Selected beef cattle farmers from 10 districts in the Central and Western cattle corridors of Uganda have been trained on how to prepare silage and hay as supplementary feed to boost beef production in the country.

One of the instructors adding molasses to the grass as one of the ingredients in making silage

Silage and hay are preserved or stored feed given to the cattle during a shortage of green forage. Silage and hay are very nutritious and easy to digest feed for the cattle that ensure high milk production, high quality meat for a short time and healthy stay of animals especially during dry seasons. Storing silage is much easier than storing the hay as it requires less space.

The theoretical training was conducted at Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo (MUARIK) whereas the practical sessions were carried out at Robran Holdings Limited (RHL), in Buwanuka Wakiso district.

The trained farmers are expected to go out and train fellow farmers in their respective districts on how to prepare and utilize silage and hay as supplementary feeds.

The training was organized under the Promote Supplementary Feeding (SUPPL-F) project. The Promote Supplementary Feeding (SUPPL-F) project is part of the Developing a Market –Oriented and Environmentally Sustainable Beef Meat Industry in Uganda (MIBIP) which is a Government of Uganda programme supported by the European Union under the overall  supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF).

The project is implemented by the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) and partners at a total budget of EUR 715,299 for a period of 28 months from the 12th August 2019 to December 2021. The collaborating partners include Robran Holdings Limited (RHL), Makerere University College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), The Green Elephant (TGE), the Livestock Development Forum (LDF) and the Orchid House Farm Nakasongola.

Managing Director Robrans Holding Mr. Brain Natwijuka and PSFUs Mr.Daniel Ojiambo during the practical training in Wakiso

While practically training farmers, the Managing Director Robrans Holding Mr. Brian Natwijuka explained that making silage involves fermentation under anaerobic conditions that prevents fresh fodder from decaying and allows it to maintain its nutrient quality.

“It needs adequate soluble carbohydrates or sugar for organic acid production. You must add molasses to the fodder as it is very rich in sugar and allows the bacteria to produce the organic acids immediately. The more molasses you will add, the quicker the acidification and preservation process will take place

Crops such as maize, sorghum oats millet and hybrid napier are considered perfect for making silage. In addition, the quality of the silage you get from these crops can be enhanced by adding molasses, urea, or forming acids”, Natwijuka said.

He said silage is formed through the use of pits or trenches, towers, and sacks for small quantities. But, pits are mainly used to make silage for large dairy units. The silage pit must be located at a place that is safe from rodents, at high elevation, and away from direct sunlight..

Mr .Natwijuka explained that  materials used in making silage should have a moisture content of about 60-70% or dry matter of 30 -35% and a pH under 4.2 for wet forage and 4.8 for wilted forage but in rainy seasons when the fodder is too damp, with more water, one must first wilt it in the sun.

Mr. Brian Natwijuka, one of the trainees and Mr. Daniel Ojiambo compacting grass for silage during the training

Crops such as maize, sorghum, oats, and pearl millet according to Natwijuka must be used for preserving green fodder as they contain fermentable carbohydrates essential for bacteria to produce sufficient organic acid. However, one can use leguminous fodders, as they are rich in proteins and low in sugars, which makes them difficult to ensile. He advised that harvesting sorghum or maize for silage making is ideal when their seeds are soft.

He said additives such as common salt, formic acid, lime or urea are also used to facilitate good fermentation process.

“To begin with, make a pit and then place a big polythene sheet on it. Make sure you cover the walls so that the forage does not come into contact with the soil. Cut the fresh forage in small pieces say for about 1 to 1.5 inches in length using either a panga or a chaff cutter. Add little salt, urea, molasses in it to improve the quality of the mixture. Fill the pit properly by spreading the copped greens and other materials evenly”, Mr. Natwijuka explained the process of making silage.

Trainees tying the polythene bag with grass for silage preservation

For the growth of fungi, Natwijuka advised farmers to dilute molasses with water in 1:2 ratio and shower evenly over the forage layer using a garden water sprayer, cover it properly. Then repeat the same process of adding bags of chopped forage and diluted molasses until the pit gets filled.

“After the final filling, cover the polythene sheet around the silage and wrap the top of the pile with another sheet to prevent water. Lastly, cover the stack with a thick layer of soil. With good covering and enough soil on it, you can keep the silage for more than one year.

The silage will be ready in about 30 to 40 days and once it is ready you can give it to the cattle. But never open the whole silage pit at once. It is better to open it from one side”, Natwijuka added.

Good silage according to Natwijuka should be of light greenish or greenish brown colour. It should have a nice smell like that of vinegar, and acidic in taste and must not contain mold. If the silage turns out black, this means it is of poor quality. Poorly fermented silage has bad taste and slimy soft texture.

He said cattle must be fed with silage depending on its body weight. It is recommended not to feed silage immediately before milking the cattle as the milk may have a foul smell. At this time he said, one can feed them with fresh grass, hay, legumes and concentrates.

How to make Hay

The trainees compiling grass together after cutting

Spread the grass clippings in a thin layer on the ground, preferably on the concrete. Turn it and mix it around a few times during the day. It shouldn’t take more than half a day or so until it’s completely dry. Before night time, gather it on a pile and store in a box or another container and leave in the dry place.

Regardless of the amount of hay you produce in a year, it all can be broken down into four basic steps: cutting, tedding, raking and bailing.

Several cereal crops can be used for hay, although most species are used for straw and some for silage. If cereals are cut while they are still leafy, excellent hay can be made. Oats and barley are commonly grown for hay, with oats the better crop for hay-making.

Good hay comes from good grass, and good grass comes from good soil. … If the area holds too much moisture, the right sort of grass can also not grow.

Commonly used plants for hay include mixtures of grasses such as ryegrass (Lolium species), timothy, brome, fescue, Bermuda grass, orchard grass, and other species, depending on region. Hay may also include legumes, such as alfalfa (lucerne) and clovers (red, white and subterranean).

Trainees adding grass as they compact

Unless you put up your own hay strictly by hand, you’ll need a fairly hefty tractor, a mower, rake and baler. In some parts of the country, folks using old-style mowers add a tedder or crimper to the mix.

The project Manager from Private Sector Foundation Uganda(PSFU)  Mr.Daniel Ojiambo said the   overall objective of Suppl-F project is to increase access and uptake of supplementary feeding in the project area of  the Central and Southwestern parts of the cattle corridor, specifically in two areas formerly defined by MAAIF as Disease Control Zones (DCZ 1 & 2) and in Kampala and Wakiso for operations. For DCZ 1 districts are: Kiryandongo, Kyankwanzi, Masindi, Nakaseke & Nakasongola, whereas DCZ 2: Lyantonde, Mubende, Kibaale, Kiruhura and Isingiro.

The project beneficiaries according to the project manager are the large-scale commercial beef farmers or ranchers Small-scale beef producers organized in farmers groups or organizations and women and youth entrepreneurs (both existing and new) along the beef value chain. 

Mr. Ojiambo said, about 85% of total meat marketed in Uganda comes from indigenous livestock, which thrive on natural pastures in the rangelands.

He however noted that the rangeland pastures are of low quality, coupled with overgrazing and encroachment by bush or weed, drought and water shortage that worsens the ability to produce quality animals in terms of growth.

Mr. Daniel Ojiambo (R) and the trainees compacting the grass for silage in the polythene bag at Robrans Holding in Wakiso

Ojiambo said  the project seeks to contribute to addressing challenges of low productivity, the environment issue, the weak market dynamics and the gender aspect in the intervention area.

“First it is necessary to enhance beef meat production, productivity and quality assurance in the targeted areas through supplementary feeding in order to meet quality and food safety standards.

Secondly, currently there are inappropriate responses towards climate resilience that hinder market practices. Three, numerous constraints can be identified refraining access to market and exploiting market opportunities and the other is that women and youth are almost completely excluded from the beef value chain.”, The project manager explained.

Makerere University Suppl-F project Principal Investigator Assoc. Prof, Denis Mpairwe said the project is constructed around a beef Nucleus Farmer (NF) who will be supported to setup a supplementary feeding demonstration site (feedlot).

The project he said will support 10 nucleus farmers in 10-selected district through trainings, provision of inputs and equipment to establish demonstration sites (demo sites) and handholding. 

Some of the trainees cutting and ferrying grass

“Every NF’s demo-site will allow two farmer groups (FGs) of approximately 10 members each, to access the demo-site, be trained in supplementary feeding Best Management Practices, and facilitated to adopt and utilize the technologies.

Each site will have a Trainer of Trainers (ToT) to train farmer group members, link farmers to supplementary feeding industry BDS providers and implementers. A relationship is expected to be built between NFs and FGs for possible collective marketing and resolving beef VC challenges through their own platform known as a bazaar”, the PI said.

Prof. Mpairwe said the nucleus farmer will look outwards, access markets and sign supply contracts for farm products and services. The contracts will be at least 120% of their capacity to accommodate aggregate supply from smallholders.

The project according to the PI will support 100 women and youth to either take up business opportunities within the beef valve chain or build existing value chain businesses. The support will include the following: provision of Technical Assistance (TA), linkage to quality Beef and Dairy service providers and business growth facilitation through participation in trade fairs or pitching events.

Report compiled by:
Jane Anyango,
Principal Communication Officer,
College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES)
Makerere University

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