Fodder crops are the crops grown exclusively for the livestock feed. The Fodder crops reduce a lot of financial burden for the farmers who own dairy farms, goat farm or sheep farms from buying commercial fodder. Fodder crops are the main source of nutrients for the livestock, so a mix of fodder crops are recommended for better production.
Fodder crops are broadly classified into four types :
- Cereal fodder
- Legume fodder
- Tree fodder
Grasses and Legume fodder comes under Forage crops. Basically, Forage crops are the crops that have purposes other than livestock feed. For example, Forage crops help to reduce weed population on the farm, prevent soil erosion and regenerate soil fertility. Forage crops require less maintenance, more beneficiary for cattle grazing, sheep and goats. For those with larger growing areas, forage crops can prove ideal.
Grasses contain crude fibers, crude protein, and some minerals. Legumes are particularly rich in proteins and minerals. Fodder is fed to animals, either as a green feed or as hay, i.e. crops harvested dry or dried after harvesting. Even can be fed as Silage. Silage refers to green fodder preserved without drying by fermentation that retards spoiling.
The aggregation of various fodder crops into “feed units” are based on metabolizing energy, digestible nutrients, starch equivalent, protein equivalent, or grain equivalent. Choice of growing fodder crops will depend on sowing time and feed quantity and quality requirements.
Fodder crops examples
1. Fodder Sorghum
Sorghum is characterized by quick growth, high biomass accumulation, and dry matter content and wide adaptability beside drought withstanding ability. It is also suitable for silage and haymaking.
2. Fodder Maize
Maize in India ranks fifth in total area and third in total production and productivity. The level of production has to be raised because of substantial demand as food, feed, and poultry feed. Maize can successfully be grown as kharif, rabi and zaid crop.
Read more on Maize: Planting season, Harvesting and Yield
1. Guinea grass
Guinea grass is perennial grass with a height of about 1 m to 4 m. A seed rate of 2.5 kg/ha, with a spacing of 50 cm * 30 cm.
First cut 75 days to 80 days after germination or 45 days after planting of slips. Subsequent cuts at intervals of 45 days. Green fodder yield is 175 tonnes /ha per year in 8 cuts.
Guinea grass can be intercropped with Hedge Lucerne at 3:1 ratio and can be harvested together and fed to the animals
2. Blue buffelgrass
Blue buffelgrass is perennial grass. Seed required is 6-8 kg/ha.
First harvest on 70th or 75th days after sowing and subsequently 4-6 cuts depending on growth. A pure crop yields 40 t/ha/year in 4-6 cuts
3. Para Grass
Para Grass grass is perennial grass. It is grown in seasonally flooded valleys and lowlands and can withstand waterlogging and long term flooding.
800-1000 kg of stem cuttings is needed for planting one hectare. The first cut is taken 75-80 days after planting and the subsequent cuts at 40-45 days interval. Totally, 6-9 cuts can be taken in a year with an average green fodder yield of 80-100 t/ha.
Para grass is fed in the green form and is not suitable for conservation either as hay or as silage.
4. Hybrid Napier
Hybrid Napier is grass is perennial grass. Crude protein ranges from 8 to 11%.
40,000 slips are required to plant one hectare. The first harvest is to be done on 75 to 80 days after planting and subsequent harvests at intervals of 45 days.
Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata ) is native to Africa and Asia and is now cultivated throughout the tropics and subtropics. It is used as a pulse, vegetable fodder, and green manure. It is of considerable importance in dryland farming.
2. Hedge lucerne (Desmanthus)
Hedge Lucerne is a perennial crop. It is grown throughout the year under irrigation and during June – October as a rainfed crop.
Sow the seeds at 20 kg/ha . First, cut on the 90th day after sowing at 50 cm height and subsequent cuts at intervals of 40 days at the same height. The green fodder yield is 80-100 t/ha/year.
A perennial legume containing 15 – 20% crude protein on a dry matter basis. Lucerne adds nitrogen to the soil and improves soil fertility. Recommended seed rate –20 kg/ha. First harvest 75 – 80 days after sowing. Subsequent harvests are made at intervals of 25 – 30 days.
Stylo is an erect growing perennial forage legume native of Brazil. It grows from 0.6 to 1.8 m tall. Stylos is drought-resistant legumes.
The most loved food for goats and cattle is Sesbania leaves. The protein content is about 25 %.
Seed rate is 7.5 kg /ha, sow the seeds at a spacing of 100 cm x 100 cm.
First, cut after 8 months and subsequent harvests at an interval of 60-80 days. Green fodder yield of 100 tonnes per year is obtained from one hectare.
Very good drought-resistant tree fodder. The first harvest can only be done after the first seed production. The trees can be cut at 90 to 100 cm height from ground level.
Yields about 80 to 100 t/ha of green fodder.
Features of Forage Crops
The important characteristics are:
- Short growth period.
- Grown in closer spacing with a high seed rate.
- Dense stands to smother weeds and prevent soil erosion.
- Improve soil health through the addition of higher amounts of organic residues in the soil.
- Crop duration can be adjusted and risk due to aberrant weather conditions minimized.
- High persistence and regeneration capacity reduce the need for frequent sowing and tillage.
- Crop management differs with the purpose of growing forages and mode of their utilization, wider adaptability with the capacity to grow under stress conditions.
- High nutrient and water requirement under intensive cropping.
- Multi-cut nature with the capacity to provide regular income and employment.
- Economic viability depends on secondary production (livestock products).
- Storage, transport, processing, and conservation are cumbersome.
- Shy seed producer, poor harvest index and narrow seed multiplication ratio.
- The cost of cultivation goes down in subsequent cut.
Intensive forage sequences recommended for different regions in India
The intensive cropping systems, when managed properly using modern techniques of soil and crop management, are able to yield 180 – 300 tonnes of green fodder (30 -55 tonnes dry fodder) per ha/year. Some of the intensive cropping systems have been suggested for different regions.
- Maize + Cowpea – Sorghum + Cowpea (two cuts) – Berseem + Mustard.
- Sudangrass + Cowpea – Maize + Cowpea – Turnip – Oats (two cuts)
- Hybrid Napier or Setaria inter-planted with cowpea in summer and Berseem in winter (9 -10 cuts/year).
- Teosinte + Cowpea (two cuts) – Carrot – Oats + Mustard/Senji (two cuts).
Western and Central Zone
- Bajra + Guar (Clusterbean) (two cuts) – Annual Lucerne (6 cuts).
- MP Chari + Cowpea (2 cuts) – Maize + Cowpea – Teosinte + Cowpea (2 cuts).
- Hybrid Napier or Guinea or Setaria grass inter-planted with Cowpea in summer + Berseem in winter (8-9 cuts/year).
- Hybrid Napier or Guinea or Setaria grass interplanted with Lucerne (8-9 cuts/
- Sorghum + Cowpea (3 cuts) – Maize + Cowpea – Maize + Cowpea.
- Hybrid Napier or Guinea or Setaria grass inter-planted with Lucerne (8-9 cuts) or Hybrid Napier + Subabul / Sesbania (9-11 cuts/year).
- Sudan grass + Cowpea (3 cuts) – M.P. Chari + Cowpea (three cuts).
- Para grass + Centro (Centrosema pubescens) (9-11 cuts/year).
- Maize + Cowpea – Teosinte + Rice bean (2 cuts) – Berseem + Mustard (3 cuts).
- M.P. Chari + Cowpea – Dinanath grass (2 cuts) – Berseem + Mustard (3 cuts).
- Para grass + Centrosema pubescens (8-9 cuts/year).
- Hybrid Napier or Setaria grass inter-planted with Subabul or Common Sesban(Sesbania sesban) (9-10 cuts/year).
Tips for efficient management and production of Forage
The following important points need to be given due consideration while adopting appropriate cultural practices aimed at higher forage production:
- Efficient forage crops of the area should be identified and grown on properly prepared seedbeds well in time. Timely sowing is very important in forage crops, as these have very limited growth period.
- Since forage crops need higher amounts of seeds and/or planting materials, these should be obtained from reliable sources and germination should be tested before sowing.
- The seed rate and spacing need to be adjusted depending upon the purpose and growing conditions. For instance, higher seed rates are used when the crop is raised for hay or the field is likely to be infested with weeds.
- During the rainy season, sometimes, it becomes difficult to re-sow the field due to incessant rains and wetting of the soil. Under such conditions, multi-cut forage crops can be sown at the beginning for a continuous supply of green forage throughout summer and rainy seasons. Moreover, growing of multi-cut forage crops/varieties results in the saving of seeds, fertilizers and tillage operations.
- Mixed cropping of graminaceous and leguminous fodder crops is better from the viewpoint of herbage quality and maintenance of soil fertility. Both the crop components of the system should be of similar duration to facilitate harvesting at one time.
- Maximum crop-weed competition occurs up to 4-5 weeks in most of the seasonal forages. Weed menace should be checked from the very beginning through proper land preparation, use of clean seed and well-decomposed FYM(Farmyard Manure), pre-emergence application of herbicides, careful crop rotation and growing of intercrops that smother the growth of weeds.
- Nutrient management practices should always be based on soil test values and cropping systems being followed. The fertilizer recommendations are of general nature. Use of bulky organic manures @ 15-20 tonnes/ha takes care of soil health and micronutrient deficiencies to a large extent. The economy in nutrient use can be ensured through efficient weed management, use of biofertilizers and inclusion of legumes in crop sequences.
- Irrigation management practices vary with season, soil type, and crop growth stage and fertilizer practices. Water requirement of fodder crops is usually greater because of dense stand and higher vegetative growth in a short period. Similarly, adequate drainage is important for crops like maize, pearl millet, and cowpea, etc. grown in the rainy season. Forage crops respond well to sewage irrigation.
- For controlling insect-pests and diseases, it is better to avoid the use of chemicals particularly when the harvesting is due. However, if any pesticide is applied to the crop, the forage should not be harvested for 3-4 weeks to avoid the risk of residual toxicity in animals.
- Cutting management influences not only the yield but also the forage quality. The fodder crops should, therefore, be harvested at the appropriate growth stage to obtain adequate fresh fodder with acceptable dry matter and nutrients particularly the crude protein.
- Multi-cut forages especially those regenerating from auxiliary buds should be harvested on time leaving 8-10 cm stubble to promote quick regeneration and adequate stand of the ratoon crop.