Urea can soften dry fodder for animals

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Most farmers rely on maize stalks and other crop residue to feed their dairy cows during the dry season. It can be made easier to chew by adding urea to soften it. But farmers have to use the right quantity of urea as excess amounts can cause sudden death.

A lot of crop residue on the farm that is fed to livestock especially during the dry season is often wasted. One reason for this wastage is that the animals find it unpalatable (hard to chew). Some farmers in an attempt to make the fodder soft often immerse it in water. The best solution is to apply urea (the same one that farmers use as fertilizer). When combined with molasses, urea softens fodder, making it easy for the animals to chew. It also makes it easy for the cows to digest it and adds nitrogen in the crop residue used as fodder - maize stalks, rice, wheat or sorghum.

Below are various methods farmers can use to improve the quality of their fodder using urea:

How to use urea in animal fodder

- Chop up dry old maize stalks or other low quality straw overmature grass-cellulose material.

- Dig a pit and line withplastic or use the silage bags and fill in the chopped material. The recommended ratio for treating the residue is 60 grams of urea for every 1 kg of dry fodder. The water should be in the same ratio as the fodder being treated. For example if you have 400 kg of maize stalks, use 400 litres of water and add 24 kg of urea (see the illustration on how to do it).

- After 3 weeks, the chopped and treated material will be much more palatable to cows, goats, and all other animals. In milking cows, it has been proved to boost milk production.

- There is no danger of poisoning in this method, as the urea will have been absorbed by the cellulose and converted to a form that provides energy to the animal as well.

Use urea on other feeds

Urea can be mixed with other animal feeds. But these should be done carefully so as not to overdose the animal – do not mix too much urea with the feed. Urea should not be given in excess of 30% of digestible crude protein. 

For an average cow of 500 kg bodyweight, 290g of DCP (digestible crude protein) is recommended. 30% of 290 g = 87g. Now if you check the other attachment of nutrient contents of livestock feeds, you will see that urea contains 281% DCP, meaning 1 kg urea equals 2.81kg crude protein. This means that in order to supply your 87g/day in the form of urea, you will only need 87/2.81 = 31 g per cow. 

Give the correct amount

It is easy to overdose an animal with a small amount of urea. 1 tablespoon contains about 15g, so 2 tablespoons is needed for every cow. Mix with grains supplemented by molasses to keep the rumen pH below 6. Cows can gradually get used to slightly higher proportion of protein being fed in the form of urea, but farmers have to protect their cows from getting poisoned. In case of urea poisoning, give the animal vinegar. For sheep 0.5 litre and for cows 3.0 to 5.0 litres of table vinegar.

NOTE: Farmers should know that urea wrongly used can actually kill a cow. Be careful when using it.

Source: More forage, more milk. Technical Handbook No. 33, World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi.

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