A recently introduced fodder growing technology is fast rising in the country, offering farmers year round supply of nutritious green fodder, grown for just eight days and producing upto 50 kgs of the fodder in a 20 by 10 feet space, enough to feed 20 mature cows or 120 goats all year round. Dubbed hydroponics technology for its ability to grow fodder and other crops without the soil, the project has been hailed as a revolutionary way of farming coming at a time when land is continually becoming limited thanks to population pressure and the ever rising cost of commercial feeds that is locking hundred of farmers from accessing the much needed feed.
Though having been in existence for the last 50 years in the world, the country is just warming up to the technology with majority of the over 2million livestock farmers yet to try it. The technology entails the germination of seeds in nutrient rich solutions instead of soil to produce a grass and root combination that is very high in nutrition. Compared to ordinary cattle feed, this method of pasture production require far less space and the pasture produced has superior nutritive value. A typical greenhouse containing trays stacked on shelves is used. The trays are put under controlled environmental conditions in a six to 10 day cycle. The content are fed as food and grain such as barley, wheat, maize and others.
Barley is the grain of choice due to its superior performance. Grains develop roots and green shoots to form a dense mat. Carbon dioxide injection cuts the growing time to four days and increase production by upto 25 percent. A 144metre squared greenhouse can hold about 1800 trays and produce an average of 1200kg per day using only 800 to 1000 litres of water. This amount of fodder can be used to supplement 100 heads of cattle or 500 heads of sheep or goats per day. “Its ability to save water even though the crops or fodder is grown in water is its biggest advantage. For example, it requires a farmer one to two litres of water to produce one kilo of fodder compared to 80 to 90 litres to produce one kilo of green grass.
This is a solution to the frequent droughts and the need for expensive irrigation systems,”said Alex Nderi who is actively involved in advocating for hydroponics adoption in the country. The technology also saves farmers the agony of expensive fodder storage facilities because farmers are guaranteed a constant supply of high quality fodder. Unlike hay and silage which loses their nutritive value over time, the quality of hydroponic fodder is always guaranteed. Farmers therefore know exactly the amount to feed and the amount of yield to expect. “Since it is grown naturally, there are no antibiotics, artificial hormones, pesticides or herbicides in the hydroponics fodder feed,” Alex added. But what perhaps is drawing more farmers to the trade is its cheap initial investment and the impressive returns on investment.
Estimates indicate a cost of Sh4000 to produce a tonne of fodder which is four to eight times less compared to using grain over a 90 to 120 day period. To grow green feed conventionally, the farmer needs to incur costs towards buying insecticides, fertilizers and paying laborers to cultivate and harvest. When feeding livestock for example a cow the cost to finish it over a period of two or three months in the feed rot will be 7.7 times less than to feed the same cow on the currently common grain-based diet. A farmer using hydroponics fodder can for example, sell 100 cattle up to three times per year, as opposed to the conventional farmer who can only sell his 100 cattle once a year. The importance of good – quality feed is reinforced by the fact that between 60% and 75% livestock ailments result from their feed. A kilo of green feed under hydroponics is nutritionally equivalent to 3kgs of Lucerne, the commonly used grass among Kenyan farmers. Bacteria and fungal growth that are a characteristic of the technology however are its biggest undoing.