Development of feeding strategies for improved meat and milk production on smallholder dairy farms in Zambia


Livestock rearing is one of the leading farming activities practiced by rural communities in Zambia. The animals kept include cattle, goats, sheep, pigs and various species of poultry of which chickens are the most common. Rearing of animals in rural areas is mostly done on a subsistence level where the emphasis is to produce for own household consumption with very little left for sale to generate income. However, in recent years, there has been an increased effort by the Zambian government to encourage farmers to improve animal productivity as a way of creating employment and income generation.

These efforts have however, been limited by the inherent low productivity of the animals kept on traditional small-scale farms which has been attributed to the extensive management system practiced in rural areas whereby animals are left to scavenge on their own in search of feed and water. Additionally, the low productivity has been attributed to inferior quality of the local breeds that is characterized with long calving intervals, poor reproductive efficiency and slow growth rates. Because of poor feeding practices and lack of veterinary services, animals on traditional small-scale farms are also susceptible to a wide range of diseases that exacerbates the problem resulting in increased mortality rates.

Small-scale farmers also lack knowledge and technical skills for better management of animals to improve productivity. To address these issues, a technical cooperation project was designed with financial assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to develop dairy management strategies for improved production of meat and milk in Palabana and Njolwe dairy tenant schemes based on increased use of locally available resources. The resources under consideration included use of indigenous livestock breeds and locally adapted feed crops that have potential as energy and protein supplements for milking animals.

Livestock production - constraints and opportunities

The study started with a baseline survey to highlight constraints limiting increased production of meat and milk in the project area. This was followed by documentation of existing opportunities for increased production and marketing of meat and milk. Among the major constraints identified to be limiting animal productivity was lack of proper breeds to foster increased meat and milk production (Figure 1). Development of feeding strategies for improved meat and milk production on smallholder dairy farms in Zambia Most of the farmers in the project area were found to be using crosses between the Holstein Friesian dairy breed with indigenous cattle that had no capacity for increased milk production. In addition to inferior milking animals, there was also limited supply of quality feeds for animals to warrant increased meat and milk production. Despite local farmers having undergone basic training in Pasture and Fodder production and in animal feeding techniques, there were simply no efforts on their part to produce feed for their animals.

Most of them simply depended on natural grazing and use of fibrous crop-residues. Existing opportunities for increased production and marketing of milk in the project area included the farmers themselves having been organized into a dairy cooperative that had acquired facilities for milk cooling, storage and delivery to processing companies. There were also a number of Government and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) working in the area to offer extension services and facilitate supply of dairying inputs including veterinary and Artificial Insemination (AI) services.

Production and nutritional evaluation of locally adapted feed crops

In response to the dairy production constraints and opportunities highlighted in the baseline survey, the first task for the project was to improve the quality and availability of feeds for milking animals in the area. Due to limited availability of farming inputs and the local farmers’ inability to produce pasture and fodder crops, it was felt that animal feeding strategies should be based on the use of locally adapted crops including natural grasses, tree forages, fodder and grain legumes. This saw establishment of a nursery of pasture and fodder crops at the University of Zambia School of Agricultural Sciences field station (Table 1).

Development of feeding strategies for improved meat and milk production on smallholder dairy farms in Zambia The purpose of the nursery was to grow materials for seed production and produce materials for feed nutritional evaluations. Based on productivity and easy of establishment, a number of feed crops were selected to be established on-farm during the following season as a way of introducing farmers to pasture and fodder production on their farms. Even though the response was not as expected with some farmers, a number of them grew adequate amounts to warrant initiation of on-farm feeding experiments (Figure 2).

However, before commencement of on-farm pasture production and feeding trials, part of the fodder crops produced on-station was harvested and subjected to chemical composition nutritional evaluations in the laboratory (Table 2).

Table 1. List of pasture and fodder crops established at the university nursery for seed production and nutritional evaluations.

Grasses Fodder legumes Grain legumes Fodder trees
Rhodes grass – Boma Lablab beans Velvet Beans Mulberry trees
Rhodes grass – Callide Red sunhemp Jack beans Leaucaena
Rhodes grass Mbabara Black sunhemp Green gram Cassava leaves
Buffel grass – Molopo Archer dolichos Pigeon peas Moringa olifera
Panicum maximum - green panic Stylo graham Cow peas Sesbania sesban
Napier grass Silverleaf desmodium    
Bana grass Siratro    
Nile grass      
Topedo grass      
Green gold      

Table 2. Chemical composition of locally adapted pasture and fodder crops established at the University nursery.

Feedstuff DM Protein Fat Ash calcium Seed size
Velvet beans 93.6 23.5 10.6 3.57 0.34 0.83
Cow peas 95.2 28.1 9.5 4.03 0.30 0.12
Green gram 96.9 28.6 10.3 4.20 0.36 0.03
Jack beans 94.6 24.0 12.0 3.64 0.31 0.94
Pigeon peas 96.4 22.2 9.1 3.91 0.43 0.14

On-station feed supplementation trial

The chemical composition analyses were followed by on-station feeding trial to evaluate the use of Velvet beans (Mucuna purensis) as a protein supplement for milking animals on smallholder dairy farms. The feeding trial was aimed at evaluating Velvet beans processing methods to maximise its utilization by dairy animals. The study was in response to a number of farmers who had been introduced to growing velvet beans by local NGOs but had no idea on how to use it as a feed resource. Most farmers deemed the grain poisonous and were only grazing the crop to animals in situ. The processing methods evaluated included grinding of the grain, the pods and pods together with the vines. The prepared velvet beans materials were used to formulate supplemental rations for milking animals as a replacement to purchased dairy concentrates. Some of the results of on-station feeding trial at the University of Zambia showed that animals fed velvet beans based diets were capable of maintaining milk production throughout the study period. This was despite the fact the study was done during the months of September and October when there is critical shortage of feed and water and the milk production levels are expected to be at their lowest. The on-station feeding trial was repeated on-farm with selected contact farmers.

The results on feed intake and milk yield showed that the animals had no problem in accepting the velvet beans based diets and either maintained milk production levels. This was despite some earlier cases of diarrhoea at the beginning of the feeding trial. The on-farm trials also showed positive response as the animals fed experimental diets had increased milk production levels throughout the study period.

Evaluation of Herbaceous Legumes and protein supplements –still on-going

The next stage of study has concentrated on the evaluation of fodder and grain legumes as protein supplements for milking dairy animals. The protein sources are divided into three groups consisting of grain legumes (Velvet Beans, Jack Beans, Pigeon peas and Mindolo Beans), herbaceous legumes (velvet beans and lablab beans) and tree fodder forages (Moringa, mulberry leaves, Leucaena leucocephala). This study is still on-going starting with proximate analysis to determine nutrient composition in selected locally adapted pasture and fodder crops (Table 3). The next stage will be to determine in sacco nutrient degradation in fistulated dairy steers using the Nylon bag technique. Nutrient degradation evaluations will be followed by on-station feeding trials to determine acceptability and effect on milk production by milking animals on smallholder dairy farms. The on-station feeding trials will be followed by on-farm trials that will evaluate rations selected from the on-station trials. These will then be taken to stakeholders for eventual training of farmers and publication of results to stakeholders.

Table 3. Chemical composition of selected fodder legumes/trees for evaluation as potential of being used as protein supplements for milking dairy animals.

Forage Dry matter Protein Ether extract Ash calcium
Kapeta nsufu 92.7 24.8 12.1 3.63 0.75
Paulina Foliata 89.7 18.9 - 2.63 0.63
Sesbania sesban 91.8 21.1 9.6 3.54 1.44
Lablab beans 91.7 24.5 9.4 3.51 1.31
Stylo 91.6 22.7 12.9 3.38 1.45
Pigeon peas 92.7 24.1 12.5 3.77 1.02
Siratro 91.1 18.1 - 3.36 0.66