Pakchong Animal Nutrition Research Centre
In Thailand, a major limitation in raising dairy cattle is insufficient feed, especially during the dry season. Farmers are very familiar with the use of crop by-products as animal feed, but less familiar with forage conservation. Despite much research work on silage production at research centres and universities in Thailand, adoption has been generally low. There are many reasons for this, including:
- a lack of herbage;
- silage making is deemed complicated; and
- a lack of investment capital for new machinery.
This paper discusses the potential for adoption of forage ensiling techniques in Thai smallholder dairy farms and the factors affecting this potential. The study area was Sung Nuen District, Nakornratchasima, in northeast Thailand, located between latitude 14°30 and 15°15 N, longitude 101°43 and 101°56 E, with an average annual rainfall of 805 mm. The principal crops grown were rice, maize, cassava and sugar cane.
Participatory diagnosis of livestock feeding problems was conducted with dairy farmers in 1997. The major problem was a lack of good quality roughage in the dry season. Two other feed resources the farmers had been commonly using to reduce this problem were crop residues (especially rice straw) and sugar cane tops. Formerly, crop residues were available free of charge, but rising demand had resulted in increased prices, with crop residues becoming increasingly scarce. In addition, the low protein content of these residues was not adequate for productive cattle during the dry season. As a result, farmers had become interested in testing forage conservation methods, including silage making.
SILAGE MAKING DEMONSTRATION
The Animal Nutrition Research Centre at Pakchong collaborated with a district livestock officer to conduct a silage making demonstration in the village, with 53 dairy farmers participating. Three different techniques of silage making demonstrated were:
- bunker silos;
- black polythene bags of 40-kg capacity; and
- plastic bags of about 800-kg capacity.
Because they were in a maize growing area, maize silage was made in the demonstration. Farmers provided chopped maize leaves and their labour. The development workers provided labour, materials (plastic bags) and technical advice. Follow-up visits were conducted to check for problems and discuss with farmers their experiences with silage making. All 53 farmers were interested in trying to make silage on their farms. One farmer modified the technique to make silage in plastic buckets and in a below-ground pit silo for sale.
The preference ranking among the three types of silo were that 38% of the farmers preferred bunker silos; 31% selected the plastic bucket technique; 23% chose black polythene bags; and 8% used the 800-kg plastic bags.
- Black polythene bag: cheap and easy to feed the product to animals.
- Plastic bag (800kg): can make a large amount at one time.
- Plastic bucket: even if it is more expensive than plastic bags at the beginning, it can be re-used many times, and also protects the silage from insects and rodents.
- Bunker silo: Large initial capital investment for construction, but lasts for a long time
FACTORS AFFECTING THE POTENTIAL FOR ADOPTION OF SILAGE MAKING ON FARM
- Farmers realized that the lack of good quality roughage in the dry season was their main constraint.
- Learning by doing: farmers found that, in fact, silage making is not difficult or as complicated as they had heard and read.
- The development workers have to know the needs of farmers and be able to provide various alternatives for them to observe, compare and evaluate, before choosing the best possible solutions.
- Farmers must have sufficient material available locally to be ensiled.
- As they are smallholder farmers, not all ensiling technologies are appropriate. The cost of the ensiling technology needs to be balanced with the availability of capital on-farm.
There is some potential for broader application of silage making on smallholder dairy farms in Thailand. However, the particular methods used for silage making will have to be adapted by farmers to fit their own situations. Work is continuing with these farmers to monitor adoption and discuss their needs so as to have a better understanding of which silage technologies have the best potential under the local conditions.