Feed and Fodder | EXPLOREit @ ICRISAT /sites/all/themes/icrisat
Topics   » Feed and Fodder
Feed and Fodder
Cattle eating feeding blocks made of sorghum stovers, Hyderabad, India.

Grain legumes and dryland cereals are not only important for the food security of millions of smallholder farmers in drylands. They can be cultivated as animal feed. Crop residues ( such as stovers, straws and haulms) provide  good fodder resources. As feeding livestock could be a challenge but also a driver of rural development in developing countries, crop breeders are now searching for dual purpose  (food and fodder) improved varieties.

600 million - Number of poor smallholder farmers whose livelihoods depends on livestock

2/3 -  Extent of global population that  lives in mixed crop-livestock farming systems 

80% -  Population in developing countries dependent on mixed systems as the main livelihood

40% - Share of crop residues in livestock feed resources in Indiain. This could rise to 70% by 2020

2-3 tons -  Farmers yield of crop residues per hectare, the equivalent of mulch requirement in conservation agriculture in the SAT

Tackling livestock feed insecurity

Livestock is an important component of farming systems in developing countries, directly supporting the livelihoods of 600 million poor smallholder farmers (source: Thornton Philip, 2010). Livestock improves smallholder farmers’ livelihoods, generating incomes, providing draft power and organic manure, and the addition of modest amounts of meat, milk or fish in the household diet can have substantial health benefits.

Currently, livestock is one of the fastest growing agricultural subsectors in developing countries. But this so-called “livestock revolution” also means more pressure on land and water resources to feed this increasing numbers of animal. 

Agricultural research needs to develop fodder innovations to millions of small livestock farmers, many of them landless. The situation differs for each farming system, and solutions may involve changes in farming practices within farms, or trade exchange between cultivators and livestock farmers.

Importance of crop residues as animal feed source

Crop residues, such as straw, stovers or haulm from cereal or grain legume crops, are already an important source of fodder in India, providing more than 40 per cent of the available dry matter for feeding livestock. Some experts estimate this could rise to 70 per cent by 2020. A survey conducted in 9 countries across SSA and South Asia, showed that crop residues account for up to 60% of the total livestock diet in mixed systems (Valbuena et al).

Crop residues however, especially from cereals, are often of low nutritional quality which affects the productivity of cattle and buffalo. Farmers may reject new sorghum and pearl millet varieties that had been improved only for grain yields, because of low stover quantity and quality (Kelley et al., 1996).

Increasing fodder quality of crop residues

In the 1980's and 1990's livestock nutritionists focused on post harvest interventions trying to promote technologies for improving the nutritive quality of crop residues by chemical, physical or biological treatments. However, except for chopping, farmers did not adopt these innovations because of the labour and input costs of chemical treatments. Breeding crops that yield more crop residues which give higher fodder quality is more promising.

Dual-purpose crops, which produce high grain yields and nutritionally-rich residues, allow crop breeders to address the problem of poor fodder quality while also reducing land and water competition, and fit well in India where many smallholder farmers run a mixed livestock-crop system.

Studies on various key crops such as sorghum (R.Reddy and Blummel, 2010) and groundnut (Nigam and Blummel,2010) show important variation of crop residues yields, up to 2 or 3 tons per hectare, and of fodder quality. For sorghum stover, a difference of 5 to 10% in vitro organic matter digestibility units was noted among best grain yielding sorghum varieties.  

Better feed quality means greater livestock productivity. ICGV 91114 groundnut variety, introduced in Andhra Pradesh, India, is an early maturing, high yielding and drought-tolerant groundnut variety, which produced 15 % higher pod yields, 17 % more haulm and better quality fodder compared to the locally grown variety. After giving their cows and buffalo the improved fodder, dairy farmers noticed an immediate impact as their milk production increased by 11%. The combination of increase of grain yield, crop residue yield and better crop residue fodder quality, even if relatively small,  as in the case ICGV 91114, facilitate adoption of these cultivars by farmers.

Indicators of stover quality have now been incorporated into the sorghum and millet breeding programmes.  Together with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), ICRISAT is for instance looking at introducing dual purpose crop breeding especially for sorghum in African and Asian countries. 

The increasing importance and demand for crop residues as fodder is reflected in three major trends:

  • Farmers’ preferences for crop varieties with crop residues of high fodder quality;
  • Higher market price for crop residues with a higher feed quality. For example in India sorghum stover is now sold for up to 50 to 60% of the grain price on an equal dry matter weight basis.; and
  • Higher livestock productivity with crop residues with a higher feed quality. 
Trade-offs between animal feeding and soil fertility
  • Crop residues are important for soil fertility

Incorporating crop residues into the soil helps to preserve soil health, especially in the semi-arid tropics where soils are often at an advanced state of erosion and nutrient depletion following permanent cropping, low fertilizer application under conditions of poor access to inputs and limited manure application. Covering the soil with a layer of straw and other crop residues (mulching) prevents from soil erosion, limits weeds and improves soil health.

However, smallholder crop-livestock systems across Africa and Asia could face trade-offs among various options for crop residue use. In conservation agriculture, to enhance soil health, one key principle is to incorporate crop residues into the soil.  A recent study between South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa found that in places where biomass production was low, farmers rely on crop residues to feed their livestock especially in dry season. Depending on crop and livestock intensification, the supply and demand for crop residues as animal feed vary between regions (Tui et al).

Disseminating dual purpose crops need to aim at the regions where it could be in demand but also entails setting up the right approach for adoption  among small herders and farmers, eg local innovation platforms.

Crop residues can be used as feed or to fertilize soil.
Cattle eating groundnut haulm in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, India
Cattle eating feeding blocks made of sorghum stalks, Andhra Pradesh.