Zero Grazing is especially useful in areas where land is scarce. It involves confining the dairy cattle in a cowshed and the development of a ‘cut and carry’ fodder system. Zero grazing is a system that consists of several components: housing, dairy cattle breeds, breeding and fertility, on farm fodder production and utilization of manure to restore soil fertility.
In the ZG system cows are kept inside the cowshed all year round to prevent health hazards (tick borne diseases and others). All feeds are supplied to cattle which is not allowed to graze outside. Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum, Schumach.) is the fodder recommended to the farmers who adopted this practice. It is preferred as the main fodder crop because it has the advantage of being relatively easy to grow and it re-grows rapidly after cutting. It is also characterized by a very high productivity. 0,75 - 1 acre (0,30-0,40 ha) of Napier grass per cow and her offspring is suggested to be planted and its harvest is recommended when the grass is approximately 60-90 cm high. Additional milk to the standard production (around 7 kg/day) is supported by concentrates: at milking time Napier grass is usually supplemented with commercial protein concentrates whose quantity depends on cow’s production. Mineral salt lick is to be offered to the animals ad libitum.
In order to increase milk yield, suggestion is made to breed fewer animals with a higher genetic merit. Important dairy breeds of cattle in Kenya for high-milk yield are: Jersey, Ayrshire, Guernsey, Friesian and Sahiwal. To maintain this high performance cows, farmers should use proven dairy bull semen through artificial insemination.
The replenishment of soil fertility should be undertaken by recycling all manure on the Napier crop every 2 to 3 days with an additional application of 4 bags (around 50 kg each) of compound NPK fertilizer (20N-10P-10K) per acre per year.
Luo farmers of Siaya district in Kenya adopted the Zero Grazing technique after adapting it to match the need of a higher milk production with the need of replenishing soil fertility for crop production, the main constraints for smallholder producers in that area. Lacking enough land (0,4-0,6 acre per cow and her offspring) to grow sufficient Napier grass to feed their high yielding animals, they supplement the meal with crop residues such as maize stalks, banana leaves and stems.
As protein supplement they use either brewer’s waste (machicha) or fodder legumes (Desmodium spp.) growing as intercrop with Napier grass). In alternative to the commercial concentrates they also compose a ‘home mix dairy meal’ with sunflower cake, maize grain, sorghum and soya bean or cassava chips. Concerning the use of manure it results that they did not produce a sufficient amount to be distributed to the grass. A competition for manure also raised between cash crops, especially vegetables, and Napier grass. A local system (Tumbukiza) to grow Napier grass was also implemented by Luo farmers: they dig holes in which they mix topsoil with compost manure. Since the holes are enough spaced, they plant sweet potato in between. As Napier is planted in very deep trenches it avoids competing for the same moisture and nutrients needed for sweet potato vines. Growing sweet potato in between rows of Napier would also greatly reduce the labor requirement for weeding as sweet potato, soon after planting, will keep the ground covered until the final harvest. Despite this method is labour intensive to establish, it requires less labour to maintain as slurry is distributed only twice a year.
In addition to restore soil fertility ZG technique helps to expand dairy farming by marketing the milk produced to the point that it could be considered as an alternative to cash crops as coffee, sugar or cotton.
- Muma M, 1994. Farmers’ criteria for assessing zero grazing innovation in dairy production. Case studies of NDDP implementation in Kakamega and Vihiga Districts, Kenya. Unpublished MSc thesis. Wageningen Agricultural University.
- Nelson A.R Mango Adaptation of the zero grazing concept by Luo farmers in Kenya. Leiza Magazine - April 2002
- Valk Y van der, 1990. Review report of the DEAF surveys during 1988, Naivasha, Ministry of Livestock Development