Livestock Research for Rural Development 28 (4) 2016 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

A comparative analysis of livestock farming in smallholder mixed crop-livestock systems in Kenya: 2. Feed utilization, availability and mitigation strategies to feed scarcity

D M G Njarui, E M Gichangi, M Gatheru, E M Nyambati1, C N Ondiko2, M N Njunie2, K W Ndungu-Magiroi3, W W Kiiya3, C A O Kute3 and W Ayako1

KALRO-Katumani, P.O. Box 340, Machakos, 90100, Kenya
1 KALRO-Naivasha, P.O. Box 25, Naivasha, 20117, Kenya
2 KALRO-Mtwapa, P.O. Box 16, Mtwapa, 80109, Kenya
3 KALRO-Kitale, P.O. Box 450, Kitale, 30200, Kenya


Seasonal fluctuation of feed availability is a major constraint to livestock production in Kenya. A study was conducted to assess livestock feed resources utilization and management in smallholder mixed crop-livestock farms of Kenya between September 2013 and March 2014. A total of 786 farmers (268 from coastal lowlands; 171 from mid-altitude eastern region, 132 from central highlands and 215 from north western highlands) were interviewed using a pre-tested structured questionnaire.

In the coastal lowlands and north western highlands natural pastures were the most popular feeds with over 98 and 70% of farmers using them to feed their livestock, respectively. In the mid-altitude eastern region, Napier grass was the major livestock feed from January to July and in December and was used by over 65% farmers. In central highlands, both the natural pastures and Napier grass were the principal feeds with almost an equal proportion (45-50%) of farmers using them to feed their livestock. Maize stovers formed the bulk of livestock feed during the dry season and were more widely used in the mid-altitude eastern region where the dry season was more pronounced. Seasonal fluctuation of feed availability was widespread and between 79-99% of farmers experienced feed shortage in a year. Feeding livestock with conserved feeds mainly hay was the most widely adopted strategy to mitigate feed scarcity with 55 to 62% of farmers using it across most of the regions. Overall feed shortage can be reduced by integrating high yielding and drought tolerant forages in to arable farming to increase area under feed production and also by conservation.

Key words: coping strategies, feed supply, livestock productivity, seasonal fluctuation of feeds


The productivity of livestock is strongly linked to the feed resources availability. This is because feed is the major input factor in all livestock production systems and account for between 60 -70% of the production cost. In Kenya, the productivity of ruminant livestock is considered low due to inadequate quantity and poor quality feeds. There is a feed resources deficit for about 4 - 6 months in a year across many regions particularly during the dry season when pasture growth is limited (Njarui et al 2011). Smallholder farmers produce about 70% of the total feed required from their farms (NDDP 1993). Rapid population growth and sub-division of land has reduced land sizes available for production thus limiting area for forages production. This has been confounded by shift in climate and weather patterns resulting in low forage productivity.

Inadequate feeds has been reported in many regions e.g. in coastal lowlands (Abdulrazak 1995; Reynolds et al 1993), semi-arid regions (Njarui et al 2011), central highlands (Lanyasunya et al 2006; Nyaata et al 2000) and western highlands (Muyekho et al 2014). Variation in seasonal feed availability and quality is also widespread and is highly influenced by rainfall pattern. There is relatively high feed availability during the wet season but declines drastically during the dry season resulting in severe feed shortage. Acute feed shortage has been reported in the dry season in Rift valley region by Lukuyu et al (2011). During the wet season, crude protein of the pasture ranges from 8 - 10% and declines to 2 - 4% during the dry season (Thairu and Tessema 1987). Consequently animals are underfed, suffer severe nutritional stresses and decreased productivity.

In smallholder crop-livestock production systems, animals subsist mainly on natural pastures and weeds from uncultivated land. Forages derived from these systems are known to have low feed value and are not sufficient to provide all the nutritional requirements for growth. Crop residues mainly from cereals also form a large proportion of the animal feeds particularly during the dry season (Lanyasunya 2006; Muyekho et al 2003; Nyaata et al 2000). Animals are either released to graze the stover in-situ or the stovers are stored and used for feeding in the dry season. However, although the crop residues are important for providing roughages they are of poor quality (crude protein <4%) and not sufficient to meet animal production (Njarui and Mureithi, 2006).

There is need to assist farmers improve feed supply to meet animal requirement and match livestock productivity. To achieve this, it is important to understand the strategies farmers apply to manage feed available to increase livestock productivity. The objective of the study was to assess livestock feed resources availability and management in smallholder mixed crop-livestock of farms of Kenya.


The description of the study areas, is also given in Njarui et al 2008 (this issue)
Description of the study areas

The study was conducted in coastal lowlands (CL), mid-altitude eastern region, central highlands and north western highlands regions of Kenya (Figure 1). These regions were purposively selected because they represent diverse farming systems across several agro-ecological zones (AEZ). In the coastal lowlands the study covered from latitudes 03o22S to 03o40S and stretched from longitudes 39o48E and 39o12E, in Malindi, Kilifi and Kwale Counties, in CL3, 4 and 5 AEZ. In the mid-altitude eastern region the study covered from latitudes 0o45S to 1 o35S and longitudes 36o45E and 38o30E within Machakos and Makueni Counties, in Upper Midland (UM) 3 and Lower Midland (LM) 4 AEZ. In the central highlands, the study covered between latitudes 08’S and 050’S and between 35 13’E and 36 42’ E in Nyandarua County mainly in Upper Highland (UH) 2 and 3 and Lower Highland (LH) 3 and 4 AEZ. In north western highlands, the study concentrated from latitudes 0o7N to 0 o20N between longitudes 34o05E and 35o59E in AEZ, LH3 and UM 3 and 4 within Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia Counties.

Coastal lowlands Mid-altitude eastern region
Central highlands North western highlands
Figure 1. Map showing the four study regions and household sampled.
Coastal lowlands

The CL extends for about 30 km hinterland from the sea. The annual rainfall ranges from 700 mm in CL5 to 1200 mm in CL3, with a bimodal pattern, the long rains season occurring from April to June and the short rains from October to December. Potential evapo-transpiration ranges from 1900 to 2300 mm and exceeds annual precipitation, thus resulting in water deficit. Mean annual temperatures ranges from 22 to 35oC and relative humidity from 70 to 90%.

The topography is low lying, from the sea level to 300 masl. Major soils are Ferralsols and Cambisols, which are deficient in nitrogen (N); phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) (Njarui and Mureithi 2004). Rural households engage in diverse agricultural and non-agricultural activities. Maize (Zea mays L.) and cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz.) are the main staple foods followed by cowpea (Vigna unguiculata [L.] Walp) (Njarui and Mureithi 2004). Livestock kept includes cattle, goats, sheep and poultry.

Mid-altitude eastern region

Typically the region is semi-arid and the mean total annual rainfall is around 700 mm but in the hill masses it increases to about 1050 mm. The rainfall is bimodal with two distinct rainy seasons; the long rains occurring from March to May and short rains from October to December. Evapo-transpiration exceeds the amount of rainfall and ranges from between 1200 to 1800 mm/year (KARI 2001). Minimum mean annual temperatures vary from 14oC to 22 oC while maximum mean annual temperatures vary from 26oC to 34oC.

The region is characterized by low to medium altitude, rising from 800 to1800 masl. The predominant soils are Luvisols, Acrisols and Ferralsols (Simpson et al 1996). The soils are often shallow and contain low organic matter and high sand content (Kusewa and Guiragossian 1989). The farming systems are characterized by mixed crop-livestock production. Maize is the most important cereal and is commonly grown as intercrop with beans ( Phaseolus vulgaris L.), cowpea and pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan L.). Major livestock kept include cattle, sheep and goats.

Central highlands

The region receive bi-modal rainfall, the long rains occurring from March to May with a maximum rainfall of 1600 mm and the short rains from September to December with rainfall of 700 mm. Temperature ranges from low of 2C to maximum of 25C. Night frosts are common in AEZ of Afro-Alpine highlands and UH (Jaetzold et al 2007). The main physical features include Kinangop Plateau, Ol’kalou plateau and the Aberdares ranges which rises to 4000 m asl. Major soils are the Nitosols, Andosols and Phaeozems (Jaetzold et al 2007). Farming is highly commercialized and wheat, maize and vegetables which include potatoes, cabbages, peas and carrots are the main commercial crops.

North western highlands

The north western highlands experience primarily uni-modal rainfall distribution, which normally starts in April and continues to October/November with peak in May and August. Rainfall ranges from 1200 mm to 2200 mm and the average annual temperature from 14oC to 28oC. The relief is very varied and ranges from low of 900 m to a high of 3365 m. The major soils are Humic Ferralsols, Humic cambisols and ferralic Cambisols and Orthic Ferralsols (FAO-UNESCO 1994). Maize is the principal crop cultivated while dairy cattle farming are the major enterprise, although in some farms, beef cattle are kept.

Sampling and data collection

A multistage stratified sampling technique was used for selection of the farmers. In the first stage of sampling, 12 AEZs where smallholder practice crop-livestock farming system were identified; 3 in coastal lowlands, 2 in mid-altitude eastern region, 4 in central highlands and 3 in north western highlands (Table 1). In the second stage a systematic random sampling was carried out to select farmers from a list compiled by the agricultural extension officers from each AEZ. This resulted in sample sizes of 268 for coastal lowlands, 171 for mid-altitude eastern region, 132 for central highlands and 215 households for north western highlands, giving a total of 786 farmers.

Table 1. Distribution of sample respondents by region and agro-ecological zones



Household heads

Number of

Number of


Coastal lowlands

Coastal Lowlands 3




Coastal Lowlands 4




Coastal Lowlands 5




Mid-altitude eastern region

Upper Midlands 3




Lower Midlands 4




Central highlands

Upper Highlands 2




Upper Highlands 3




Lower Highlands 3




Lower Highlands 4




North western highlands

Upper Midlands 3




Upper Midlands 4




Lower Highlands 3








Information was collected from farmers using a pre-tested structured questionnaire. This included type of feeds, level of feed availability and coping strategies to feed scarcity. Data were collected through face-to-face single visit interview, discussion and observation between October 2013 and March 2014. The household head or the most senior member of household present was interviewed.

Data analysis and presentation

Data was coded and entered in a spreadsheet and analysed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 20 (IBMC, 2011). The results are presented using descriptive statistics, tables and graphical illustrations.

Results and Discussion

Feed utilization

A wide range of feed resources were used to feed livestock across the different regions. The major feeds were Napier grass [Pennisetum purpureum (K.) Schum.], natural pastures and crop residues principally from maize stovers and grain legumes residues. The natural pastures were generally unimproved and consisted of indigenous grasses and shrubs. The stovers and legumes residues are normally available for feeding after threshing the grains. Other crop by-products included sweet potatoes vines, cassava leaves and agricultural by-products such as molasses. Farmers reported that they purchased small quantities of commercial concentrate and mineral supplements, for high yielding dairy cattle.

In the coastal lowlands, natural pastures were the most widely used feeds with virtually all the farmers (>98%) using them to feed their livestock throughout the year (Figure 2). However, maize stovers made only a significant contribution to livestock feed in August and September. Utilization of Napier grass was low; about 10% of the feeds in most of the months. Despite systematic introduction and promotion of Napier grass and other cultivated forages in the coastal lowlands e.g. by Njunie and Ogora (1990), Mwatate et al (1998) and Ramadhan et al (2001), adoption has regrettably continued to decline. A study carried out by Mureithi et al (1998) in 1990s showed that sown forages contributed less than 40% and 25% of livestock feeds during the rainy and dry season, respectively. Another study carried out about 10 year later by Ramadhan et al (2008) found that, over 78% of smallholder dairy farms in the region depended on natural pastures.

In the mid-altitude eastern region, Napier grass was the major feed resources during the first half of the year (January-July) and in December with over 65% of farmers using it to feed their livestock. Normally, Napier grass was mainly fed to the dairy cattle and was normally cut and delivered to animals under stall feeding system since it is not suitable for grazing. The proportion of farmers who used natural pastures averaged around 37% throughout the year. Maize stovers were the principal crop residue and were the main livestock feeds during the peak of the long dry season with over 60% of farmers using them in September and October. The contribution of grain legume residues (beans, cowpeas, green grams) to livestock feed was generally low with their utilizations increasing during the dry season to a peak of 40% in August and September.

Coastal lowlands (n=268) Mid-altitude eastern region (n=171)
Central highlands (n=132) North western highlands (n=215)
Figure 2. Main type of feeds used for livestock by months across four regions

In the central highlands, natural pastures and Napier grass were the main feeds used throughout the year with an almost equal proportion of farmers (45-50%) using them to feed their livestock. Maize stovers were widely used from January to April with between 60-80% of farmers using them. Their utilization declined drastically after April, falling to less than 15% from June. However, maize stovers were reported to constitute bulk of dry season feed in central Kenya (Lanyasunya et al 2006; Nyaata et al 2000). In the north western highlands, natural pastures were the principal feeds with over 70% of farmers using them throughout the year. Nevertheless, maize stovers were also important feed and widely used from January to March and in November and December with between 45 to 70% of farmers using them. Lukuyu et al (2011) reported that, about 11-40% of farmers used crop residue to feed dairy cattle in some part of North western Kenya. Maize is the staple food in Kenya (Njarui and Mureithi 2006) and is widely cultivated hence the reason why the stovers are the major feeds for livestock.

The system where livestock depends on natural vegetation is unsatisfactory because animal do not obtain all their nutritional requirements and this results in low productivity. The natural pastures are known to have low crude protein during the dry season (Thairu and Tessema 1987) and do not sustain livestock production throughout the year. On the other hand, although stovers were important sources of roughage they are nutritionally deficient in energy crude protein, minerals and vitamins (Njarui et al 2011). This is consistent with the finding of Nyaata et al 2000 who found that dry season feed is insufficient to supply required nutrient to animals due to high fibre concentrations (acid detergent fibres and neutral detergent fibres).

In the mid-altitude eastern region, the stovers were generally stored in barns (Figure 3) and fed during the dry season while in north western highlands; farmers released their animals in the farm to graze after harvesting the maize (Figure 4). In the systems where livestock graze stover in situ, there is lot of trampling and wastage (Wandera et al 1997).

Figure 3. Maize stovers stored in a roofed hay barn Figure 4. Cattle grazing on stover left in the field after maize is harvested
Feed availability

Feed scarcity is common and has been reported in coastal lowlands of Kenya (Reynolds et al 1993; Abdulrazak, 1995). The proportion of farmers who experienced feed shortage was high (79-99%) (Figure 5). Low feed supply has been associated with over-reliance on rains for feed production and limited feed conservation (Njarui et al 2009). In the mid-altitude eastern region and central highlands, farmers have limited land for cultivation of forages as preference is given to production of food crops. Only less than 10% of the land is devoted to sown pastures (Njarui et al 2011). Further, dry matter yields of these forages are generally low due to poor soil fertilization regimes and low rainfall.

Figure 5. Proportion of farmers who experience feed scarcity in the four regions

There was seasonal fluctuation in feed availability with low feed supply being felt during the dry season. Variation in feed availability between the wet and dry season has been reported by Lanyasunya et al (2006) in central highlands. The trend on seasonal fluctuation of feed supply was similar in coastal lowlands, central and north western highlands (Figure 6). Feed was scarce to moderately adequate (1-2) in coastal and north western highlands from January to April while in the central highlands, it was above moderately adequate from January to May. From June to October feed supply ranged from around adequate to above adequate in coastal, central and north western highlands. In the mid-altitude eastern region, feed availability was close to being excess from January to May after which it declined to between moderately adequate and adequate before it rose to above adequate.

The feed shortage during the dry season reported in this study is consistent with the finding of Nyaata et al (2000) in central highlands. Muhammad (1996) reported acute livestock feed shortage during August and October period in semi-arid Kenya. However, feed availability follows closely the rainfall pattern with relatively adequate feed reported during the wet season (Njarui et al 2009). Low availability of feed has direct effect on performance of livestock productivity in term of meat or milk.

Figure 6. Level of feeds availability by month (all type of feed considered); 1=scarce,
2=moderately adequate, 3=adequate, 4=excess) in four regions
Coping strategy to feed scarcity

Appropriate feeding strategies can improve efficient utilization during period of insufficient feed availability. Farmers adopted several strategies to mitigate against inadequate livestock feed. However, there were similarities in coping strategies adopted to mitigate this crisis in different regions (Table 2). In the coastal lowlands, mid-altitude eastern region and central highlands, feeding livestock with conserved feeds, mainly hay, was the most widely adopted coping strategy with between 55 and 62% of farmers using it while in the north western highlands feeding less to animals was the most preferred strategy (36.4%). Use of conserved feed and purchase of fodders has been reported by Njarui et al (2009) as key strategies in mitigating against feed scarcity in semi-arid regions of Kenya. Feeding less to all animals was second most important strategy in coastal lowlands, while purchase of fodder was important in mid-altitude eastern region and central highlands. In north western highlands, reducing herd size and purchase of fodder were the second and third most important strategies, respectively. Renting of grazing land and reducing herd size were the least adopted strategies to mitigate against feed scarcity in coastal, mid-altitude eastern region and central highlands while in western highlands purchase of concentrate was the least preferred option.

Table 2. Important coping strategies adopted by farmers during period of feed scarcity in the four region

Coping strategies


eastern region


North western


Used stored feeds






Feed less to all animals






Feed less to certain animals






Rent grazing land






Reduce herd size






Purchase fodders






Purchase concentrates






Feed forages not normally used













From the study the following conclusion can be made:



We are grateful to the smallholder farmers who willingly provided the information during the survey. Special thanks goes to the provincial administrative officers and Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in the region where the survey was conducted for their support and the staffs of Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) from various institutes and centres for administering the questionnaires. We thank the Director, of former KARI for the support. This study was an undertaking between BecA and KALRO and was funded by Sida.


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Received 14 December 2015; Accepted 4 March 2016; Published 1 April 2016

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