An alternative to scarce fodder for highlanders

photo courtesy NCAN, Bumthang
photo courtesy NCAN, Bumthang

Winter is tough for many reasons, but it is especially and harshly tougher in the high altitude regions.

Conditions make it hard for cattle to survive and it is one source which the highlanders heavily depend on to make their livelihood. The absence of food for the animals therefore most definitely means bad news even for their human owners.

Even in summer, at such a height, not much of green plants or for that matter the foliage palatable to livestock are found but in winters, the problem is even more grave when those few green plants and grasses turn yellow with little or no nutritional value to the livestock.

Such a pronounced feed shortage hits the animals hard. In addition to drastically bringing down the productions, it is even known to claim the lives of the calves. It is a big blow to the communities of highlanders.

However, this problem may be a thing of a past. This is because the National Centre for Animal Nutrition (NCAN) in Bumthang has found a possible way out to put an end to this problem.


The ‘solution’

It comes in the form of paddy straw feed blocks, which officials view as the best alternative to address such fodder shortages in high altitude areas particularly during the winters.

Paddy straw feed block is conserved feed from a crop residue developed by a technology which is also called densification. Often the paddy straw is fed raw to the animals but with the technology, the crop residues are converted into compact blocks and readied to be fed to cattle.

“It is also possible to formulate a complete animal feed blocks using straw and diet supplements,” an official with NCAN, Pema Wangda said.

Diet supplement such as molasses, concentrates, minerals and salts in varying proportions are used to formulate a complete animal feed block.

Such feed blocks could be even further processed and made into customized formulations for different animals. This can be done according to prescribed diet of the animal.

The experts claims that the preparation of the paddy straw feed block is simple and can be easily adopted by the farmers. All that is required to be done is that firstly the paddy straws are chopped into smaller pieces.

Once the chopping is done, it is mixed thoroughly with enrichment solution in different proportions of molasses, urea, minerals and salt.

The compacting or making the enriched paddy straw into compact feed blocks by a feed formulation machine is done. It is then ready to be fed to the animals. “It is simple enough even for a layman to-do on his own and it doesn’t require much technical knowledge,” Pema Wangda said.

According to the Program Director with the NCAN, Jambay Gyeltshen, the paddy straw feed blocks offers several advantages over other feed conservation technologies such as Silo and hay making. He said that the paddy straw feed blocks considerably reduces bulkiness of the biomass involved to prepare it.

It is easy for transportation especially in areas where there are no motorable roads and it occupies less space.

Such a technology is also known to reduce the wastage of paddy straw by avoiding selective eating of softer and palatable straw parts by animals.

Therefore, a three day long training with demonstration was imparted to some 70 participants comprising famers and herders from Kabji and Laya gewogs by NCAN, Bumthang together with the Dzongkhag Livestock Sectors of Punakha and Gasa, Kabji gewog in Punakha.

During the training, machines along with the electric chaff cutter used for feed block formulation was also handed over to Wokuna Gonor Dakied Tshogpa of Kabji by the Program Director, NCAN to be operated by the dairy farmers group for two years on trial basis.

Such promotional program of paddy straw feed block formulation and utilization by the group is valid for two years. Many paddy straws from the training will be distributed to the participants together with the ingredients for the feed-block formulation and such supply will be supported by NCAN but only for the first year.

“The support will not extend to the following year, and by the second year the group is expected to be on their own,” Jambay Gyeltshen said. The group is expected to produce and make available the paddy straw feed blocks to the highlanders.

And the replication of such a program will depend on how successful it is. If it is successful, the Centre aims to replicate it in other parts of the country targeting the highlanders.

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