In meeting household and livestock needs, one farmer has resorted to intercropping fodder and food crops to beat the shrinking land while increasing milk yields with the protein-rich purple vetch feed.
Joseph Maina, who is a mixed farmer, owns seven dairy cows. In cutting the cost of protein supplements in commercial dairy meals, the farmer grows maize and purple vetch together.
High protein content is key in milk production.
According to Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, KALRO, animal officer Benson Muturi, purple vetch has a crude protein content of between 15 per cent and 28 per cent.
This is more than twice the amount of crude proteins in most Napier grass varieties, which range from 7. 5 per cent to 8.5 per cent. Only the recently released giant variety from KALRO has a protein level of up to 26 per cent.
Because the farmer relies on Napier grass in feeding his cattle, purple vetch has been the protein booster that has helped him increase milk output from each cow from less than 15 liters to over 20 liters per cow per day over the past year.
“Maize and purple vetch are from different families. Their nutritional requirement for growth is different, therefore, the competition is low. I grow it as a cover crop that enriches the soil with nitrogen besides reducing weed invasion and maintaining moisture content,” Maina said.
Unlike maize, the roots of the fodder can grow up to five feet deep into the soil and its herbaceous stem branched stretch to up to six feet.
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Muturi, who works in the Nyandarua County KALRO station, however, warned that the vetch should be fed to the cows after reaching at least 10 nodes onwards, the recommended maturity length.
The leguminous plant attains maturity in about three months, therefore, it is ready for cutting for direct feeding or hay preparation.
One kilogramme of the vetch can be grown with maize in one acre.
Depending on the rations of each cow, a third of the total feed per day should be that of vetches. The rest of the ration is carbohydrates as well as other minerals and vitamins.
The seeds can be bought from KALRO and other agricultural research institutes.