How to make hay from Brachiaria grass
Apart from providing the day-to-day fodder requirements for the farmer, excess forage from Brachiaria can be dried and stored as hay for use during the dry season when pasture is scarce to maintain milk production.
The search for fodder has always been a perennial problem for livestock farmers and a shortage of animal feed represents one of the most serious constraints to animal production. In our continuing series of the “wonder grass” Brachiaria, we focus on fodder preservation.
Fodder grass is an important resource for farmers who practice the push-pull technology. Push-Pull technology provides all-year-round quality fodder, and this is one of the main motivating factors for its adoption by many livestock farmers.
The Push-Pull technology, therefore, opens up significant opportunities for growth to small-scale farmers. The technology represents a platform around which livestock keeping and other new income generation activities can be integrated. This provides small-scale farmers with an opportunity to increase their income.
Towards the end of the rainy season, about four months after planting, the seeds from Brachiaria will be ready for harvesting. You will notice that they will become full and start to drop on their own. Harvest them into bags and dry them for use in the next planting season.
Brachiaria is one of the best grasses for making hay. Two or three weeks after the last rain, it is advisable to harvest the grass and dry it for storage. The yield will range from 18 to 20 tonnes of green fodder per acre and when dried and baled as hay, it gives 8.5 to 10 tonnes of hay.
Start by harvesting the Brachiaria one row at a time. Start with the inner row nearest the maize. After the first forage has been harvested, you can start harvesting the second row. This gives time for the inner row to grow again. Harvesting a row at a time ensures that there is always Brachiaria grass for animals and a trap for stem borer control.
Haymaking is a common practice of preserving fodder. It is the process of turning green, perishable forage into a product that can be safely stored and easily transported without danger of spoilage while keeping nutrient loss to a minimum.
Hay is made from fresh grass with a moisture content of 80% by a drying process taking it to a moisture level of 20%. This can be stored for use during long dry spells. Allow the freshly harvested grass to dry for two to three days in sunny weather before packing it and baling it.
When making hay, you need dried grass, sisal strings and a hay box. The box dimensions are more effective when they are 40 x 50 x 75 cm. This makes it easier to bale the grass. Put two lengths of sisal strings in the hay box, with the strings over the sides of the box it is easier to pull the hay out.
Place the hay in the box and keep compressing as you add more hay. You can press it down tightly by jumping on it. Compressing the hay helps to push out air that is present in spaces inside the grass and have more weight. Keep adding hay as you press until the box is full. Then tie the hay and pull the bundle out of the box. You can sprinkle the hay with some maize bran.
Hay must be stored in a dry environment. Hay can be baled and stored under shade or in a store by creating hay-stacks. These may be created in a field near the source, or close to where the hay is required. Stacks may be covered by plastic sheets to keep out rain and prevent exposure to the excessive sun.
If fodder is well-dried and preserved, nutrients such as proteins and carbohydrates will be maintained thus ensuring good milk and meat production.
If you have huge parcels of land, you can earn an extra income from fodder agribusiness by supplying other small-scale dairy farmers, especially during prolonged dry seasons. On average, a bale of Brachiaria sells at Sh 250. Feeding hay to livestock helps reduce the amount of concentrate.