For high milk yields and maximum production, the dairy cow should be fed a mixture of good quality forage and concentrates or industrial by-products. However, in many cases in Ethiopia concentrates may not be available or may be too expensive to purchase.

Fodder crops are a useful method of feeding dairy cows. The main crops of interest are:

  1. Oats and vetch
  2. Alfalfa
  3. Fodder beet
  4. Napier grass or Elephant grass.

Fodder crops are ideal for feeding at the end of the wet season and in the dry season when other forage is scarce. The fodder crops may also be conserved and fed as required in times of shortage. Fodder crops are ideal for supplementing dry feeds such as hay or crop residues. Fodder crops have a high labor requirement and seed and fertilizer costs may be high.

However, there is generally a good yield of high quality forage so the investment is very worthwhile. Fodder crops are relatively easy to grow and they are acceptable to the farmer and already well proven in many areas.

Forage will be the main feed for dairy cows on all farms. A few summary points are made here.

  • Existing pastures in most areas are unproductive and need to be improved.
  • For intensive dairying new permanent pastures with grass/legume mixtures may need to be established.
  • Legumes are essential for high quality dairy forage.
  • Legumes may be included in pastures, under sown, or grown as tree legumes.
  • Good quality hay should be conserved for use in the dry season.

In general, a cross-bred cow has the potential to produce 8 liters of milk per day from ‘good’ quality grass/legume pasture.

Crop residues are already widely used for feeding cows in all areas of Ethiopia. The crop residues are fed during the dry season when other forage is scarce. The most common crop residues are: -

- teff straw,                                         - barley straw

- wheat straw,                                      - maize stalks

- sorghum stalks,                                 - sweet potato leaves,                         - ensete leaves

Crop residues are useful for providing roughage for the cows. However, they are low in protein, and digestibility may also be low. Crop residues must be supplemented with other feed to give a complete diet. Legumes are the ideal supplement as they have a high protein content.

The following legumes are suitable:

Tree legumes                                                 Herbaceous legumes

Leucaena, Sesbania                                        Alfalfa, Desmodium

Tree Lucerne, Gliricidia                                 Stylosanthes, Lablab, Siratro

If concentrates are available and if the farmer can afford to buy them, they are an important part of the dairy diet. The level of usage of concentrates will depend on local prices and availability. The following industrial by-products/concentrates are available in some areas of Ethiopia.

- meat and bone meal,                                    - molasses

- bagasse,                                                        - noug cake

- brewers grain,                                               - oil cake,                                - wheat bran

Mixtures of the following species are suitable for grass/legume pastures.

In the higher altitude areas, a mixture of Phalaris, Tall Fescue and Cocksfoot with Trifolium species gives a good grass/legume pasture. In the medium altitude areas Rhodes grass may be mixed with Green leaf Desmodium, Siratro or Alfalfa. Panicum mixed with either Siratro or Stylosanthes spp. are also suitable mixtures.

There are many other crop by products used for feeding of livestock like sugar cane tops and leaves, bagasse, tree leaves, etc. Usually these products have a poor feeding value and are only used in times of feed shortages. Judging the quality of locally produced/ available roughages is a very important skill in feeding management. Giving the above information the following criteria are important in assessing the quality/feeding value of a roughage: · Origin of the roughage, growth stage, when harvested · Color, smell, palatability · DM content · Price

Feed requirements of dairy cattle vary according to their production stage and age categories. Cows produce approximately half of their total milk yield during the first 100 days of lactation. For this reason, it is essential to feed cows properly during the early days of lactation. Feed intake is poor at the beginning of lactation but improves as lactation increases. As feed intake is not proportional with milk production requirements the cow possesses the unique ability to utilize her body reserves for milk production. The lactating cow usually losses weight at the beginning of lactation as a result of withdrawal of her body reserves until a point when she reaches her peak. Cows can even under good feeding conditions lose as much as 66 kg in body mass during the first three months of lactation. From 120 days after calving the body mass gradually increases until calving. Adult cow, which is not producing still, needs nutrients to survive. These nutrients are required for vital body functions, like respiration, blood circulation, maintaining the body temperature, etc. and also for movement. The nutrients needed for this purpose are called the maintenance requirement of the cow. If a cow receives less than its maintenance requirement, it reduces its reserves of body fat and it starts to lose weight. The following table shows the maintenance requirements of adult cows of different body weight.