Dairy Feeds and Feeding


Livestock ownership in Kenya currently supports the livelihood of an estimated 700 million small holder farmers. It accounts for the largest share of agricultural enterprises- contributing more than 40% of the agricultural GDP and 10% of the total GDP.

Dairying is one of the most important livestock investments owing to its inherent value and potential (incomes, nutrition). Kenya is the largest milk producing country in south Saharan Africa, with a herd size larger than the rest of east and southern Africa.  The dairy industry accounts for 4% of the country’s GDP. Currently, the level of milk production is about 5 billion litres against an estimated consumption of 7. This translates to a deficit of 31.8 to 43.5% for medium growth rate, and 16.8 to 32.8% for high growth rate. Small holder farmers contribute over 80% of total milk production, 56% of milk sold in unregulated (informal) market..

Breeding and nutrition are the major determinants of a successful livestock industry in Kenya. While breeding is a long-term, nutrition could be described as short term being run on day-to-day basis. Animal nutrition entails feeding farm animals to obtain maximum production at least-cost. It involves providing approximately 70 % forages and 30 % concentrates to produce a total mixed ration (TMR). In this approach, concentrate feeds are mixed with forages such as Rhodes, Columbus, or Napier grasses, oat straw, etc.

The cost of feed is typically 50 to 70% of the total cost of milk production, and has the most impact on animal health, production and reproduction. It is the key determinant of the enterprise profitability.

Similarly, the major cost of heifer rearing aimed at first calving within 24months of age is feeds. In some of the developed countries where heifers are reared on contract, by special heifer rearing farmers, the price of the heifer is equated to the rearing cost, which is mainly feeds and labour.


2.1-Feed resources

2.1.1 Roughages

They are characterized by; bulkiness, high fibre content, limited nutrient, low dry matter (DM) while fresh, have short lifespan unless conserved and seasonally available unless grown under irrigation.

Roughage can broadly be divided into two categories; protein and energy sources. Sweet potato vines, Lucerne, Desmodium, fodder trees i.e. sesbania sesban are protein sources, while Napier grass, fresh and silage, maize stovers, whole maize crop chopped, fed while green, or ensiled hay, straws, maize thinning, weeds and banana pseudo-stems are energy sources. The nutrient density vary from one to the other, for example whole maize (cob and stock) chopped and fed to livestock have a higher energy level than Napier grass. They form the basis and they form the bulk of ruminant feeding.

a)      Conservation

Fodder conservation is a means of preserving roughage while at its highest nutritive value-during the period of surplus, for later use.

There are basically three forms:

o   Hay; material is harvested and dried-while turning, for three days. It is thereafter baled or stacked. With fodder trees, drying is done under shade, and then the dry material bagged. As an example, Lucerne is harvested at 25% flowering (23% CP content, or at 28 days in Naivasha) in order to ensure optimal quality. 25% flowering is also applicable to Rhodes Grass. The weather also determines the success. It should be noted that its not practical to dry Napier because stems take a long time and the leaves will have fallen by then.

Standing Hay; the material can be left on the farm, or underground, thenharvested when required.


  • Silage; Material, at its optimal nutritive value, is harvested, chopped and conserved in an anaerobic environment. Some of the materials suitable for silage are Napier, (whole) Maize (See Fig. (a) below) & Sorghum.


It should be realized that other than molasses, maize germ can be used, but the cost of the preservative and the succulence of the material should be put into consideration.

Fortification: Napier or whole maize could be fortified with urea, together with molasses to enhance protein levels.

o   Type of Silos:

§  Above the ground

§  Trench silo (below the ground)

§  Tube silage: the recommended tube is 2.5m of gauge ‘1000’, which can hold 450-500kg of Napier, or, 500-550 of (whole) maize crop. However, it is cumbersome to make and store.

a) Silage making:

There are many methods for silage making but use of plastic tube is among those suitable for a farmer with one-two cows and limited Napier acreage, Rhodes grass and maize thinning.

Surplus Napier, maize thinning or grasses can be made into silage, during the rainy season; if the weather is not favorable for hay making and the Rhodes grass has reached harvesting age it can  be made into silage.

Standard tube of 2.5 m length/100 gauge has a 450-500 kg capacity Napier.

o   Steps in silage making:

  • Cut the material for ensiling and leave it spread in the farm to wilt for 2 to 3 days
  • Chop forage (using a chaff cutter or a panga) into chops of 1-1/2inch;
  • Spread a canvas or plastic sheet of 500gauge on a flat surface and spread 70kg (about two half sacks of chopped and compacted Napier grass) of the chopped material into a thin layer;
  • Take 1kg molasses (about1kg Kasuku tin-full) and dilute with 3lt of water (1lt Kasuku tin-full x3). If there is need to improve the CP content of Napier, add 200grams of urea into the molasses and dissolve completely;
  • Using nursery watering can, or 2-lt Kasuku tin perforated at the bottom, spread the molasses/ water mixture on the Napier evenly and mix thorough to ensure an even spread . If the weather is not conducive for Napier wilting or when the molasses is very expensive spread 1.5kg of maize germ on to the chopped Napier and mix as above;
  • Tie one end of the 2.5m plastic tube (width 1.5m) to make a large plastic bag. Place the 70kg of forage already mixed with molasses, or maize germ, into the plastic tube and compacted as much as possible.
  • Repeat bullet 1-5 as many times as is necessary to fill the plastic bag;
  • Tie the top of the plastic bag tightly to ensure air tight;
  • Place heavy objects on the tied plastic tube to maintain the compaction.

Note : the filled silage plastic bag is very heavy and it is recommended that its filled at the point of storage : or alternatively use smaller tubes of 1.5m length which will contain less material, will consume more plastic tube to make 2.5m and also double the number of tubes, posing storage problem.


  • Manual hay-baler (box: measurements 2 x 2 x 3.5 ft, or, 48 x 55 x 90 cm).
  • Motorized: forage cutter and hay baler.

c) Forage Storage

  • Material should be stored away from water( store under shade);

d) Treatment of maize stover/wheat straw/rice straw/barley/standing hay :

This is done to improve the nutritive value, as well as digestibility. The steps are:-

  • The dry material is chopped (chuff cutter/panga);
  • Spread 100kg of the above material;
  • Take 4kg urea and mix with 100kg water to dissolve;
  • Sprinkle the above solution on the material;
  • Tie one end of polythene tube, 1000 gauge 2.5 by 1.5m diameter, to make a bag;
  • Fill the material while compacting;
  • When full, tie the other end of the bag and store for 21 days to mature;
  • To feed, add molasses/maize germ to improve palatability;
  • Some cows might refuse, for acceptance, scoop what to feed and leave it for a while for ammonia to evaporate;

Information Source: Onesmus Kyalo, A Practicing Dairy Farmer, Machakos; George N. Gichungu, Animal Scientist/Practicing Farmer, Thika; Mr. Bill A. Lijoh, Animal Scientist, and Mr. Stanley M. Mutua, Feed Technologist.