Cultivating exotic fodder crops

Published November 28, 2005

THE regular supply of fodder is essential as more than half of the animal feed comes from fodder and crop residues and one-third from grazing in rangelands, wastelands, canal bank, roadsides, other crops, and their products. Animals are generally underfed resulting in unsatisfactory performance of the livestock sector.

Pakistani farmers are concerned about increasing the production through improved technologies which reduce weed production. Herbicide use is now more common. Weeds will stay for some time but improved farming practices will reduce its importance as a source of fodder. Therefore, it is necessary to improve its supply through enhanced production practices.

Area under fodder crops is about 3.35 million hectares out of a total 21.85 million ha producing 60 million tons of fodder. Besides, wheat bhunsa, rice straw, sugarcane tops, pulse bhunsa, maize, jowar and bajra thinnings are also used as animal feed.

Farmers depend on berseem, sarson and oats during Rabi season and on maize, jowar and bajra in Kharif. Its scarcity is felt during October-November; January; and April-May when oat and sorghum-Sudan grass hybrid are used. The problem occurs during scarcity of quality feed when a high proportion comprises of poor quality roughages and crop residues lacking nutritional value.

Fodder and green forages constitute a small part of the total feed supplies as climatic variations limit their growth. The extremes of summer and winter curb green fodder supplies. Production potentials are not impressive while the trend of bringing more cultivated area under cash crops is deteriorating the situation further.

The following exotic species of fodder crop may help in overcoming the shortages.

Leucaena or ipil ipil is used as animal fodder, dried leaf meal, green manure and fertilizer. It has other uses such as hardwood for making charcoal, high energy fuel, plant support, fencing, paper pulp, chips for wood products, for soil conservation, and reforestation.

It is particularly well adapted to high pH soils and warm, humid climates. It is found in Peshawar, Lower Hazara and Islamabad down to Karachi. It can produce more wherever there is enough soil moisture and temperatures are warm. .

Dry matter yields of edible Leucaena forage plantings produces 20 tons/ha/year. A single cut of oat crop gives 12.5 tons and five cuts of berseem 15 tons. While, leucaena is competitive in dry matter production, its true value is appreciated more in terms of protein production, supplying nitrogen to soil and its effect on soil fertility by providing firewood thus reducing the dependence on cow dung.

It can be grown along the periphery of fields along the roads, uncommanded areas, canal banks and rail road tracks. These can be treated as hedgerows to provide fodder, fences, fuel wood, and as dust catchers and windbreakers to protect the crops.

Leucaena is a versatile tropical tree legume which deserves attention, particularly in Sindh where its growth is much faster than in the North. As is common with most legumes, Leucaena produces some toxic side effects if taken in excess. No animal death has been attributed to it.

Mott dudh ka kamad is robust perennial bunch grass with many can like stems up to 3-4cm thick. It grows as high as 1.5m to 6m in hot temperature but can tolerate up to 10C. It can tolerate drought but water stress restricts its growth and it does not tolerate water-logging or temporary flood conditions.

Mott is obtained from vegetative cuttings. In Sindh, it can produce around 30 tons of dry matter per acre.

Its main characteristic is its ability to support high rates of animal gain due to high proportion of leaves (65-80 per cent). Since Mott is vegetative it can retain nutritional quality longer.

Sadabahar, sorghum, sudan grass hybrid is multi-cut forage produced by crossing sorghum and sudan grass. The sudan grass gives the multi-cut feature and profuse tillering and the sorghum provides the copious quantities of larger seed and tendency for prussic acid poisoning.

If a farmer wants a multi-cut annual crop, this is a good choice. Planted at the rate of one row of male to 8-12 of female, hybrid seed yields of 600kg per acre can be attained.

Sadabahar is cut before it heads, but not too early due to the HCN poisoning threat. When cut at the right stage it gives four cuttings per season. It can be grown in Sindh.

Multi-cut hybrid bajra is familiar in Sindh as it requires a lower seed rate, is insect-resistant and HCN free.

Annual ryegrass is considered the top quality forage. It has high digestibility which makes it suitable for all classes of ruminants.

Tift 86 was developed from an adapted reseeding early ryegrass ecotype found in a farmer’s field in Georgia. It is equal in quality and productivity to other varieties which flower later. Introduced in Pakistan in 1987, Tift 86 is liked by nearly every one who tried it.

Tifton 85 is Cynodon nlemfuesis (Vanderyst) and is giant type with large stems, long stolons and no rhizomes. Where temperatures are mild enough it can perform very well.

Bermuda grass is one of the most important fodder species in Pakistan. It is not planted but harvested and sold in fodder markets and along the roads. The highly rhizomatous local ecotype is a very powerful competitor and almost impossible to eradicate. Tifton 85 is extremely productive but unlike some grasses propagated by seed, it does not spread to where it is not wanted.

In Sindh, Bermuda grass remains actively grown all round the year. Since it slows down in winter, seeding with berseem or annual rye grass to provide more winter fodder can be tried. This grass increases the milking capacity of milch animals.

Buffel grass is a drought-tolerant bunch grass which is well adapted to many parts of Pakistani. It is dominant grass in Thal and a related species, Cenchrus pennisetiformis L., is common in Cholistan.

While it is meant for barani areas, it can be useful as a cut and carry fodder where water supply is limited or uncertain.

Flaccid grass, pennisetum flaccid is a warm seasoned perennial grass with rhizomes 1/8 to ¼ inch thick and 6–12 inches long. It grows best on well drained soils with good moisture supply but can also grow well on droughty soils but can not stand water-logging. In other words, it is a true pennisetum like bajra and Mott. Carostan can be grazed, cut and carried, made into silage or made into hay.

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