Esther Egwa, a dairy keeper in Voi, Taita Taveta County, has a reason to smile.
Ms Egwa is among local dairy farmers who have benefited from a nutritious dairy feed option dubbed Molasses-Urea Mineral blocks (MUMBs). It is a cost-effective feed supplement that improves dairy productivity.
The technology showcased at the first-ever Taita Taveta ASK Trade Fair was developed by the USAid on a pilot basis as a new and improved drought survival strategy.
The project targets farmers in the county and its neighbouring ones.
The innovation was in line with the show’s theme ‘Promoting technology in agri-business and trade’.
Farmers crowded the KALRO stand where researchers were explaining the benefits and how they can get hold of it.
The feed blocks are given to livestock as a supplement lick and not as the main ration.
What are the benefits?
Before she embraced it, Ms Egwa says she incurred heavy losses during the dry spell as her animals succumbed to death due to hunger. But the feed supplements came in handy during those dry spells.
Egwa, 43, says milk production from her two dairy cows increased from three litres to 12 litres per day.
“With these nutritious blocks, I am assured that my cows will not die during seasons of scarcity. I have also seen improved milk production in my dairy cattle since the animals started feeding on these blocks,” she gave her experience at the show ground.
Egwa, a mother of six, says her income has also increased now that the milk volumes are higher.
Another beneficiary of the project, Haginson Mwakio, a farmer in Taita Hills also speaks highly of the project.
The 42-year-old dairy farmer says one of his cows increased milk yields from three to five litres per day during the dry spell.
“The project has served me well and all farmers should embrace it,” says the father of three.
Egwa and Mwakio are among the farmers who received the first batch of free feed blocks donated by KALRO, which is spearheading the USAid project at Bachuma, on trial basis. According to KALRO researchers, for maximum benefits, the blocks should be fed as a lick, hanged or placed in a rack so that the top surface is accessible to animals.
This prevents animals like sheep, goats and cattle from pushing the blocks around, breaking them up or consuming large chunks that could cause urea toxicity.
The feed blocks are given to the animals after they have already consumed adequate forage.
This prevents animals from consuming too much blocks at a go says the KALRO researchers.
“MUMBs should never be used as the animal’s main source of feed. They are only meant to supplement a regular diet of forages,” says KALRO Bachuma Centre manager Margaret Syomiti.
Syomiti says the aim of the project is to enhance food and nutrition security through increased production and promotion of agribusiness.
The beauty of it is that the raw materials are readily available.
Ms Syomiti says the central by-products of the blocks include wheat bran, maize germ, rice bran, molasses, urea, mineral premixes, common salt, limestone and natural binder.
She says the feed blocks provide supplemental nitrogen, minerals and energy to ruminant livestock during prolonged drought.
She adds that the blocks enable ruminants to take better advantage of poor quality forages. Other benefits include improving digestibility of other basal diets including poor quality feeds, increase growth rate in young animals and low worm burden.
The manager says the feed blocks also increase milk production by up to 30 per cent and also improve animal’s fertility/conception rates.
How to make it
The equipment used to prepare the feed blocks includes concrete mixer, moulds, buckets and a drum.
“The blocks can sustain the livestock until it rains. It service as a good intervention for animals in dry prone areas,” say one of the officials Joseph Nginyi.
To start off, one pours 40 litres of water in a concrete mixer and add 10 kilos of urea in the running concrete mixture. Run the mixture until all the urea is dissolved.
Farmers should ensure there are no urea lumps in the mixture to prevent poisoning and over dose in livestock.
One is required to put 10 kilos of a natural binder such as cement, limestone or bentonite in a bucket and slowly mix in 3 litres of water until a homogenous paste is obtained.
Next, one should pour this into running mixture and add three kilos of common salt.
Take the measured 30 kilos of molasses and put in the running mixture, use two litres of hot water to rinse the cement and molasses containers and add this to the mixture.
Next, add 40 kilos of wheat bran or any other bulking agent such as maize germ and put this in the concrete mixture. Let the mixer run until thick paste is homogenous. The resulting paste is ready for moulding into any preferred shapes and sizes.
The paste is able to make between 35 to 40 feed blocks of 2.5 kilos.
The feed blocks should be left in the sun for about two hours. After this, they should be removed from the sun and left indoors for 1-2 weeks depending on weather conditions.
In the final stage, the well dried feed blocks are packed in well labeled gunny bags with an inside plastic lining. This also prevents any further contamination during storage.
A feed block cost Sh200. The block can be consumed by one animal for a week.
More about the project
Other than dairy solutions, other interesting ideas showcased at the show include poultry solutions and Coastal products like coconut and macadamia value addition. With fishing being a major economic activity in the region, fishing techniques and solutions were also featured in some stands.
Local farmers also showcased their animals and their agricultural products during the event. There were indigenous vegetable and kales demonstrations farms despite the region experiencing a long spell of drought.
Farmers also showcased bulls and goats that provide seamen and meat.
There were also layers and broilers including fish ponds.
County executive for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Davis Mwangoma described the show as a first of its kind.
He said the county had not held such an exhibition for more than 20 years.
Dr Mwangoma says agricultural sector remains the backbone of the county’s economy.