The life of a poultry or dairy farmer is no small feat.
Besides raising the livestock in a hygienic environment, it is imperative that the animals and birds receive a feed which is nutritious. However, most poultry and dairy farmers across the country hardly invest in anything other than ordinary roughage that rarely contains micronutrients.
After having observed the situation from a close range, and understanding its shortcomings, a third-year Biotechnology student from Kerala has come up with a unique solution that has the potential of revolutionising the livestock feed industry.
21-year-old Nikhil VM is a student of MET’s School of Engineering, in Mala (Thrissur district), and came up with the idea of utilising Azolla—an aquatic fern found abundantly across water bodies in India—as a livestock feed.
Besides possessing a high protein and mineral-rich content, the fern can grow quite rapidly across the water, which could come to the rescue of poultry and dairy farmers to reduce the financial burden of purchasing roughage.
“The idea struck because there are a lot of poultry and dairy farmers near our college. We see them every day. However, they were using ordinary livestock feed which had no micronutrients at all. So we thought of experimenting with Azolla,” said Nikhil to The Indian Express.
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With variants of both dried and green Azolla, Nikhil then took his genius of an idea to the Kerala Startup Mission (KSM), with ample encouragement from his college professor.
To receive approval and funding from KSM, Nikhil and his friends decided to take a practical approach and built a provisional tank on their college terrace to grow the fern. Procuring the seeds, however, was the toughest task for the students, who couldn’t find these anywhere. Fortunately, they were able to find a farmer who grew Azolla in a small tank and bought some from him.
Nikhil’s startup is now three-month-old venture which was mobilised through an initial funding of ₹5,000 offered by KSM to build bigger tanks to streamline faster production.
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To grow the fern, the students had to first mix crumbs of cow dung, soil, superphosphate and a micronutrient (the secret ingredient) in the water before they added the seeds to this concoction in the tank. Then, to test their idea, Nikhil and team added Azolla to the local poultry and cattle feed and freely distributed it to farmers in the vicinity for feedback.
Not only did the team receive a great response, but the dairy farmers also informed them that they had observed a 20 percent rise in milk production from one of the cows after she consumed the Azolla-supplemented feed.
The product can be added to any livestock feed that is consumed by chickens, cows, goats, and pigs. “Farmers don’t know the importance of Azolla. There’s no awareness. We want to go and tell them about its benefits,” Nikhil added.
While at present the student startup is not aiming to make a profit out of their venture, they soon intend to scale up production, in order to help more dairy and poultry farmers in Kerala.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)