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.
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.
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.