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Silage rescues dairy farmers in Kenya as drought bites       

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya is currently experiencing an unusually dry weather that has brought numerous challenges for cattle-keepers in both dry areas and the highlands.

The East African nation, for the third-year running, is going through drought-like conditions characterized by very dry winds and long sunny periods, an indication that the rains expected in March may not be adequate again this year, according to the Meteorological Department.

Having learnt the hard way in the last few years, where milk production became expensive and declined due to lack of fodder, many dairy farmers have mastered the art of making silage.

And this is paying off currently as the farmers are feeding their animals silage made from fodder planted during the rainy season and stored.

Silage, which is made from pasture that include Boma Rhodes grass, maize and molasses, can last for up to two years, giving farmers a peace of mind, especially during the dry period.

James Njoroge, a farmer in Ruai on the outskirts of Nairobi, is one of those who are currently feeding their animals silage that he prepared some months ago.

“I have two bunkers where I store my silage that can feed my seven Friesian animals for up to two years. One bunker currently has silage I prepared in May last year, which I am feeding the animals and would last until next month. The other silage I prepared in October will last me until about May, when the short rains would have come,” he said.

With the silage, Njoroge is not feeling the current drought that has seen dozens of animals especially in the arid regions die due to lack of pasture while others sold off at low prices.

“I feed the animals the silage and hay, with the former making the bulk of the feed. My milk production has remained at between 25 and 30 liters a day from each of the four lactating cows during this dry season,” said the farmer, who sells the milk to neighbors at 0.6 dollar per liter.

A bale of hay is currently going for 3.2 dollars, thanks to the dry season but combined with the silage, his costs go down.

“If I were to feed the cows only hay, I would not manage because each animal feeds on the 15 kg bale per day,” said the farmer, who further uses dairy meal and Napier grass, as supplement feeds.

Njoroge, together with other 25 members of their farmers’ group, learnt silage making from an agricultural non-state organization years ago.

To make silage, the freshly harvested fodder is dried under the sun for three days to preserve quality. Thereafter, the feed is then chopped into tiny pieces preferably using a chaff-cutter.

The feed will then be spread on a polythene material placed in a bunker as it is compacted to remove air and molasses is thereafter added.

Later, the mixture is covered with the polythene material and would be ready for use after about a month. It can stay in the pit for up to a year.

Simon Muriuki, a livestock extension officer in Kiambu, a county near Nairobi, noted that with the rains becoming erratic and the country facing drought year-in and year-out, silage is the only tool that farmers can use to run profitable venture.

“But one must know how to go about it. The thing is that you grow fodder like maize during the rainy season, for instance from between March and May, harvest and preserve as silage for use during the dry weather. This is a practice that one must perfect if he is to reap as farmers should guard against improper storage of silage which can lead to aflatoxin in milk,” he said.

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