Kilimogram

Hay farming in Kenya was once reserved for ranch owners with horses and tractors (picture Nanyuki). But with time, it gained traction to small-time and part-time agripreneurs, particularly those in hot and dry regions. You could say that they found the literal meaning of the phrase “make hay while the sun shines.”

Before you roll your eyes to my dry over-used joke, let’s discuss the things you should know before venturing into hay farming in Kenya. In this article, you will find a step-by-step guide to hay farming in Kenya.

What Resources do You Need to Venture into Hay Farming in Kenya?

Fodder variety

  • Grass – The most commonly used grass for hay farming in Kenya is Boma Rhodes grass. It matures quickly and requires less water. Other grass varieties that you can use are Napier grass, Timothy and Bermuda grass.
  • Leguminous Fodder – Alfalfa, also known as Lucerne, is the most commonly used legume for haymaking. You can also use trefoils like greater trefoil and birdsfoot trefoil for land that is low in phosphate. Other legumes that you can use are cowpeas and clovers.
  • A Grass-legume combination – a grass and legume combination is ideal if you want to yield high-quality hay. The legumes add energy and proteins, while grass adds fibre.

The best crops for farming hay are those with a thin stem that produces many leaves. Other crops suitable for farming hay are:

  • Maize
  • Oats
  • Desmodium

A parcel of land

  • Preferably, look for a weed-free site.
  • You can buy or lease.

Tractor

A tractor takes the highest investment cost. Ideally, one tractor is enough. But strive to have two, in case one tractor breaks down mid-work.

Tractor Attachments

Wheel Hay Rake

A wheel hay rake is used for;

  • Inverting the hay swath to allow the bottom patch to dry.
  • Narrowing the hay swath into windrows for baling.

Mower

  • Used for cutting hay crops to enable drying.

Baler

A baler collects the dried and windrowed hay swath, compresses it and binds it with twine for easy handling and transportation.

There are three types of balers;

  • Round baler
  • Large rectangular baler
  • Small rectangular baler

In Kenya, the most commonly used baler is the small rectangular baler.

Small square bales. Courtesy of Castorly, Pexel.com

Tedder

A tedder is used to overturn the hay swath to hasten the aeration and drying processes.

Bale Twine

  • is a thin sisal or synthetic twine that binds compressed hay bales.

Bale wagon

A bale wagon is a machine that picks up hay bales from the field and takes them to storage.

Hayloft

A hayloft is a space, either in a shed or barn, where hay bales are stacked for storage.

Bale Spear

A bale spear picks round bales from the field and takes them to storage.

To learn more about hay farming equipment, check out this buyer’s guide to hay equipment post.

What Should You Do if You can’t Afford Hay Making Equipment?

The process of haymaking is equipment intensive. Most of the steps require little to no labour. Should you call quits if you can’t afford a tractor and its attachments? No, you can hire the equipment or do it manually. It’s okay to start small. Of course, farming manually will require a lot of labour and time, but it’s a great place to start.

What Tools do You Need when Making Hay Manually?

Sickle, Scythes or Machete (panga)

These tools are used for mowing. A scythe is better and easier to use than a sickle, but it requires some bit of skill. Mowing with a machete is as well slow and tiresome compared to using a scythe.

Rake

A rake is used for tedding and windrowing.

Twine

Used for binding hay bales.

Two-wheel Carts and Wheelbarrows

You can use carts and wheelbarrows to transport bales to storage.

Wooden Box Baler

You can use a wooden box baler to bale hay manually. The bales will, however, not be as compact and even as baling with a machine. Below  are the steps to follow when baling manually;

  1. Place two twines in the wooden box.
  2. Fill hay into the wooden box.
  3. Plunge it in to compress and remove air pockets.
  4. Plunge in some more until you can’t anymore.
  5. Remove the bale and bind with the twine.

Farming hay manually is quite laborious. The only time you should consider a manual method is if the hay is for personal use or you are farming in a small portion of land. If it’s for commercial purposes, consider investing in hay equipment.

The Haymaking Process

Hay farming in Kenya is best done after the short and long rains, which is May to July  – for the long rains, and October to November – for the short ones. The idea is to grow forage when the rains prevail, then make the hay once the rains cease.

Climate change is, however, making it hard to track weather patterns. You might find the long rains declining, and the short rains delaying until January. To thrive in hay farming, take the initiative to study weather patterns in your area. Over time, you will learn to predict the rains, just like other old-timers.

Alternatively, you can invest in an irrigation system and drying system that allows you to do away with the weather. Such systems might, however, require a lot of investment to set up and maintain.

Enough ranting! Let’s delve into the haymaking process. Hay farming can be broken down into two phases. Let’s name them the forage growth phase and the harvesting phase.

The Forage Growth Phase

1) Prepare the land

Till the land and analyze its pH and nutrient levels. The best soil pH for hay farming is 6.5 to 7. You can use lime to increase pH or gypsum to lower it.

Grass hay requires sufficient nitrogen to grow, while legume hay requires phosphorus and potassium. Seek advice from a soil analyst to ensure the land is in the best condition. You can add fertilizer or manure to improve the land’s yield.

Seeding

Scatter your seeds on the tilled land. You can seed by hand, with a seeder, or with a grain drill. After scattering, rake lightly to bury the seeds, then water immediately. With a seeder, you can seed more evenly compared to seeding by hand.

Forage growth

Forage grows best in a land with sufficient moisture and nutrients. Water at least three times a day for the first ten days. After ten days, you can slow down to watering once per day.

Inspect your farm at least twice a week. Check for pests like alfalfa weevils, blister beetles and potato leafhoppers. You can use a non-toxic repellent or insecticide to prevent an infestation. A non-toxic method of control is advisable if you plan to sell or use the bales to feed livestock. Alternatively, you can harvest earlier than usual to prevent further infestation.

The Harvesting Phase

The fodder for making hay is harvested just before blooming – when flowering begins. Quality is highest during this time. Harvesting earlier might lead to low yield, while harvesting later will result in a less nutritious stem. The best time for harvest is when the day is hot and dry.

Mowing

The harvesting phase begins with mowing (which is just a fancy word for cutting). You can mow by hand – with a scythe, machete or sickle, or with a mower.

Drying

This step is also known as curing. Drying forage will take 2-3 days when the environment is hot and dry. You can widen the swath (the cut forage) to enable faster drying. You will start to notice the forage colour change from green to pale yellow or brown.

Tedding

Spread or overturn the partially dried forage to enable even drying. Tedding hastens the drying process by exposing the lower and middle patches to sunlight. You can either spread manually or with a tedder.

Windrowing

Windrowing is done when the swath is almost dry. Narrow the swath into windrows to enable baling. You can windrow manually with a rake or use a wheel hay rake.

Baling

Windrowed hay being baled. Courtesy of Jed Owen; Unsplash.com

Baling is the last step of making hay. The windrowed hay is picked, compressed and bound with twine. Most hay farmers in Kenya prefer baling the small square bales. They are easier to carry and are ideal for small herds of livestock.

The size of the bales will depend on the baler you use. Most small square bales weigh 18 to 28kgs, while round bales weigh 363 to 681kgs.

Transportation and Storage

Courtesy of Ryan Grady; Unsplash

The best moisture content levels are 15% to 20%. If the moisture levels are higher, you can allow the bales to sit in the field and dry some more. If not, you can transport and store the bales into a hayloft, barn or warehouse.

How Profitable is Hay Farming in Kenya?

Hay farming in Kenya is profitable, especially if you have a large parcel of land. The more acres you use, the more profits you stand to accrue because you can take advantage of economies of scale. The initial cost of purchasing equipment will take much of your investment. Though afterwards, you can begin making back the money.

Let’s do some quick math at what you stand to gain if you venture into hay farming. With all factors constant, an acre can produce 200 to 250 small square bales. One square bale goes for ksh150 to ksh250 on a regular season. During high seasons, the price can go as high as ksh350.

Total revenue in one season can be approximately ksh30000 to ksh50000, and in high seasons, ksh70000. The production cost stands at ksh15000 to ksh20000 under normal conditions, and harvesting occurs twice a year. To sum up, in one season, you can make a markup of approximately ksh15000 to ksh30000.

Can You Market Hay on Kilimogram?

Yes. Kilimogram is an online marketing platform that gives farmers access to the resources needed to thrive in agriculture. In our platform, you can source for the farming resources you want. Then after harvest, you can market your hay with us. Just sign up and register as a vendor. Once your account is approved, you can market your hay for Free. Yes, I mean for free.

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