Napier grass [Pennisetum purpureum (Schum.)] is the most popular perennial fodder recommended for smallholder crop-livestock farming systems in Kenya, where 80% of the national milk output is produced. The emergence of new diseases resulting in DM yield losses signals the need to develop alternatives to currently grown cultivars. Eight new cultivars (Kakamega 1, Kakamega 3, Machakos hairless, Uganda L14, Soghor Nandi L13, Kitui L7, Ex-Mariakani and Kakamega 8) were compared to four currently grown cultivars (Bana, French Cameroon, Clone 13 and Pakistan Hybrid) in the sub-humid highlands of northwestern Kenya for two growing seasons. Agronomic measurements were made on DM yield, tiller number, length, diameter and angle, leaf length, width, hairiness and colour and disease incidence. Nutritional measurements were made on leaf to stem ratio, intake, milk yields and body condition of Friesian cows. Kakamega 1, and Kakamega 3 yielded similar (p > 0.05) DM yield as Clone 13, Bana and French Cameroon, which yielded more than 16 t ha-1 and greater (p < 0.05) than soghor Nandi L13, Kitui L7, Ex-Mariakani, Kakamega 8 and Pakistan hybrid. The tallest cultivars were Kakamega 1, Clone 13, and Kakamega 3 with 70, 69 and 61 cm, respectively. There was positive correlation (r = 0.65; p < 0.001) between tiller thickness and tiller length. There were no differences (p > 0.05) in DM intake between Bana, Kakamega 1, Kakamega 3 and Machakos hairless. Cows feeding on Kakamega 3 and Kakamega 1 Napier grass cultivars yielded similar (p > 0.05) milk as those fed Bana grass, but more (p < 0.05) than those fed Machackos hairless. Kakamega 1 and Kakamega 3 could be used as alternatives to the currently grown Bana grass in Kenya.
Key words: Napier grass, cultivars, DM, tillers, leaf, intake, milk.
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