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With skyrocketing agricultural input costs and predictions that, despite ample rain, the next drought is on its way, producers are being forced to think outside the box. This is precisely what Dr Stoffel du Toit, a medical doctor from Bloemfontein and weekend farmer in Hopetown, did when the previous drought was at its worst.
He researched the value of prickly pears as a cheaper feed source and, after many trials and lessons, finally formulated a product that he uses to feed his sheep throughout the year.
He also found a natural fixative that prevents the pulp from fermenting any further, allowing him to extend its use. He makes feed blocks from the pulp, which cost him around half of what he pays for other feed blocks.
Stoffel involved several experts in his project, including Dr Herman Fouché, an agriculturist at the University of the Free State. Dr Fouché has been relaying the value of prickly pears as a feed supplement to producers for 20 years now. He says people often overlook the obvious – that the prickly pear is a hardy crop with more value than many realise.
Benefits of prickly pears
In addition to prickly pears being a delicacy, prickly pear seed oil has medicinal value and is used with great success to combat skin problems, as well as in beauty care. It is also an ideal source of nutrition for cattle and sheep.
Stoffel began by feeding prickly pear cladodes, or pads, to his animals, but on the advice of Dr Fouché, started chopping up and drying the pads before grinding it into a meal. “We use this meal instead of maize meal, which is very expensive. We replace 60% of the maize meal in the feed mix with prickly pear meal,” says Stoffel.
Processing into feed products
However, Stoffel did not like throwing away the prickly pear sap. “I searched for a solution to preserve the pulp by halting the fermentation process. With the help of Christopher Rothmann, a PhD candidate in food biotechnology at the University of the Free State, we found a fixative that could be used.”
While prickly pears are plentiful in January/February, allowing for increased processing, producers need to feed their livestock year-round. “Prickly pears have many uses, for example in silage, but my goal is a product that can provide all the necessary nutrients to animals throughout winter.”
He therefore built a machine that separates the seeds, peels and pulp. Initially he only used the pulp, but eventually realised the peels could be pulped as well. It improves the fructose:glucose ratio, which increases the product’s health benefits.
Nutritional value for production
By adding the fixative to the pulp, Stoffel can add a second ingredient that increases the product’s protein content. “Laboratory tests have shown that my prickly pear pads contain 6,5% protein. The extra ingredient I add increases the protein content to 20%. The sugar remains the same, but the protein value equals that of lucerne.”
Using scientific recipes from nutritionists, he can add different mixes to this base product, depending on the animals’ requirements. He produces 13 different types of feed blocks for his sheep in different stages of reproduction.
Dr Fouché says some of these recipes have been available for many years, but innovators such as Stoffel are still needed to convince livestock producers of the considerable value prickly pears can add to their fodder flow.
For more information, contact Dr Stoffel du Toit on 083 262 1152.