Uganda: Farmer overcomes drought by making hay and silage (The Observer)

| September 17, 2018

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Despite the blazing midday January sun that forces many to seek shade, Mugisha Besigye walks through pastures full of the imported grass species he uses to make hay and silage for his dairy cows. On the farm, about a dozen energetic men are busy washing milk cans or cleaning the milking area, while others feed the cows, cut grass, or take care of the calves.

Most potential dairy farmers want to acquire big chunks of land before they start. But Mr. Besigye thinks differently. The 68-year-old retired magistrate has discovered a secret: hay and silage.

Mr. Besigye’s dairy farm is in Buyuki, in the Mukono district of Uganda’s Central region, and houses more than 150 Friesian and Ayrshire cows.

Although the natural grass on his farm is dry, Mr. Besigye says his cows have never experienced any negative impacts from a dry season. He says: “With modern technology, you do not need a big chunk of land to establish a commercial dairy farm. You can feed more than 100 cows on less than 20 acres of land using hay and silage.”

Hay is grass that has been cut, dried, and stored, to be used as feed for grazing animals such as cattle, horses, goats, and sheep. Silage is fermented stored fodder that can be fed to cattle, sheep, and other grazing livestock.

The difference is that, whereas hay is kept dry, silage is stored with more moisture. Mr. Besigye grows grass for hay on twenty acres and maize for silage on five acres.

He had been captivated by dairy farming in the mid-1980s while working in Bushenyi as a magistrate. In 1996, he bought two cows, which he reared at his residence in Mbuya. When the cows multiplied to seven, he started to look for land.

In 2000, he bought 50 acres in Buyuki for 20 million shillings (about $12,500 US in 2000), and transported his cows there to start Kaganga farm, retiring from government work in 2007 to fully focus on his cows.

He says, “When people retire, they usually suffer. After retirement, therefore, you need a reasonable source of income.”

But the land he bought had no palatable grass. So he cleared the shrubs and planted exotic grass species. His aim was to counter the dry spells that result in dead cattle in many parts of the country.

When you look at his cows, you can see how Mr. Besigye has tamed the dry season. He explains, “With exotic grass, you make hay because the dry season is continuing until probably late February. So the animals will be fed on hay and silage.”

Though he lives in Mbuya—in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala—the father of four travels to Mukono daily, a distance of about 20 kilometres. He explains, “Just like any other business, your presence is required if you must operate a successful commercial farm.”

Mr. Besigye says that most people don’t regard farming as an occupation, and thus end up losing their investment due to poor planning and management.

Over time, he has expanded Kaganga farm from 50 to 120 acres to accommodate his more than 150 cows. In a good season, the cows produce up to 500 litres of milk daily.

Until 2014, he had been selling milk to a middleman. But he realized he could do better by opening a dairy shop in Mukono town. The shop now sells an average of 300 litres of milk a day. He sells to retailers at 1,000 Uganda shillings ($0.26 US) per litre, and to consumers at 1,500 ($0.40 US).

Mr. Besigye has some bulls, which he sells and uses to fertilize the heifers. He sells mature bulls for three million shillings each (about $790 US), and bulls for rearing for between 800,000 and 1.2 million ($211 to $316 US). He sells his heifers for three and a half million Uganda shillings ($922 US).

He has also installed electricity, water, and machinery for making yogurt and packing milk for a longer shelf life. He plans to launch this part of his business later this year.

Here are Mr. Besigye’s recipes for making hay and silage.

To make hay:
• Cut three-month-old grass.
• Dry it for at least three days, depending on the weather.
• Tie it with a machine.
• Keep it in an aerated store.
• As long as it is dry, it can be stored for as many years as needed.

To make silage:
• Grow maize until it is ready for harvest.
• Harvest the whole maize plant (stem, leaves, and cob).
• Dig a pit and spread some grass in it.
• Chop the harvested maize with a machine.
• Pour it into the pit and cover the pit with polythene to avoid aeration.
• Ferment for two months.
• Open and feed to animals.

This story was adapted from an article titled, “Besigye’s farm overcomes drought through hay, silage improvisation,” published by The Observer. To read the original article, please see:

Photo: Mr. Besigye’s inspects his hay store.