Com­mu­nal Farm­ing

It takes time, money and ef­fort to grow feed crops for your live­stock, but the end-re­sult is worth it. In the long run, feed crops will save you money and may even save your an­i­mals from star­va­tion.

Farmer's Weekly (South Africa) - - Contents - by SHANE BRODY FW

On­go­ing drought in many parts of South Africa has forced many live­stock farm­ers to buy feed from farm­ers’ co-op­er­a­tives and other feed mer­chants to keep their an­i­mals alive. But with the fuel price hav­ing gone up in the re­cent past, the cost of feed has also in­creased steadily. There is only one prac­ti­cal way for a live­stock pro­ducer to solve this prob­lem, and that is to grow his or her own feed crops.

While most com­mu­nal farm­ing ar­eas have cro­p­lands, many have not been used for years and have re­verted back to veld. This is be­cause many com­mu­ni­ties don’t have the trac­tors or im­ple­ments needed to pre­pare lands. The first step is there­fore for the com­mu­nity to work to­gether to es­tab­lish a fund that can pay for out­side con­trac­tors or the equip­ment to pre­pare the land be­fore plant­ing a feed crop.

Cro­p­lands must be pro­tected from wan­der­ing an­i­mals, and will there­fore need fenc­ing. If fences al­ready ex­ist but no longer serve a pur­pose, they should be taken down and erected around the crop­land. To keep out goats, you will need, at a min­i­mum, a sturdy 10-strand barbed wire fence.

If your com­mu­nity does not have a crop baler and other equip­ment such as a mower and rake for pro­duc­ing bales of feed that can be stored, you can sim­ply graze your an­i­mals on the lands once the feed crop has emerged.

oats: af­ford­able & con­ve­nient

Oats is rel­a­tively easy and cost-ef­fec­tive to grow as a fod­der crop. It can be grazed dur­ing the win­ter months when there is a short­age of nat­u­ral graz­ing in the sum­mer rain­fall ar­eas.

Oats is sen­si­tive to ex­treme heat and prefers the cooler months and a cooler soil tem­per­a­ture. If you are in a sum­mer rain­fall area, plant it at the end of Jan­uary or early in Fe­bru­ary when some rain can still be ex­pected.

pre­par­ing the land

Oats re­quires a rel­a­tively fine seedbed. Be­gin by rip­ping the soil to a depth of 15cm to 20 cm. If the soil is hard, I like to rip it with a chisel plough; if it is softer, I use a tyne plough. Use a disc har­row to chop up the larger soil clods; this can be done twice if nec­es­sary to ob­tain a fine soil sur­face.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, a rip­ping im­ple­ment does not dis­turb the top lay­ers of the soil as much as a tra­di­tional mould­board plough does. In ad­di­tion, it keeps the sur­face more level.

If you have the funds, spread 2:3:2 fer­tiliser at a rate of 50kg/ha to 100kg/ha evenly across the land. Al­ter­na­tively, place kraal ma­nure in small heaps on the sur­face.

Af­ter this, pull a drag or chain har­row (with many short shears or teeth) over the sur­face. This will cover the fer­tiliser and en­sure it is at the cor­rect depth for the seed; it will also make the soil finer and level it.

erect sturdy fences to pro­tect the Cro­p­lands from wan­der­ing an­i­mals

Plant­ing the seed

Once the seedbed is ready, spread the seed evenly across the sur­face by hand or by us­ing a hand­held seed spreader at a rate of 25kg/ha. Af­ter this, pull the drag har­row once across the land to cover the seed with soil to a depth of 4cm to 5cm. (You can also use a planter to plant the seed at this depth, if you wish.)

If you are on ir­ri­gated land or in a high rain­fall area, you can in­crease the rate up to 40kg/ha or even 50kg/ha.

con­trol­ling weeds

If you have a ma­jor weed prob­lem, con­sider us­ing a her­bi­cide be­fore work­ing the soil. Ask a rep­utable seed mer­chant for ad­vice on mix­ing, quan­ti­ties, and safety pre­cau­tion.

A her­bi­cide can be ap­plied with a knap­sack ap­pli­ca­tor, which is quite af­ford­able. Re­mem­ber, her­bi­cide is toxic! Wear a good mask that cov­ers your nose and mouth, and pro­tec­tive cloth­ing, which should be washed sep­a­rately af­ter ap­pli­ca­tion. Never al­low chil­dren near any her­bi­cide, and do not ap­ply it un­der windy con­di­tions.

The knap­sack can also be used later to ap­ply an in­sec­ti­cide or fungi­cide.

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