Use dry season to prepare fodder planting material

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It is not easy for farmers to get enough cuttings or rootstocks for planting fodder in large portions of land. One way to deal with this is to establish a nursery, which, serves as a multiplication area. This can be done about 2-3 months before the rains.

The months of January to March every year are considered dry months in most parts of Kenya. This is according to traditional weather patterns, although there are occasional changes like the just ended El Nino rains. During these dry months crop farmers usually do not have much to do in the farms apart from preparing for the long rains that’s usually expected in March and April. For dairy and beef farmers, the dry season comes with fodder challenges; lack of fodder and reducing nutrient content of grasses in the field.

One way of dealing with these challenges is using the dry season to rapidly multiply and prepare planting materials for fodder. Many grasses used in dairy farming are propagated vegetatively using root splits, stem cuttings and stolons (long stems) or rhizomes. These include Napier grass, Panicum maximum (Guinea grass), Brachiaria brizantha Cv. Mulato, and legumes like Desmodium. The type of materials to be used for establishment will depend on the grass species, availability of planting material and the method to be used for the establishment.

The following vegetative parts can be used:

Stems: Napier grass is commonly planted using stem cuttings. Cut the whole plant 15-20 cm from the ground. The cut stems are planted with two nodes underground and one node above the ground and at an angle of 45°

Rootstock: Part or whole of the parent plant rootstock is dug out and split into tufts of three to four tillers and planted. The aim here is to make sure the tillers have roots attached for ease of establishment.

Stolons (long stems): Grasses like Brachiaria brizantha have stolons (long stems). While looking for planting material for these grasses, cut stems lying on the ground. These parts of the grass may already have roots, which makes easier establishment. Generally, leafy parts of the plant are not suitable for propagation. It is the stems that produce roots.

Vegetative propagation makes it possible for the planting material to be established in the nursery before being transferred to the field. By establishing the planting material in the nursery first, it enables the farmer to have more planting material within a short time. The nursery bed provides an environment that enables the planted vegetative material to develop roots and shoots. This includes availability of water, which is not available in the dry fields as the farmer waters the planting material directly in the nursery bed. The nursery, which serves as a multiplication area can be established about 2-3 months before the start of the rains, during which the planting material will be needed. The area required for the nursery establishment will depend on the size of land to be planted. A 250 square-metre nursery should provide enough planting material for one acre of land.

Setting up a Brachiaria nursery

Identify and fence off the site where the nursery will be established. Make sure it is close to a water source to make watering of the nursery easy. Plough the area and mix, top loam soil, cow dung and sand in the ration 10:5:3 wheel barrows respectively.

The mixture can also be potted in polythene bags and grass cuttings with viable roots and buds planted. In places which are hot and have high temperatures, a shed can be constructed to reduce the loss of water through evaporation and transpiration. Water the nursery or potted plants twice in a day (morning and evening). Sprouting of the cutting starts within 3 weeks and in 10 weeks time they are ready for planting in the main field.

Benefits of preparing the fodder nursery

The advantage for the farmer is that by the time the rains resume from early April, the planting material will have established roots and ready to be planted in the field. For community organizations, this method can help them solve the challenge of giving fodder planting material to their farmers. Through this method, a lot of planting material can be prepared in a small area and given to farmers immediately the rains start. As such, less labour is needed to prepare large numbers of seedlings in the nursery compared to the open field. Also, managing planting material in the nursery is easier.

>>Tell us how useful this information is to your farming enterprise. Share your experience by email to or leave a comment below this article.



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