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How to Grow Brachiaria grass

By Grace Chomba

Scott Mwiti at his farm in Maara, Tharaka Nithi where he has planted brachiaria grass to feed his dairy cattle. [Jeckonia Otieno, Standard]

Brachiaria grass has proved to be a better alternative animal feed that has a higher crude protein content than nappier grass. The protein levels ranges from 9 to 20 per cent. It can produce more biomass on low fertile soils.

Most importantly, it increases milk production and grows 1.5 meters in optimal soils and climatic conditions. It grows faster after grazing.

Here are guidelines on how to grow Brachiaria grass.

Planting

Prepare a good seedbed. The soil has to be mixed thoroughly with well-cured manures. You can either use seeds, root splits or stem cuttings as planting materials.

For seeds, plant at the beginning of rains. Create 1 to 2cm deep furrows and 50cm spacing. Drill the seeds and cover with light soil. You can also sow the seed in a nursery bed and transplant the seedlings after six weeks. Ensure you mulch the nursery bed with dry grass.

Root splits are planted at the beginning of rains or irrigated for better results, space each split 50 cm apart and 25 cm within rows.

Management

You are required to add manure and fertiliser since cut and carry pasture depletes soil nutrients. Adding 80kg Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) fertilizer per acre, per season will help maintain the soil fertility. You can also use 2 to 4 tonnes of cured manure per acre for the same.

Weed control

The grass is likely to be infested at the early stages after planting. Broad-leaved weeds can be controlled by the use of herbicides. One can also remove weeds manually.

Pests and diseases

It is commonly attacked by red spider mite and shoot borers. Kenyans have observed the following diseases: rusts, ergot, smut and leaf spots.

Harvesting

The grass takes 21 weeks or five months to flower after sowing. This is the best time to start feeding the livestock.

It takes around three weeks to regrow. Cut the grass at a height of 5 cm above the ground.

The next harvest should be after nine to 12 weeks depending on rainfall, soil fertility, and management. The grass can stay in the field for a maximum of 20 years with proper care.

Brachiaria grass can be feed direct from the garden to the livestock, suitable for grazing systems and conserved as hay or silage.

Amazingly, the grass is drought resistant, produces fewer greenhouse gases per litre of milk produced. It is more nutritious and easy to digest.

Brachiaria grass seeds don’t lose hybrid vigour and entrepreneurs can grab the opportunity to produce its seeds.

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