Applying irrigation and fertilizer for forage production is not a common tradition in Ethiopia. Yet, shortage of feed is a prime challenge for many dairy producers.
Birtukan Tilahun and her husband are dairy producers in Arbegona district of Sidama zone and they own a hotel located in the district town as well . They have four Holstein Frisian crossbred dairy cows and depend on them for the milk consumed in their hotel.
Three years ago, they fed their cows through renting a private grazing land. Communal grazing lands are not common in the area. Like many other dairy producers in the area, they used to supplement their dairy cows by cutting Enset leaves and leftovers after processing Kocho. Nowadays, the costs for renting private land have increased dramatically. Hence, they decided to try new techniques of forage production that would increase the productivity of their animals and at the same time reduce their feed cost.
Couple of years ago, Birtukan collected a few cuttings of Desho grass (Pennisetum pedicellatum) from the Office of Agriculture in Arbegona and planted them around the homesteads. Given the long rainy season in Arbegona district, Desho grass has become very productive and can be cut continuously throughout the year. Once they saw that Desho is much more productive than other local grasses, they increased the area of land planted with Desho using splits from the same field. Unlike many households who grow forage grasses on their farm boundaries, Birtukan has allocated a separate plot for her Desho grass and applies fertigation (mixing fertilizer with irrigation water)
- They collect fresh farmyard manure from the barn and put in a storage pit.
- They mix fresh manure with water in the storage pit.
- During the rainy season, they collect rainwater from rooftops and bring it to the pit using a gutter and during the dry season, they use water from a shallow well.
- The mixed manure and water is then directed to a conveyance ditch and goes to the forage field by gravity.
Birtukan and her husband learned that applying manure in the form of fertigation is better than applying dry farmyard manure alone for their ‘Enset’ farm. Now they follow this same practice with their Desho grass. Birtukan says that like any other field crops, forage grasses should be fertilized well to get an optimum yield. Would fertigation work for other forage species, are there similar experiences elsewhere in Ethiopia or abroad?
Contributed by Birhanu Biazin,Tesfaye Shewage and Yoseph Mekasha