodder shrubs, according to Mary, provide protein to livestock and poultry.

These include pigs, goats, chicken, rabbits and poultry.

“Investing in fodder shrubs would benefit farmers greatly. It would reduce costs associated with relying on commercial feeds and Napier grass.”

Many farmers complain of having small farms, but according to Mary, this should not be an excuse.

“A farmer can grow fodder shrubs on a small piece of land and still harvest plenty,” says Mary, who has eight years’ experience as a fodder grower.

“Space should not be a problem to any farmer. For two cows, one eighth of an acre is enough.”

A farmer should grow at least three different fodder shrubs all the time to get the most out of their investment.

“Purple vetch can be grown and harvested together with Napier grass. Some shrubs can be planted along the farm boundaries to leave more space for the other crops to grow.” They can be also used as a hedge around the homestead for beauty and privacy.

Besides that, the plants can be turned into manure, firewood and stalks for other vegetation like tomatoes, peas and beans.

And most importantly, a dairy farmer gets more money from milk sales as the cows produce more when fodder shrubs are added into their daily dairy rations.

“A bag of seeds, which is enough for small-scale livestock farmer costs Sh500. With an investment of Sh2,000, a farmer can begin the production of his animal fodder shrubs. This investment can last several years,” explains Mary.

A cow needs about 500 shrubs annually. A goat about 100.

The shrubs take between three and nine months to mature.

Double bean, for instance, takes three months while sesbania sesban, calliandra and trichandra six to nine months. But once they are ready, fodder is harvested daily, or it can be dried and stored in bails.

Mary says her business has a profit margin of 50 per cent. That is about Sh500,000 a year.

“Most of the money comes from selling seeds of animal fodder. I also nurture seedlings and sells them for Sh20 each.”

Mary travels around the country training farmers on how to plant fodder shrubs. She has given lectures and sold seeds in farmers’ fairs in Nairobi, Eldoret, Nakuru and Nyeri.

“I have helped more than 1,000 farmers start growing fodder shrubs. But there are millions of small-scale farmers who still need help.”

According to her, fodder shrubs can grow in most areas across the country, including Mombasa, Eldoret and Kisumu.

“But if there is a threat of frost, they might not survive through cold season.”

Mary’s plan is to train farmers on her land to reduce travelling around the country.

“Fodder shrubs give me the most income. I also keep dairy livestock but growing fodder shrubs is what I want to do on a large-scale.”

Joseph Mureithi, the Principal of Waruhiu Agricultural Training Centre, says while the plants are nutritious, there is a risk when animals are overfed.

“Some of the shrubs contain certain poisonous compounds and if given in excess, they can lead to constipation. Animals can bloat, which often is lethal. So when a farmer is using fodder shrubs, they must be very careful on quantity.”

The rule, according to him, is that fodder shrubs should not exceed 30 per cent of the total amount of daily diet.

“Fodder shrubs are ideal for the livestock farmer. They improve the nutritional value of dairy fodder and save farmers money used in buying concentrates. They improve the quality and taste of milk,” Mureithi says.

HOW TO PLANT

Trichandra, tree lucern and sesbania sesban seeds need soaking in warm or cold water for up to 10 hours before being transferred to the nursery.

Nursery time varies from one to two months. Purple vetch is an exception; it is directly planted as are mulberry cuttings.

The plants will then be transplanted. It is important to use manure for better growth and to guard against fungi and ants. There is no need to use any chemicals.

PREPARING THE FEEDS

Fodder shrubs can be given to animals directly as fresh food.  Although they are trees, when harvested in the right time, they are easy to eat and digest.

They can also be stored as a dry fodder like hay.

Bitter lupin is harvested when the seeds are dry. Then it is milled to flour that is mixed with maize in a ratio of 1:3.

Where to buy fodder shrubs seeds

Kenya Association of Tree Seeds and Nursery Operation is among the organisations where one can buy the seeds.

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