Every farmer struggles to contain the cost of feeding their animals, as long as they have to depend on commercial feeds.

A worker feeds cows at a farm in Naivasha on September 17, 2014. FILE PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTEAlthough farmers and interest groups successfully lobbied the government to exempt animal feeds from Value Added Tax, almost all the raw materials are still subject to VAT and, therefore, there was little (if any) change on the cost of feeds.

Below are tips to help you improve your returns:

1. Plan for feed resources

Since feed constitutes the biggest cost element in milk production, ensure that most of the nutrients come from well-grown, timed and preserved fodder resources.

The level of breeding and quality of genetics in Kenya today requires that farmers begin to move away from traditional feed resources such as napier grass, maize stovers, hay and even on many occasions, banana stems which would not meet the high nutrient requirements of today’s dairy cows.

Farmers should, thus, have a clear plan for fodder and forage resources such as silage, good quality hay, grain and grain by-product materials such maize germ and bran. At least a third of the dry matter requirements of the cow must come from fodder and forage materials.

2. Seek feeding advice

The concept of “the balanced mouthful” has become even more real with the ever increasing feed costs and the need to spend money on a balanced ration for the cows to meet their nutrient requirements.

In this case, it is the quality of the feed, not the quantity that counts. Ensure that you get the assistance of a qualified and experienced animal nutritionist to help you develop the most cost-effective (not necessary cheap) feeding material combinations.

3. Feed dry cows and heifers well

These two categories of cattle often get the least attention on the farm. The challenge with this approach is that the dry cows often calve down in a negative energy balance position and this poses the risk of metabolic disorders such as ketosis, milk fever, retained placenta and they make take a longer time to reach peak production.

4. Make own supplements

Many farmers are already making their own mixes on the farm and this is expected to continue in the foreseeable future.

This is done with varying levels of success and the trick lies in ensuring that the quality of raw materials purchased is good and reliable and that farmers will seek the advice of qualified nutritionists to help in feed formulation.

5. Feed bio-plexed minerals

Significant proportions (almost 35 per cent) of the organic minerals fed to ruminants form complex compounds in the rumen and are, therefore, not utilised effectively by the animal. Copper, for example, will be bound by iron and even when provided in the mineral, the cow will show signs of secondary deficiency such as browning in the case of Friesians.

Other common signs seen in cows fed on inorganic “high phosphorus” minerals are milk fever, retained placenta, poor conception rates and silent heat.

Bio-plexed minerals are made by coating the trace elements with a special protein molecule such that they by-pass the rumen to escape complexing and, therefore, making them bio-available to the animal.

The result is reduced cost of feeding minerals to your animals and better reproductive performance as shown by fewer cases of milk fever, retained placenta and return to heat.

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