If there is a forage crop that excites one successful goat raiser, it is a small leguminous tree that is popularly known as Indigofera.
This is a low-growing tree that was introduced into the country several years ago. We first heard of it being grown at the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center in Bansalan, Davao del Sur, in the late ‘80s.
Unfortunately, it was not one of the forage crops that local livestock experts recommended for propagation. It is said that the leaves were considered too tough for the farm animals.
But there is one fellow who firmly believes now that Indigofera is the forage tree that should be planted by more farmers to feed their goats and possibly their cattle, carabaos and even free-range chickens. He is Rene Almeda of the Alaminos Goat Farm in Laguna.
Rene and his sons Art and Toti are raising both meat type and milk type goats. And from their own experience, Indigofera is responsible for the high milk yield of their Saanen breed. Rene relates that local experts have warned them that the Saanen breed would not thrive in the Philippines because of the hot and humid environment.
What’s good with the Almedas is that they were challenged to prove the experts wrong. In May 2007, they imported 100 female Saanens and by November of that year, they started marketing their milk around Laguna. And by July 2008 the Almedas’ Milk Star fresh goat’s milk became the first fresh goat’s milk to be sold in leading supermarkets in Metro Manila.
The key to their success in milk production, according to Rene, is proper nutrition. They feed their animals with their own mixture of concentrates as well as a lot of legumes, particularly Indigofera.
Rene has been researching about legumes for animal feed and had come across a research study in Vietnam which said that Indigofera had a high protein content of more than 24 percent. That gave him the idea to plant Indigofera.
Their farm manager, Felino Serdan, is also one fellow who is observant. He noted that when he fed the dairy goats with a lot of Indigofera leaves, they produced more milk. The daily milk yield of the herd is recorded so it is easy to know if there is an increase in milk collected.
When Felino started feeding Indigofera in 2009 to the milking goats, there was not enough of it in the farm. That forced him to cut Indigofera every 30 days and this is where he discovered that this plant is a very fast-growing legume. Cutting it every 30 days also improved its palatability and digestibility. The Saanen goats love it and when the animals are happy they give more milk, Rene relates.
The milking goats are fed with about 800 grams of concentrates a day. The concentrate feed consists of ground corn (40 percent), rice bran (20 percent), copra (15 percent), molasses (10 percent), soya meal (8 percent) and vitamins and minerals. This formulation contains about 18 percent protein which is necessary for high milk production.
The 800 grams for one day feeding are divided into four. The first 200 grams is given at 6 o’clock in the morning. Once the feed is consumed, indigofera and some other leaves are given. This is repeated at 10’oclock, 2 o’clock and 6 o’clock p.m.
Why give the feeds four times? Rene points out that frequent feeding will keep the stomach of the animal filled with just the right amount. There will be no gap that will make the stomach empty. That way, digestion of the nutrients will be continuous. The beneficial microorganisms will be at work continuously.
One strategy that the Almedas adopted was to put up what they call the Alaminos Salad Garden for their goats. The salad garden consists of 30 long plots planted to forage crops, particularly Indigofera and a few other grasses and legumes.. This is where they harvest the leafy greens that they feed to their animals. One plot is harvested each day and fed to the goats in confinement.
There are important lessons they have learned while pursuing their salad garden for their goats. During the height of the El Nino phenomenon in 2010 they planted Indigofera and their companion forage crops. Because of the drought, they resorted to installing drip and sprinkler systems to irrigate the pasture area.
They realized soon enough that they were spending too much on electricity. That taught them to wait for the rainy season before planting Indigofera in their salad garden. During the dry months of March and April, the land was plowed and harrowed in preparation for planting as soon as the rains came. Rene said that clearing the land of unnecessary weeds gave the newly planted forage plants a good headstart. In preparation for the rainy season, Indigofera seeds were planted in seedling bags and plots during the dry season. Last May when the rains came, they planted directly the seeds in the prepared planting areas.
One more good thing about Indigofera is that once it is established at five months, it becomes very resistant to drought.
Rene is very upbeat about the performance of their dairy herd because of their salad garden. Adequate supply of legumes for their dairy goats and their young kids are now assured. He said , however, that they will have to expand their plantings of Indigofera so that the meat type goats like Boer and Anglo Nubian will also have enough supply of protein-rich legumes.
That’s no big deal now. They have a lot of Indigofera seeds for planting. Trees that are allowed to mature (not regularly pruned) will bear fruits with a lot of seeds.
Producing seeds for sale could also be another money-making project. One can grow Indigofera for seed production, for instance. The current price of seeds is P600 per kilo.
So, why not give Indigofera a second look? It could make you rich. – ZAC B. SARIAN