Farmers up milk yields, cut feed costs with fattening tuber

Farmers feeding their cows with a multi purpose sugary tuber with ability to complement energy and protein levels not available in traditional feeds like nappier are recording upto three more litres of milk a day while saving on feed cost which has reached sky limit in recent years.

Fodder beet, commonly referred to as the fattening tuber, belongs to the beet family and is made up of beetroot and spinach. It utilizes both the leaves and its roots to provide a high energy and nutritive livestock feed. The tuber which can be fed to all livestock including lambs and donkeys has high energy roots but fall short of the recommended protein levels with a paltry 6 percent.

However its leaves bolster this shortage with leaves containing 17 percent protein levels. Nappier the most common dairy fodder in Kenya, has a crude protein content of only nine per cent which is not high enough on its own to sustain adequate milk yields. It is therefore fed together with nappier for better results.

Farmers who have grown it over years refer to it as the fattening crop for its unrivaled ability to increase livestock weight. “Its not just making the cow fat, its ensuring that the cow produces lean meat but also increases weight in a healthy way,” says Juanta Kiere a dairy farmer from Kinangop, remarks Mleto Ndemi a sheep farmer from Elburgon concurs with. “I have been feeding my sheep with fooder beet for three years now and I can tell the difference when they have been fed with it and when they havent. The sheep hair is velvety and soft which is hard to get. Sheep hair is largely determined by what the sheep is fed,” he says.

Scientists and researchers agree that feeding livestock with fodder beet has advantages than traditional feeds. “Its the high protein levels that trigger enzymic reactions and other important metabolic activities necessary for good growth of livestock. That is why the plant does well with any livestock, not forgeting its sugary aspect,” says Dr Janet Muheria a scientist from Moi University.

The forage crop is possibly the highest yielding forage crop with 20-30 tonnes per acre under normal planting methods and and when grown really well, can produce 40tonnes per acre. Critical to growing a good fodder beet is the ground preparation and keeping the weeds down. The first six to eight weeks is the most important time as the plant produces the most important elements but equally very susceptible to weed and pest attack.

"It's not a crop where you throw the seeds in the paddock and forget it. It's an expensive crop to grow because of the tilling and the constant monitoring required and you need to do it properly,” said Juanta. It takes six months to mature and be harvested and can be intercropped with other crops without competing with them for nutrients. The wonder tuber has a five month shelf life without losing its nutritional value.

Researchers estimate that even with the immense benefits the tuber farmers havent planted it due to information gap, even as the cost of commercial feeds skyrocket. Only a paltry 50 acres are under fodder beet cultivation with a national production of just 2000 tonnes annually compared to countries like Australia where farmers hugely rely on the tuber to feed livestock boasting of over 1million tonnes production annually.