By George Munene
Desmodium is a legume that offers a rich source of crude protein (10-17 per cent). For smallholder farmers it increases dietary nitrogen content, offering a cost-effective supplement to the usually fed Napier grass which contains 7 to 10 per cent protein.
Nitrogen is a structural component of milk, therefore increasing it in cows’ diet has a direct influence on total solids; it increases milk fat and hence increases milk density and yield.
Farmers can use a mixture of Napier grass and desmodium to increase milk yields gradually by feeding them on their cows regularly.
Napier is a high-yielding fodder crop with good palatability and is highly nutritious especially when young with dark green leaves and less than one meter tall.
Desmodium for its part is a large perennial tropical forage legume. It does better at altitudes between 500 and 2500m in the tropics. It grows well on slopes. It can be grown in areas where annual rainfall is above 900mm and up to 3000mm. During the growing season, it is more susceptible to drought and has better tolerance to flooding and waterlogging.
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Before planting, plough and harrow the field well. Dig planting holes at a space of three by two feet (90*60 cm). In each hole apply a handful of farmyard manure and half a soda bottle top of diammonium phosphate (DAP).
While planting, place a three-node piece of Napier cane ensuring two nodes are covered into the ground, or place root splits into the planting hole and cover with soil. Make furrows along the Napier grass lines or in between rows to drill desmodium seeds or plant fresh desmodium stem cuttings. Make sure that you keep the field weed-free.
Harvest the Napier grass and Desmodium when they are at two to three feet (60-90 cm) high. Leave a stem length of four inches (10 cm) from the ground at harvesting. When feeding it to the animals, chop them to reduce wastage. Re-growth can be harvested when two to three feet (60-90 cm) high which means a period of six to eight weeks between the cuts.
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Combined Napier grass and desmodium means improved milk output. Napier grass uses nitrogen supplied by desmodium and therefore saves farmers on costs on top dressing. Further, desmodium improves soil fertility and suppresses parasitic weeds such as Striga.