Sorghum is good fodder for livestock

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Sorghum can grow well in areas with less rain and produces the same amount of fodder as maize. Sorghum was one of the most important food crops in Africa in the past. Over the years, farmers have abandoned it in favour of maize and other food crops.

KARI together with the Ministry of Agriculture have developed better varieties that can be grown as animal feed and even as human food.

Qualities of different sorghum varieties

Source: Highland Forage and Dual-purpose Sorghum for Livestock Feed and Human Food- KARI Lanet Research Centre P.O. Box 3840 - 20100, Nakuru, Cell: 0729883276. 

Note: All except E6518 variety can be used for fodder and food. 1 kg of seed for each variety goes for KShs 250.

Advantages of sorghum 

Sorghum has many advantages over maize and other pasture grasses:

• It can grow well in both high and even in low potential areas with poor soils, where maize cannot do well.

• As a fodder crop it can be used in adequate supply when maize and other feed sources fail.

• Most varieties of sorghum produce much more forage than maize.

• Unlike maize, the lower leaves do not dry out as the plant matures; they remain green and therefore retain a higher crude protein content.

• Sorghum can regenerate (grow again) after cutting the stalks for fodder and harvesting the grain (second crop or ratoon); The ratoon crop will mature early in the following season but yield slightly less than the first crop – depending on level of plant feeds available. This way the farmers can reduce the cost of replanting, land preparation, seeds and time.

Easy to plant

To get a good sorghum crop a farmer needs to observe these guidelines:

Land Preparation: For both forage and food varieties of sorghum, start preparing the land at the end of the rains following a crop season. Sorghum does well in sandy soils. It can also be grown where the soils are not disturbed much (where conservation tillage is practiced).

Seed rate and spacing: Farmers should plant sorghum at a seed rate of 2.4-3.2 kg per acre (6-8 kg/ha). Fodder varieties of sorghum should be planted at a spacing of 75 X 10 cm. Varieties mentioned can replace  maize for making silage and grain and even fresh chopped fodder for all animals (cows, goats, sheep, pigs and chickens).

• As animal feed, it has the same energy level as maize or other cereals.

• Sorghum can withstand dry conditions (600 mm annual rainfall) and remain green at very low moisture levels. It provides the farmers with for feed and grain (dual-purpose sorghum) requires a spacing of 60 x 20 cm; this spacing allows for a higher grain-fodder ratio.

Sowing: Sorghum should be sown at the onset of the long rains. Drill seeds along the furrows (trenches). Seeds should be planted 3 cm deep when dry planting to avoid germination in false rains, but 2 cm deep if the ground is wet.

Manure application: Well-composted manure should be applied during land preparation and worked into the soil. Organic foliar feeds can be added when the plant is knee high.

Thinning: The crop should be thinned when it is 30 cm high or 30 days after planting, whichever comes first, to ensure a spacing of 75 X 10 cm between rows for fodder sorghum and 60 X 20 cm between rows for dual-purpose varieties. The spacing for dual purpose varieties allows for higher grain to herbage ratio.

Weeding: Hand weeding should be done at least twice. A sorghum field should be kept weed-free especially at early stages of growth.

Pest and disease control: Control of cutworms, aphids, shoot-fly and stalk borer is important. Birds like sorghum especially at milk stage; they prefer white-seeded varieties. Sorghum is generally disease tolerant. Control disease when necessary.

Harvesting: Sorghum meant for seed production should be harvested at maturity stage. Sorghum meant for feed can be cut when still green and fresh. Leave it in sun to allow wilting for 12 hours then chop and then feed the animals. To make silage, start harvesting at dough stage (between milky and hardening stage). For dual-purpose sorghum, cut the head with a knife or use a combine harvester.

For more information contact; 

1. KARI Lanet Research Centre P.O Box 3840-20100 Nakuru, Kenya Tel: +254 (0) 208 010 464 Email: [email protected] [email protected] [email protected]  

2. Josephine Kirui East Africa Dairy Development P.O Box 30677 – 00100 Nairobi, Kenya Tel: 254 (0) 20 722 4000 Or +254 (0) 20 722 4403 (direct) Fax: +254 (0) 20 722 4001 Email: [email protected]  

3. AADD Uganda Country Office Plot 14, Lourdel Road, Nakasero P.O Box 28491, Kampala, Uganda Tel: +256 (0) 414 233 481 Fax: +256 (0) 414 236 939 Email: [email protected]  

4. EADD Rwanda Country Office P.O Box 115, Nyagatare, Rwanda Tel: +250 (0) 252 565 432 Email: [email protected]  

5. You can also log onto Kenya Seed Company Website for information on other varieties of forage sorghum available.

>>Are you a farmer? Share your experiences with TOF and fellow farmers. Send email to [email protected], leave a comment below this article or SMS to 0715 916 136.

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