Bush-feed gives cattle exceptional growth

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Staff Reporter
Windhoek

Farmers do not only use bush-feed as a drought emergency feed but 50% of the farmers also use it as a supplement feed throughout the year or as a feedlot feed.

This is the finding of a 2016 survey done by the Support to De-bushing Project, which was made public when twelve bush-feed producers from six different regions shared their experiences on encroacher bush feed production. The survey aimed at capturing current bush-to-feed practices and identifying key challenges to assist in the development of suitable interventions with regard to the production, effective use, storage and future commercialisation of encroacher bush feed.

Bush-feed is made by mixing milled encroacher bush with additives. The earliest documented production of bush-feed date back to 1972 but its use has been rising in the past decade. Farmers testified that bush-feed production reduces pressure on the rangeland and grazing. It also allows maintaining the herd size during times of fodder shortage. The majority of respondents provide bush-feed to their cattle and sheep.

However, some also feed their goats, pigs, donkeys or game with it, receiving excellent results. Farmers have tried different bush-based rations depending on the availability and cost of supplements. The use of local pods and drought resistant fodder crops, such as camelthorn pods and spineless prickly pear as supplements are found to be suitable options to enhance nutritive value.

Commercial supplements like Rangeland Grower and HPC30 have given positive results. Molasses is used as an affordable source of energy and to enhance palatability and reduce dustiness in feed. Sixty percent of the farmers dry the milled bush, store it and only mix it with supplements shortly before feeding. Other farmers mix the milled bush right after harvesting. To further enhance storability, one respondent makes pellets from the mixtures. None of the respondents is ensiling, but it is has been reported as a promising technique.

Hermann Bayer is the earliest bush-feed producer among the survey respondents. He started in 1972. During regular hunting trips by horse he realised that every time it got harder to ride through the encroaching bush. Although there was little awareness of bush encroachment at that time, he instinctively thought of thinning out the bush. He bought a bulldozer and developed the idea of using bush for animal feed. Today Hermann believes that tackling the encroachment problem in its early stages has saved his farm.

Practices for success
Use drought resistant fodder crops
The use of drought resistant fodder crops, such as spineless prickly pear and old man saltbush, as supplements to the milled bush has been the key for the success of various bush-feed productions. Spineless prickly pear has shown to give results comparable to maize chops as energy source. Old man saltbush is a good source of protein, salt and minerals. Planning and synchronising the fodder crop production with the yearly bush-feed production is essential. Using swales or furrows (a long, narrow, shallow trench made in the ground by a plow) to retain the water is advised when planting drought resistant fodder crops.

Feed according to nutritional requirements
Exceptional growth rates of up to 7kg a week in cattle and 1.5kg a week in sheep were obtained by farmers who fed animals with bush-based rations. The respective farmers had made efforts to send samples of their milled bush and prepared bush-based rations for laboratory analyses to the ministry of agriculture’s laboratory so that the nutritional value could be tested and ideal rations be determined. Such practices help to avoid unnecessary expenses caused by excessive use of nutrients and avoid animal illnesses caused by their lack.

The harvesting and production process
Some farmers are able to produce 10-15 tonnes per month. The total production output does not only depend on the technical equipment used for cutting, chipping and/or milling, but also on the set-up and management of the operation. Most farmers prefer the combination of a wood chipper and a hammer mill over the use of a combined all-in-one machine. The high labour intensity of bush harvesting is a major obstacle and it keeps 42% of the respondents from expanding their production. Machines such as chainsaws and brush cutters are more efficient options than pangas. Planning the production time is key, echoed several farmers. Ideally the bush should be cut during the peak of its nutritive value during the rainy season. This reduces the amount of required supplements. The milled bush can be dried and stored for the dry periods. Pelletising and ensiling not only enable the storage of the feed mixture but also add value to the mixture.

The survey was conducted by the Support to De-bushing Project implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in collaboration with the UNDP NAFOLA Project. For more information, please contact the De-bushing Advisory Service at 061 429256 or visit www.dasnamibia.org .

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