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How you can enrich leftover crops for livestock nutrition

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One very important aspect of livestock production is nutrition. Animals need feed to maintain their normal body metabolic (and other) functions.

During the wet season, livestock has access to a variety of forage grasses and legumes. However, the availability of this plant material declines upon the cessation of the wet season. Because of this reason, livestock farmers usually devise means of conserving forage to be used during the critical period of the year – the dry season.

There are different methods of forage conservation such as soilage (the process of cutting green fodder in its fresh form and feeding directly to livestock) and soilage (the process of cutting fodder and fermenting it, to be used for feeding livestock during dry season or period of forage shortage).

Recently, farmers in different countries are harnessing their crop residues for urea treatment—a concept of increasing the nitrogen content and nutritive value of low-protein roughages, including cereal straw, using urea and ammonia treatment.

It is the practice of farmers, especially in northern Nigeria, to leave their crop residues on the farm unutilised. The practice makes it possible for organic matter recycling, thereby enriching the soil and further improving its ground cover capacity to resist erosion and other adverse phenomena.

However, farmers make use of their crop residues for feeding livestock, fencing and even for cooking. It is good to note that since not all the crop residue left after harvest is easily decomposable, some experts advise that farmers harness the residue.

One of the factors that affect the decomposition of organic matter is the carbon-nitrogen ratio (C: N). If the amount of nitrogen in the organic matter (OM) is low, microorganisms present in the OM will make use of the natively available nitrogen in the soil for their upkeep, and this leads to immobilisation (conversion of soil nitrogen into microbial nitrogen). And crop residues derived from cereals are known to have high carbon content and low nitrogen content while organic residues derived from groundnut, soybeans and other forage legumes have high nitrogen content.

It is therefore against this understanding that some experts justify the utilisation of cereal crop residues for urea treatment.

Method of treatment:

After harvest, collect and gather all residue, which could be millet, rice straws, maize, sorghum stovers, etc.

The collected residues are then chopped. This could easily be achieved by using a chopper.

Depending on the need and availability of the straws, a farmer can weigh 100kg of air-dried straw. When using 100kg straw, 100litres of water can be used to dissolve 4kg of (fertilizer grade) urea.

Others use 50 litres of water to treat 100kg dry residue. The solution (dissolved urea) is then sprayed over the 100kg layer of straws (or whatever quantity chosen. Note that for 200kg, you will need to use 7-8kg of urea and dissolve it in about 200litres of water) using a watering-can to achieve uniformity when spraying so that the solution will come in contact with the straw.

Alternatively, farmers can use local brooms with thin sticks for spraying the solution over the straws. Various storage structures can be used such as earthen pits lined and covered with banana leaves or packed in sacks.

To ensure the quality of the treated straw, the sack or storage facility should be airtight. This treated straw is then allowed for some time, depending on the prevailing weather condition of the area.

Storing for 2-3 weeks is effective. After the storage, the treated straws are then uncovered or removed from the sacks to allow the pungent smell from ammonia to whiff away before feeding ruminant animals.

Effects of urea treatment:

Different researches have shown that urea treatment improves digestibility, intake and crude protein content of the straw. It also increases the palatability of the straw or stover. Other positive effects include better growth performance, increase in milk yield.

Farmers are, therefore, encouraged to harness their crop residues as it will help them save costs associated with feeding their livestock, especially during the critical period of forage shortage. Those who don’t cultivate crops but engage in livestock production can buy these crop residues from crop farmers and treat them to boost their production.

During the peak of harvest, crop residues are usually abundant on farms, with some farmers barely utilising it for any purpose. A livestock farmer can get crop residues at a cheaper price in such a period and conserve them for future use.

For crop farmers who are not into livestock production and wouldn’t want to sell their crop residues, they should allow it to get incorporated into the soil so that the soil can benefit from the decomposed organic matter.

You all should give urea treatment a try!

Contact Rilwan Muhammad via 07061124918 or reedwandk@gmail.com

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Rilwan Muhammad
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