Forage You Can Bank On

In subhumid Africa's pastoral areas, the dry season often means lean times for grazing animals. With some management these hungry months can be avoided, through the adoption of fodder banks and intensive feed gardens. These are high-quality feed grown and maintained in a protected area to be used when other grazing sources are low or depleted. Fodder banks consist of legumes. Intensive feed gardens entail the cultivation of leguminous fodder trees, sometimes grown in combination with grasses. Initially developed in Nigeria, fodder banks and intensive feed gardens are successfully being adopted by pastoralists in Nigeria and other West African countries. Researchers at the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) are working on ways to improve these practices.

Fodder Banks

Species Selection. Important fodder species selection criteria are disease and drought resistance, and good seed production. Varieties now being used by ILCA include Stylosanthes hamata, Cassia rotundifolia, and Centrosema pascuorum. S. hamata, a self-seeding legume, is already used by pastoralists in West Africa with good results. C. rotundifolia is a small, semi-erect, thick bush that grows close to the ground, provides quick ground cover, and suppresses weeds. C. pascuorum is a creeping legume with good seed production; it is an efficient nitrogen producer but requires careful management.

Management. ILCA recommends corralling cattle on the site prior to planting a fodder bank. Studies on S. hamata and C. pascuorum indicate that grazing every three to nine weeks produces optimal yields of crude protein and dry matter. Grazing management was a serious problem in on-farm trials. Fodder banks were overgrazed, instead of being used as a diet supplement.

Planting maize or a cereal crop in fodder banks every two of three years improves both fodder quality and yields of the alternating crop. Nitrogen can build up in the soil, encouraging weed growth, which reduces forage quality. Periodic cropping reduces nitrogen build-up and increases crop yields. Studies show that crops planted in fodder banks have greater yields than crops planted on a natural fallow.

When the number of animals to be grazed is small and can feed on one fodder bank simultaneously, labor requirements do not increase. When the herd is large and only part of the herd can be grazed on the fodder bank at any one time, labor requirements increase because an additional person is required to tend the rest of the herd.

Intensive Feed Gardens

Intensive feed gardens (IFG) are fodder production systems that combine grasses and trees in an enclosed area. They are particularly appropriate where land is scarce, as they maximize the use of space, or in locations with compulsory confinement of animals. The combination of trees with grasses permits year round fodder harvesting. With most tropical grasses, protein content is satisfactory for animal production for about 4 months of the year. Also as grass matures it becomes more fibrous and less digestible. Tree fodder maintains its protein content and digestibility throughout the year.

Management. Two tree species recommended by ILCA are Leucaena leucocephala and Gliricidia sepium. These species do not grow well on acid soils where liming the soil or using adapted varieties is necessary to establish an IFG.

An area 10x10m is sufficient for three to five animals to graze. Recommended spacing between tree rows is 4m, with four rows of grass between the trees. In an IFG containing only trees, spacing should be 1m between rows and 25cm in-row spacing. After the initial eight to12 months, cutting back trees every 10 to 12 weeks optimizes productivity. Grasses are ready for cutting (grazing) eight weeks after planting and should then be cut every eight to 12 weeks.

Dietary Benefits. Supplementing a basal diet of grass with L. leucocephala and G. sepium has shown to increase the productivity of small ruminants by 55%. Gliricidia can replace up to 100% of the diet for small ruminants. Leucaena can supplement up to 40% of the diet for small ruminants; intake greater than 40% risks toxicity.

Fodder banks are growing in popularity at a greater rate than IFGs, because of the need for a tree tolerant to acidic soils. Research is being done to identify a suitable indigenous browse species for IFGs, jointly carried out by ILCA and Nigeria’s National Animal Production Institute (NAPRI).

von Kaufmann, R. (1988). Forage outreach in subhumid West Africa. ILCA Newsletter (April 1988)7(2): 7.

Neate, P. (1987). Fodder trees: Broadening the scope. ILCA Newsletter(Jan. 1987) 6(1): 7.

For more information:

Ralph von Kaufmann
ILCA, P.O. Box 2248
Kaduna, Nigeria.

Dr. M.A. Jabbar
P.M.B. 5320
Ibadan, Nigeria