The Sunday News
FAMILIAR questions that I get from most smallholder livestock farmers around this time of the year are about how to mix this and that and present it as animal feed.
This farmer will tell me I have bought so many kilogrammes of molasses I want to mix with maize stover, what are the ratios?
I have coarse salt which I want to mix with cereal stover what are the ratios? Farmers will be trying various concoctions to help their animals with nutritious feed but still at manageable cost.
It is common knowledge that readymade commercial feeds are a bit steep when it comes to costs and with a sizeable herd you may not manage to buy enough to sustain the herd throughout the season. I am aware that as extension officers we always advise farmers to dispose of some animals and use the proceeds from such sales to procure stock feed to keep the remaining herd alive.
However, with the complicated Zimbabwean currency challenges it is not stimulating for a farmer to sell because you could remain stuck with money in your bank account which is rapidly deteriorating in value. It is evident that smallholder livestock farmers need low cost do-it-yourself feed formulation formulas which they can use on their farms and produce feed to help save their animals from succumbing to the effects of the lean season.
Let me hasten to say I am not a nutrition expert and hence I may not do a completely exhaustive job on this article hence it suffices for farmers to seek advice from a livestock nutrition expert. You get these experts mostly from feed manufacturing companies because they help to formulate those feeds we buy.
However, as a livestock farmer you need to know the key components which should define your feed and these are the crude protein percentage, the energy composition and the percentages of minerals. Feed manufacturers will mix your feed in such a way that there is an acceptable percentage of crude protein and there is also energy provision on the feed. Now farmers tend to run with one component which will be popular with their social groupings and usually its molasses.
Some then begin to think that when they buy molasses it becomes a panacea for all nutritional challenges in their herd, it’s not. It is just providing an energy source, what about the crude protein and the essential mineral supplements?
Others think measures like buying hay bales is enough yet what they don’t realise is that it’s just grass that has been cut and packed in nice square boxes, nothing more. Worse still this grass is at times cut when it is very dry and it has lost most of its nutritive value after seed setting and the grass is mostly cut from high rainfall areas which happen to have plenty grass but of the sour veld nature!
The sour veld for those who do not know has this property of losing most of its nutritive value as it gets dry such that when it is cut at the time when it’s very dry, it is almost empty nutritionally, while the sweet veld will maintain a high plain of nutritive value even in its dry form.
The sweet veld is however sparsely populated such that it is unlikely that you can harvest enough to make hay bales out of it!
In short hay bales will contribute in maintaining your animal but may not be enough to serve an animal which went into the lean season in a very poor body condition score. You need to support hay bales with something that provides energy and crude protein as well. You may need cotton seed hulls or sunflower cake for crude protein supplementation while molasses will do for your energy requirements.
A mineral lick block will provide the required minerals. Therefore, our take home from this week’s installment is that we should seek expert advice from those that have the know how on how we can mix our own feed at the farm using affordable materials but still providing critical components that should go into stock feed.
Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo. Feedback [email protected]/ cell 0772851275