Do you know that what is fed to the cow determines to a large extent the quality and quantity of milk produced?

It is from the feeds that a dairy cow derives energy for maintenance, growth, milk production and reproduction. Breeding and nutrition are the major determinants of a successful livestock industry in Kenya. While breeding is a long-term factor, nutrition could be described as short term being run on day-to-day basis. Animal nutrition entails feeding farm animals to obtain maximum production at least-cost. It involves providing approximately 70 % forages and 30 % concentrates to produce a total mixed ration (TMR). In this approach, concentrate feeds are mixed with forages such as Rhodes, Columbus, or Napier grasses, oat straw, etc.

farmers learning about dairy feeds

Again, if energy levels remain low, the cow will not show any signs of heat. This shows that production and reproduction are the two most affected when a cow is not fed with the right quality and quantities of feed.

It is, therefore, important that a farmer knows the nutritional requirements of a dairy cow to provide adequate rations to meet it production and reproductive requirements.

Feed resources

Cow feeds can be classified into two:

  1. Roughage and
  2. concentrate
  • Concentrate is high in protein or energy includes dairy meal, maize germ, cotton seed cake, wheat pollard, maize grain, soya beans etc.

Both roughage and concentrates supply cows with nutrients it needs for survival. Nutrients are divided into three – Carbohydrates (energy), proteins, vitamins & minerals.

  • Roughages

Roughage is high in fiber and includes hay, Napier grass, lucerne, silage and all the plant material fed to a cow. They are characterized by; bulkiness, high fibre content, limited nutrient, low dry matter (DM) while fresh, have short lifespan unless conserved and seasonally available unless grown under irrigation.


Roughage can broadly be divided into two categories; protein and energy sources. Sweet potato vines, Lucerne, Desmodium, fodder trees i.e. sesbania sesban are protein sources, while Napier grass, fresh and silage, maize stovers, whole maize crop chopped, fed while green, or ensiled hay, straws, maize thinning, weeds and banana pseudo-stems are energy sources. The nutrient density vary from one to the other, for example whole maize (cob and stock) chopped and fed to livestock have a higher energy level than Napier grass. They form the basis and they form the bulk of ruminant feeding.

How do we Conserve fodder?

Fodder conservation is a means of preserving roughage while at its highest nutritive value-during the period of surplus, for later use.

There are basically three forms:

  1. Hay; material is harvested and dried-while turning, for three days. It is thereafter baled or stacked. With fodder trees, drying is done under shade, and then the dry material bagged. As an example, Lucerne is harvested at 25% flowering (23% CP content) in order to ensure optimal quality. 25% flowering is also applicable to Rhodes Grass. The weather also determines the success. It should be noted that it’s not practical to dry Napier because stems take a long time and the leaves will have fallen by then.
  2. Standing Hay; the material can be left on the farm, or underground, then harvested when required.
  3. Silage; Material, at its optimal nutritive value, is harvested, chopped and conserved in an anaerobic environment. It prevents fresh fodder from decomposing and allows it to keep its nutrient quality. Some of the materials suitable for silage are Napier, (whole) Maize & Sorghum.

Other than molasses, maize germ can be used, but the cost of the preservative and the succulence of the material should be put into consideration.

Advantages of Silage 

  • Helps ease feed shortages during dry seasons.
  • Adequate feed is available all year round; hence animals remain in good health. Silage can be made using fresh or better wilted material.

Type of Silos:

  1. Above the ground
  2. Trench silo (below the ground)
  3. Tube silage: the recommended tube is 2.5m of gauge ‘1000’, which can hold 450-500kg of Napier, or, 500-550 of (whole) maize crop. However, it is cumbersome to make and store

How to make silage

  • The crop should be ready for harvest: The seed of forage sorghum or maize should be soft but not milky when you squeeze it open.
  • Napier grass (pennisetum) needs to be about a metre high (up to a man’s waist).
  • Legumes should have young pods which are not dry.
  • If it has been raining and the forage is wet, or if the forage seems immature (the seed is very milky) then it is best to harvest it and leave it in the sun for a few hours to wilt (too much water in the forage can spoil the silage).
  • The chopping and bagging area or silage pit must be clean and ready for the forage.
  • Ensure proper compaction whether pit or bag silage is being made
  • Seal the silage material and make sure the silo is air tight. Silage is formed through anaerobic fermentation by microorganisms.
  • Place heavy objects on the tied plastic tube to maintain the compaction.
  • It takes about 30 to 40 days for the silage to mature and be ready for feeding. Never open the whole silage pit at once. Only one end of the narrow side should be opened a bit. Remove enough material for each day’s feeding and cover again. This way air is prevented from entering the silage. However, once the pit is opened, use the silage as quickly as possible.
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