Kenya: Dairy farmers make maize silage to maximize profits

| December 7, 2015

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Peter Choge and three other men are busily feeding green maize plants into a shredding machine. Two of the men pick leafy maize stalks from a heap and pass them to the other two, who feed the machine. The shredder sprays the chopped stalks and cobs onto a large polythene sheet.

Mr. Choge farms in Soi village in Uasin Gishu County, in Kenya’s North Rift Region, 325 kilometres northeast of the capital, Nairobi. He is making silage for his three cows. Silage is a feed which is preserved through fermentation. Many locals are surprised at Mr. Choge’s methods—most think making animal feed from green maize is a waste of human food.

But Mr. Choge discovered that this method actually earns him more money than selling dried maize grain.

Before he starting making maize silage, Mr. Choge earned nothing from his cows. They produced little milk, and what he sold didn’t cover the cost of shop-bought feed.

Then he attended a week-long workshop on making silage for dairy cows. Mr. Choge learned that cows like to eat silage, and that they produce more milk and healthier calves on the new diet. Also, silage is cheap to make. Farmers simply add a little salt to the chopped maize to increase its mineral content and overall flavour.

His feed costs are lower now, so Mr. Choge is finally making a profit. He explains: “I spend 15,000 Kenyan shillings [US$150] to hire the [machine] and pay for labour to make the silage. But at the end of the year, I will make up to 300,000 shillings [US$3,000] from the extra milk.”

Reuben Tanui is a dairy officer for Soi sub-county. He says, “Silage is a quality feed which enhances … [milk] production because maize silage is a balanced meal.”

Mr. Tanui advises farmers to make maize silage when the plant is at the “tough” or “roasting” stage of growth, because this is when fibre and protein levels are at their highest.

He says that farmers can earn more by turning maize into silage, especially because the market price for grain is currently low—only 2,500 shillings [US$25] for a 90-kilo bag. The average maize yield is about three and a half tonnes of grain per hectare, which earns a farmer about 100,000 shillings [US$1,000]. Mr. Tanui explains that one hectare of maize can yield over seven and a half tonnes of silage, which is enough to feed seven dairy cows for a whole year.

The dairy officer says there are two methods of making silage, both of which are suitable even for dairy farmers with less than half a hectare of land. In “surface silage,” the chopped maize is simply sandwiched between two large polythene sheets, often in a pit or walled area. Farmers use a heavy weight such as a tractor to remove air, which improves the fermentation process. This prevents spoilage, increasing the shelf life of the silage.

Joel Tarus is a farmer in nearby Turbo sub-county who makes his silage with the second method. He explains, “I cut the maize, grind it, and put it in polythene tubes. I compress it as much as possible, and after one month it is ready.” The polythene tube method is particularly useful for farmers with small herds, as it makes it easier to prevent the silage from spoiling and control how much the cows eat.

Mr. Choge uses his increased earnings to pay for his three children to attend Moi University in Eldoret. He says, “My cows produce more milk, so I am able to save extra money for the family. Before I started making silage, I couldn’t have afforded this.”

Editor’s note: For another Barza Wire story on green maize and its financial benefits for farmers, see Malawi: Sweet corn brings sweeter earnings, at this link: