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Napier and Desmodium increases milk yield for smallholder farmers

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Research has shown that smallholder farmers can increase milk yields for their animals by feeding them on a mixture of Napier grass and Desmodium.

Napier grass is a species of perennial tropical grass native to the African grasslands. A majority of small-scale farmers use the crop to feed their animals in the dairy production areas of Kenya. It 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.

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Desmodium is a large perennial tropical forage legume. It does better at altitudes between 500 and 2500 m in the tropics. It grows well on slopes. It can be grown in areas where annual rainfall is above 900 mm and up to 3000 mm. During the growing season, it is more susceptible to drought and has a better tolerance for flooding and waterlogging.

Before planting, plough and harrow the field well. Dig planting holes at a space of 3 by 2 feet (90*60 cm). In each hole apply a handful of farmyard manure and half a soda bottle top of DAP.

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While planting, place a 3-node piece of Napier cane ensuring two nodes are covered into the ground, or place root splits into the planting hole and cover it 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 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) high. Leave a stem length of 4 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 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) high which means a period of 6-8 weeks between the cuts.

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Combined Napier grass and Desmodium means more fodder of better quality and more milk for farmers. Napier grass uses nitrogen supplied by Desmodium and therefore saves farmers on the costs of top dressing.  

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