Thursday, September 28, 2023

Expanding population fuels demand for milk with consequent need for more hay and straw bales

Written by Fergus Robley (left), the General Manager of  FMD East Africa, the distributors of Massey Fergusson .

Dairy farmers are experiencing a growing market for milk arising from Kenya’s expanding population. An estimated 940,000 farmers with 4,500,000 productive milking cows are responsible for the supply of milk.

The vast majority have little, or no grass and are mainly dependant on zero to minimum grazing methods to feed their cows, with hay and straw making up a large proportion of the feed.

When there is a drought, the availability and price of hay becomes a challenge and dairy farmers turn to using straw bales as fodder. This situation has led to more arable farmers satisfying the need for storable fodder by producing hay from grass as well as baling the straw post-harvest of cereals, which is especially important when we are in a year like this, where many areas have experienced severe drought.

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Against this background of storage and efficiencies, there is a surprising lack of knowledge on the correct specification for bales. A standard conventional two-string bale should measure 90cm x 45cm x 35cm and weigh of a minimum 15kg with 18-22kg being optimal. All too often we see bales that fall short in both weight and length.

It is important that bales are the correct size and weight not only for storage, but that the bale, once fed, gives the end user as much nutrient value for the all-important milk production whilst providing value for money. In the overall national interest, healthy livestock significantly helps contribute to Kenya’s food security, and therefore it is essential that bale size and density are correct from the field.

Turning to the storage efficiency, this is also relevant to the transport element within the supply chain. As the standard bale length is twice its width, this means bales can be stacked efficiently. Bales should be stacked with their twines upwards to prevent damage during loading and offloading whilst also complimenting stacking stability.

A hay bale stacked on its side where the twines are not visible from the top tends to break up when being handled which results in loss. Having bales twice as long as they are wide minimises unnecessary air gaps when transporting them to the end user.

The bale density is important and hay balers are designed to compress as much dried grass, or straw into a smaller area to help preserve the life of the nutrient value whilst making it easy to handle and transport.

The market for hay and straw is attracting more farmers and contractors into the baling industry. A range of hay making equipment is readily available in Kenya to meet the needs including mowers, rakes and balers which all work behind tractors.

In recent years, we have seen the introduction of mower conditioners which reduce the moisture content of the grass when cutting to speed up the drying process, whilst preserving the nutritional value.

This consists of the standard mower and a roller attachment that crushes the grass after cutting to bring out moisture within the stem. When using a mower conditioner, the drying period before bailing is drastically reduced.

Written by Fergus Robley (left), the General Manager of  FMD East Africa, the distributors of Massey Fergusson .

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