Feeding livestock ‘out of the bag’ during a drought is never profitable, and buying lucerne bales at R100 each is simply unsustainable. This price, moreover, is only likely to increase.
Ten sheep or two head of cattle can eat a 25kg lucerne bale daily. Depending on the price of the bale, feeding a sheep could cost between R10 and R14 a day, and a cow between R50 and R70 a day. That’s a considerable expenditure over four to six months.
The good news is that it’s possible to produce high-quality green feed at low cost and without mechanisation during a time of scarce grazing. The answer is to plant feed in old 40kg grain bags or old tyres. It can be grazed from here when ready, or removed, roots and all, and fed to livestock.
Some farmers plant feed in plastic grain bags. However, fine fibres from these may contaminate sheep wool. If you produce sheep, old car tyres may be a better option. Sow the seed in the tyre laid flat (the sidewalls retain water).
A 40kg bag of oats seed costs about R310 from the local co-op. Use about 400g seed per car tyre, about 1,2kg per old tractor tyre and 40kg per old grain bag. You can produce about 100 bags of green oats feed from that 40kg bag of seed, which means that each bag/tyre of feed costs just R3,10.
When you grow out the oats to about 30cm, you can feed one sheep a day on a maintenance ration, or two sheep a day on a survival ration, on one bag or tyre of oats.
Maintaining a sheep’s body condition would cost R3,10/ day, compared with the lucerne cost of R10/day to R14/day, while a survival ration would cost R1,55/ day for a sheep. Some farmers may wish to use this feed now and again to boost nutrition.
A cow will eat about three bags or tyres of feed daily at a cost of about R9,30/day, compared with between R50/ day and R70/day for lucerne.
- Place a mixture of kraal manure and topsoil in a 40kg grain bag, filling one-third to half the bag.
- Tie the mouth of the bag closed and lay the bag on its side.
- Level out the soil/manure contents along the length of the bag.
- Cut the top surface of the bag open and remove the flap, exposing the soil/manure mixture as a planting surface.
- Sow the 400g oats seed lightly into the top level of soil/manure, not deeper than about 2cm.
- Place the bags in rows in full sunlight. Keep them moist using a hose, or lay them under sprinklers.
- Seed old car tyres in the same manner, filling each tyre halfway with manure and topsoil. A tyre retains heat and water, promoting plant growth.
- Feed will grow to an acceptable height in about two months, depending on the weather. Other crops such as ryegrass, lucerne or barley can also be grown in this manner. Lucerne and rye grass can be cut and fed several times in summer, but growth will slow down in winter.
- With oats, replant bags when it has been grazed right down or when you have removed the plants, roots and all.
- Plant oats in March to April in winter in summer rainfall areas. Plant lucerne or rye in April when weed competition slows down.
Cover the bags/tyres with clear plastic sheeting as protection from cold or frost. Plant a new batch weekly for a consistent feed supply for several months.
Placing the seeded bags on a flat shed roof avoids the need to fence them off from livestock. The warm corrugated iron also stimulates plant growth.