Fodder trees are powerhouses for our famers in Ikinu, Kenya. As part of the first year of our Forest Garden Approach, fodder trees were used to establish a visible boundary and barrier around each farmer’s plot. These living fences are most often comprised of Calliandra calothyrsus, Leucaena trichandra , and Sesbania sesban, all of which are quick growing fodder trees.
As the trees’ leaves grow upward and outward, they are trimmed and pruned. The first pruning will usually occur 9-12 months after the trees are transplanted from the nursery. The protein-rich green leaves are dried in the sun and then milled into small pieces to be mixed with feed. Adding fodder leaves to the feed is beneficial to the cows, their milk, and in saving the farmer money in feeding the animals.
As a result of fodder tree intake, a cow is healthier, and therefore, more productive. Not only is the cow able to produce more milk, she makes better milk – consumption of these high-protein leaves raises butterfat by ten percent! A well-fed cow produces high quality by-products and beef meat, which fetch a lot of money at market. This has the ability to significantly increase a farmer’s profit margin.
After the fodder trees have grown to size, they are trimmed 4-6 times a year, yielding approximately 1kg of dry feed per tree annually. With 500 trees, a farmer would have enough to feed one cow throughout the year. While still remaining as a plot boundary, these trees continue to be pruned and processed for feed for years to come.
Another benefit of fodder trees is reducing exposure to aflatoxins, poisonous fungi that grows in some agricultural crops. Aflatoxins are extremely harmful to cows and are transferred into a cow’s milk supply. A cow exposed to aflatoxins in their feed is likely to become sick, making her unable to produce much milk. When consumed by humans, it has been shown to cause acute toxicity and even death. Aflatoxin primarily impacts the liver, although it can also be found throughout the body in those affected. Liver cancer incidence among human populations is quite common in Kenya and elsewhere where aflatoxin contamination in food and milk occurs. Moreover, exposure is higher in places like Kenya, as aflatoxins could be found in various important crops, including maize and groundnuts – as well as dairy products – from cows consuming the tainted crops. Mitigating the exposure of these toxins is a very important benefit of fodder tree use.
The advantages of the fodder trees are manifold. Many of these benefits are easily quantifiable. Our farmers have seen an increased profit margin between 30-40% annually. The benefit from reducing exposure to aflatoxins is harder to measure, as research is ongoing and under-funded in developing countries. However, the harmful effects of aflatoxins are widely known, and diversifying a cow’s diet is an important step in reducing the exposure of both cows and humans. We are proud of our impact and continued benefit the role of fodder trees play for our farmers – they are a workhorse of the Forest Garden Approach.