How Dairy Kenyan Farmers are tripling milk production through Brachiaria Grass.

Brachiaria grass is gaining popularity among cattle farmers in Kenya due to what they claim to be significant increase in milk soon after they introduce the grass as part of the fodder for their cattle.

Originally from Africa and bred in South America, the grass is credited with helping to revolutionise the Brazilian beef industry.

Brachiaria grass has more than 15% crude proteins and other minerals, which are necessary in milk production compared to Napier grass which has between 7% and 8.5% crude proteins. However, a new variety like giant Napier grass has surpassed this mark by offering up to 26% crude proteins to livestock. 

Brachiaria cv. Mulato and Mulato II are a result of breeding by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). According to Dr. Brigitte Maass, a forage scientist with CIAT in Kenya, Brachiaria cv. Mulato and cv. Mulato II are hybrids which have resulted from crosses involving 3 species; Brachiaria brizanthaB. decumbens and B. ruziziensis. The last one is used as a bridge.

The result is a hybrid that is apomictic, meaning that the seeds produced are true breeds (their genes do not change). In reality, they are like clones of mother plant. This is an ideal situation that is not common with many crops and forages because farmers will not lose the vigor of the plant.

Brachiaria can be grazed or cut and fed to animals in stalls and feedlots. Where animals graze, the duration depends on the number of animals. Sufficient time must be given to a pasture to grow back after intensive grazing. Rotational grazing will give grass time to re-grow.

Where farmers cut and carry to feed the animals, the grass is ready for the next cut in about 45-50 days during the rainy season. At this stage, the grass has higher nutrient content, especially protein, than Napier.

Brachiaria has high production capacity for biomass; therefore, it is a good alternative for making silage and hay for use during the dry season. Its production and nutrient content depend on soil fertility and its management, as well as the stage of harvesting.

The grass is not only appropriate for low rainfall regions, but a sure feed security solution. According to Feedpedia, an animal feeds resource repository, the grass does well in regions with rainfall of between 1500mm and 3500mm per annum. But it can withstand drought for between three and six months, within which it remains green, unlike other tropical grasses.

Trials conducted by KARI-Marigat show that the grass does well under irrigation in arid and semi-arid areas, and under rain-fed conditions in the transitional zones.

It also grows in poor and nitrogen and other nutrients’ deficient soils and a PH of between 4 and 8. Although it does well in low nutrient area, the content reduces with decrease in the elements.

Unlike Napier grass, Mulato Brachiaria does not have stinging hairs, making it easy to cut and carry. 

This is a quality that makes the grass attractive to farmers who use the push-pull technology to 
control stem borer and Striga and as a way of growing fodder for their animals.

Strengths
  • Well-adapted to acid and neutral soils of moderate to low fertility 
  • Tolerates high soil aluminium levels
  • Very persistent, even under seasonally dry conditions
  • Productive, capable of sustaining high stocking rates and grazing pressures
  • High nutritional value for ruminants
  • Maintains green leaf of relatively high nutritional value into seasonally dry periods
  • Responds well to nitrogen fertiliser
Limitations

  • Low seed production may limit availability 
  • Slow to establish if dormant seed is sown
  • Dense growth means careful management needed to maintain companion legumes.
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