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    Fodder tree shrubs offer cheaper alternative to commercial feeds

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    Kenya imports over 70 per cent of the raw materials needed for manufacturing animal feed, the bulk of which consists of grain and oil seed cake by-products. Yet, a recent study by SNV Netherlands Development Organisation said that it is extremely difficult to purchase high-quality inputs and that fraud is common,  resulting in substandard feeds with no nutritional value and high prices.

    It is on the back of such information that a farmers’ group in Kinangop has resorted to using fodder trees as livestock feed, arguing that they are more nutritious, cheaper than processed feeds, and require minimum resources to grow. Justus Muchiri, a former Kenya Agricultural, and Research Organisation (KALRO) officer, who now heads the Kinyukia Farmers group, says indigenous livestock feeds are normally balanced nutritionally, with three-quarters of energy and a quarter of proteins, the ideal food component structure for livestock.

    A recent study by United Nations Agency FAO says the potential of fodder trees and shrubs as protein sources has generally been ignored in the feeding regimens for livestock, mainly because of inadequate knowledge on various aspects of their potential use, as well as initiatives associated with the development of more innovative systems of feeding.

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    The study found out fodder crops are more digestible meaning that more food is absorbed hence an increase in dry matter Intake, an indicator of the number of nutrients that are available to the animal in a particular feed. Ruminants must obtain at least 30 per cent of dry matter intake in any food for it to be considered valuable food.

    In a bid to show the nutritional value of fodder trees compared to that commercial dairy feeds, the study picked on a few fodder trees and dairy feeds to analyze their nutritional value. Acacia tree, cassava jack fruit, and Leucaena among other fodder trees were found to have high DMI with the least registering 18 per cent, 12 per cent shy from recommended 30 per cent. Fruit jack registered a high of 36.6 per cent followed by ficus which had 32 per cent. Acacia and cassava registered 29 and 21.1 per cent respectively.

    In comparison, supplement feeds like wheat straw and rice registered low DMI of less than 15 per cent, an indication of poor nutritional value, which definitely harms the growth and production levels of livestock. The International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) report 2013 indicates that the overall impact of the trees in terms of additional net income from milk could be as high as US$30 million in Kenya alone over the past 15 years.

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    The report further estimates that farmers spend about $11 raising and transplanting seedlings, choosing from nine recommended varieties. In subsequent years they earn on average $95-120 from increased milk production, with one cow needing 500 shrub plants to feed it throughout the year.

    With such results, the silent revolution by groups like Kinyukia Farmers to woo livestock farmers in the country to adopt the use of fodder crop, milk production in the country can only soar to unimaginable heights, earning farmers profits and avoiding high expenditure costs that come with processed feeds.

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