Livestock Research for Rural Development 30 (12) 2018 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

A review of the effects of quality forage supplementation on growth performance of cattle and goats fed elephant grass basal diet

Muhammad Rusdy

Department of Forage Science and Grassland Management Faculty of Animal Science, Hasanuddin University, Indonesia


Elephant grass is well known because of its high dry matter yield potential but generally its quality .is low, especially when it is harvested at advanced stage of growth. In order to increase the growth performance of ruminants fed elephant grass basal diet, supplementation with quality forage is recommended. This review discussed the effect of supplementation of several quality forages on growth performance of cattle and goat fed on elephant grass basal diet. In cattle, supplementation of Leucaena, Gliricidia, Calliandra, Sesbania and Lucerne improved the growth performance of cattle fed on old elephant grass basal diet withLeucaena is the best supplement. In goats, Moringa, Leucaena, Gliricidia and Flemingia supplementation improved the growth performance with Moringa is the best supplement. In countries that protected from mimosine toxicity, growth performance of cattle and goat increased up to high levels of Leucaena supplementation, while in countries not protected from mimosine toxicity, supplementation with high levels of Leucaena is detriment to growth performance. Feed efficiency of goats fed with sole elephant grass is lower than cattle. It can be concluded that supplementation with quality forage leaves is very beneficial to increase growth performance of cattle and goats fed low quality elephant grass.

Keywords: animal production, Napier grass, nutritious forages


In many developing countries of the tropics, productivity of ruminant animals is largely limited by seasonal availability of quality feeds. During the rainy season, pasture plants grow rapidly and, although their nutritive value is quite high at the beginning of rainy season, they mature rapidly during the dry season with resulting in decline of their nutritive value. Consequently, during the dry season, the farmers are forced to feed their animals with crop residues or standing hay that low in nutritive value, which lead to reduced feed intake, poor growth, delayed sexual maturity, and low milk yields (Gebregiorgis et al 2012). In densely populated areas of Indonesia, the shortage of feeds is aggravated by shrinking of grassland area as results of increasing land area for food and industrial crops, housing and industrial areas.

In Indonesia, to alleviate the problems, the government has been promoting the farmers to cultivate elephant grass, a grass that has high dry yield potential and wide adaptation to many climatic and soil conditions. This grass is commonly fed to ruminant animals in the stall feeding system. Presently, elephant grass is the most widely cultivated fodder in Indonesia.

As animal feed, elephant grass has been subjected to review (Rusdy 2016). In general, although it is harvested at proper intervals, this grass only can support low levels of animal production. This is attributed to the its high levels of NDF and ADF and low levels of crude protein and digestibility. Improvement of animal production from the low quality elephant could be conducted through supplementation with concentrate or high quality forages like legume and several other forages. In most tropical areas, the use of commercial concentrate is limited by high cost and unavailability. The use of quality forage leaves as supplement is more promising, because besides they are cheaper, they also contain low levels of fiber and higher levels of crude protein and some minerals. Many quality forages like tree legumes also more resistant to drought conditions, so availability of feeds can be more guaranteed throughout the year. Recent research also indicates that forage-fed animals have more health benefit than grain-fed animals (Axe, 2018).

WWith increasing of animal products demand in developing countries, there is increasing interest in the use of quality forage as supplement to improve the productivity of ruminants fed on low quality forage like old elephant grass. Although there are many high quality forage species have been fed to ruminants in the tropics, there is limited review concerning the effect of supplementation of these forages to ruminants fed on low quality elephant grass. The objective of this paper was to review the recent and relevant work concerning the use of quality forages to improve the growth performance of cattle and goat fed elephant grass basal diet.

Growth performance of cattle and goats fed sole elephant grass diets

Animal production from sole elephant grass diet under zero grazing is generaly low. Muinga et al (1992) reported live weight losses of 165 and 490 g/day in dairy cows when they were fed elephant grass with the height of 1.00 and 1.50 m, respectively. In Indonesia, Antari et al (2016) reported daily gain of 0.18, 0.26 and 0.11 kg/head in cattle breed of Ongole, Limousine – Ongole and Brahman fed diets with crude protein, NDF and ADF values of 7.40, 69.3 and 44.8%, respectively. Odhiambo (1974) reported daily gain of 0.34 kg when cattle fed elephant grass with age of 12 weeks. The higher daily gain was reported Kariuki et al (1998) who reported daily gain of 0.5 kg/head and the highest daily gain was reported in Kenya by Kaitho and Kariuki (1998) who reported average daily gain of 1.00 kg/head with sole elephant grass harvested at 7 weeks of regrowth (Table 1). However, this daily gain of 1.00 kg/head needs to be read with caution, because the protein and NDF content of elephant grass the authors used were 8.5 and 62.7%, respectively.

Due to lower their lower genetic potential for growth, dry matter intake and daily gain of goats fed sole elephant grass were lower than cattle. Dry matter intake and daily gain of goats fed sole elephant grass ranged from 281 to 591 g/day and - 19 to 16 g, respectively, while in cattle dry matter intake ranged from 5.20 to 8.49 kg/day and daily gain ranged from 0.31 to 1.00 kg, respectively (Table 1 and 2). Goats also showed lower feed efficiencies when fed sole elephant grass than cattle. Regardless of work of Kaitho and Kariuki (1998), average feed efficiency in cattle was 0.06 and goats was 0.05 (Table 1 and 2). This indicates that goats did not use elephant grass as well as cattle. This might be attributed to differences in physiology of digestion between the two species of animals. This is in line with Brown and Johnson (1985) that goats was less efficient in digesting low quality forages because they have smaller reticulo-rumen and shorter ruminal retention and therefore satisfy their nutrient requirements by higher intake. However, it is very difficult to draw a concrete conclusion as the data size is small.

Effects of quality forage supplementation on cattle growth performance

With quality forage supplementation, growth performance of cattle improved. The use of legume forages of Leucaena, Gliricidia, Calliandra, Sesbania, Desmodium, Sesbania and lucerne as supplement to cattle fed old elephant grass basal diets increased dry matter intake, daily weight gain and feed efficiency (Table 1). Desmodium distortum supplemented to dairy cows given elephant grass basal diet had also been reported to increase feed intake and milk yield of the animals (Mitimura et al 2018). Dry matter intake, digestibility and milk yield also increased when Mucuna prurens was supplemented to dairy cattle fed elephant grass basal diets (Nyambati et al 2003).

Table 1. Dry matter intake, live weight gain and feed efficiency of cattle fed elephant grass ((EG) and supplemented with quality forages


EG, harvest

Quality forage

DM intake (kg/day)

Live Weight gain (kg/day)

Feed efficiency* (kg/kg)





Beef cattle, BW of 173 kg

1.0 m height

(g DM/kg MW0.75)

Abdulrazak et al 1996



















(g DM/kg MW075)



















Beef cattle, BW of 271 kg

Age was not recorded

Young EG 100%Old EG +

-Sesbania 25% -Calliandra 25%

-Desmodium 25%




Kaitho and Kariuki,1998










Dairy cattle, BW of 170.1 kg

Harvest at 6 wks old

EG 100% EG + 1.5 kg lucerne




Kariuki et al 1999




Harvest at 12 wks old

EG 100%
EG+ 1.5 kg lucerne







EG + 2.5 kg lucerne




* Calculated from daily gain/daily intake

The positive effect of legume forage supplementations on intake and growth of ruminants could be attributed to the their high protein and energy contents. Protein supplementation to cattle fed low-quality grass has been reported to enhance the growth of fibrolytic bacteria, and increases the ruminal degradation and voluntary intake. The high protein and fermentable energy contents of legumes might contribute to higher digestibility and eventually having positive effect on daily gain. This is in line with Minson and Milford (1967) that legume supplementation of grass diets with less than 7% crude protein has been shown to increase dry matter intake and animal performance. The differential effects of each legume species supplementation on animal performance might be attributed to the different nutrient and anti-nutrient contents of each legume species.

Except for lucerne supplementation, Gliricidia supplementation resulted in lower feed intake in cattle (Table 1). The low acceptability of Gliricidia by ruminants has been suggested as a contributing factor towards its lower intake (Tjandraatmadja et al 1993). The higher NDF value of Gliricidia (49.5%) than Leucaena (46.9%) (Abdulrazak et al 1996) might also be a causative factor for the lower intake of Gliricidia. The lower DM intake and even daily gain make feed efficiencies of Gliricidia were lower than Leucaena (Table 1).

Of all legumes studied, Leucaena showed the best supplement, because it resulted in highest daily gain and feed efficiency (Table 1). The higher daily gain and feed efficiency of Leucaena over Gliricidia also was reported by Abdulrazak et al 2006). This might be attributed to the its higher bypass protein contents of Leucaena compared to Gliricidia.

Cattle performance tended to increase with increasing levels ofLeucaena and Gliricidia supplementation (up to 30 g DM/MW 0.75) (Table 1). However, it needs further study to investigate the effect of higher levels of the two legumes supplementation, especially Leucaena supplementation on performance of cattle. This study is very important in countries where ruminants is not protected from mimosine toxicity. In not protected country like Bangladesh, Chowdhury (1997) reported that in bulls fed rice straw basal diet, the total dry matter intake showed diminishing return to increasing levels of Leucaena supplementation and the maximum intake was observed at around 20% Leucaena level. In countries where cattle protected from mimosine toxicity, the optimum levels of Leucaena supplementation seems to be higher. In Indonesia, Wahyuni et al  (1982) supplemented Leucaena at 0, 20, 40, 60, and 100% levels to cattle fed natural grass basal diet reported that 60% Leucaena was the best level because it yielded the highest weight gain. Further, Pamungkas et al  (2011) reported that weaned male Bali cattle fed Leucaena 100% consumed the highest daily matter intake (2.5 kg), daily gain (0.24 kg), and the lowest feed conversion (7.54) compared to commercial feed or mixture of commercial feed and Leucaena.

With Gliricidia supplementation, the highest growth performance of cattle was achieved when they fed elephant grass at 30 g DM/MW 0.75 (Table 1). Also, it needs further study to determine the optimum level of Gliricidia in cattle fed old elephant grass basal diets. Preston and Leng (1987) reported that the growth rate of steers in Columbia fed on King grass supplemented with Gliricidia increased curvilinearly with supplementation level, with the highest growth rate at 50% Gliricidia (fresh basis). This different optimum level of Gliricidia may be attributed to the difference in quality of basal feed used.

Effects of quality forage supplementation on goat growth performance

Growth performance of goats fed elephant grass and supplemented with Leucaena leaves differed widely (Table 2). Work from Indonesia (Yates and Panggabean 1998) and Malaysia (Devendra 1982) indicate that with high levels of Leucaena supplementation, dry matter intake, live weight gain and feed efficiency increased.. In contrast, work from Uganda indicate that with high levels of Leucaena supplementation fed elephant grass based diet, live weight gain and feed efficiency of goats were negative (Lopenga et al 2009), Semenye (1990) also reported that in Kenya, when goats fed sole Leucaena from birth to mature, they exhibited Leucaena toxicity signs. These different results might be attributed to the different response of goats to mimosine toxicity present in Leucaena. Ruminants in several counties like Indonesia Malaysia, Thailand, Vanuatu, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Mexico are protected from mimosine toxicity (Halliday et al 2013) , while ruminants from other countries like Papua New Guinea, Australia, some other Pacific island and African countries are not protected from mimosine toxicity (Sethi and Kulkarni 2018). Presence of certain bacteria in the rumen of protected animals may degrade mimosine to non-poisonous substances.

Table 2. Dry matter intake, live weight gain and feed efficiency of goats fed elephant grass (EG) supplemented with quality forages


EG, age at harvest

Quality forage supple- mentation

Dry matter intake (g/day)

Live weight gain (g/day)

Feed efficiency* (g/g)





Goats, BW of 12.3 kg

Harvest- ed at 6 weeks of regrowth

Leucaena :

Yates and Panggabean, 1988








- 0.01













Harvest-ed at 4-5 weeks of regrowth

Leucaena :

Devendra, 1982

















Goats, BW of 12.28 kg

Age was not recorded

EG 100%



0 .03

Mpairwe et al 2003

EG + 300 g/d Gliricidia






EG +150 g +Gliricidia + 150 g/d Leucaena






Goats, BW of 14.7 kg

Age of 4 – 6 months

EG 100%


- 3.1


Lopenga et al 2009

Leucaena 100%




Goats, BW of 10 kg

Age of 3 – 4 months

EG 100%




Fujihara et al 2015

EG 70% + Flemingia 30%




Goats, BW
6.98 kg

Age was not recorded

Moringa foliage

Sultana et al 2015





















* Calculated from daily gain/ DM intake

Goats supplemented with 300 g/day Gliricidia exhibited higher dry matter intake and daily gain than goats fed on mixture of 150 g Gliricidia and 150 g Leucaena (Mpairwe et al 2003) (Table 1). This indicates that supplementation of Leucaena at 150 g level had negative effect on goats performance. It is suggested that supplementation Leucaena at that level, rumen bacteria could not degrade mimosine and DHP to non-poisonous substances, as commonly found in goats raised in African countries.

In the present review, supplementation Gliricidia, Flemingia, Moringa and Leucaena improved growth performance of goats, but non-leguminous plant of Moringa was more efficient when used as supplement than the other legumes (Table 2). The higher performance of goats fed basal diets mixture of guinea grass – cassava and supplemented with Moringa (Morus sp.) over Gliricidia or Leucaena had also reported by Adegun et al (2011). Babiker et al (2017) reported the higher growth performance of goats fed Moringa than fed alfalfa hay. Feed efficiency of goats fed Moringa was comparable with goats fed Digitaria decumbens hay basal diet and supplemented with 50 : 50% mixture of mulberry leaves and commercial concentrate (0.11) (Miller et al 2018). The higher animal performance of goats fed Moringa, both as supplement and sole diet could be, in part, be attributable to its better protein quality. Moringa had been reported to contain high bypass protein (47% versus 30% and 41% for Gliricidia and Leucaena, respectively) (Becker, 1995). High proportions of bypass protein have been reported to result in higher weight gain in ruminant animals (Preston and Leng, 1987).



Abdulrazak S A, Muinga R W, Thorpe W and Orskov E R 1996 The effects of supplementation with Gliricidia sepium or Leucaena leucocephala forage on intake, digestion and live-weight gains of Bos Taurus x Bos indicus steers offered Napier grass. Animal Science, 63 : 381 – 388.

Abdulrazak S A, Kahindi R K and Muinga R W 2006 Effects of Madras thorn, Leucaena and Gliricidia supplementation on feed intake, digestibility and growth of goats fed Panicum hay. Livestock Res Rural Dev.; 18 (9).

Adegun M K, Aye P A and Dairo F A S 2011 Evaluation of Moringa oleifera, Gliricidia sepium and Leucaena leucocephala based multinutrient blocks as feed supplement for sheep in south western Nigeria. Agriculture and Biology Journal of North America. 2 (11) : 1395 – 1401.

Antari R, Ningrum G P, Pamungkas D, Mayberry D E, Marsetyo and Poppi D P 2016 Growth rates and feed conversion rate of Ongole, Limousin-Ongole and Brahman bulls fed elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum). Livestock Research for Rural Development.

Axe J 2018 Grass-fed benefit, nutrition benefit. Accessed 14 August, 2018.

Babiker E E, Fahad A L, Ghafoor K and Abdoun, K. 2017 Comparative study on feeding value of Moringa leaves as a partial replacement for alfalfa hay in ewes and goats. Livestock Science, 195 : 21 – 26.

Becker K 1995 Studies on utilization of Moringa oleifera leaves as animal feed. Institute for Animal Production in the Tropics and Subtropics 1995, Volume 480, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, pp 15.

Brown L E and Johnson W L 1985 Intake and digestibility of wheat straw diets by goats and sheep. Journal of Animal. Science, 60 : 1318 – 1323.

Chowdhury S A 1997 Effect of low levels Leucaena foliage supplementation on intake, nutrient digestibility and microbial N yield in cattle fed rice straw alone. Asian Australasian Journal of Animal Science, 10 (3) : 265 – 273.

Devendra C 1982 The nutritive value of Leucaena leucocephala cv.Peru in balance and growth studies with goats and sheep. Mardi Reseaarch Bulletin, 10 (2) : 138 – 150.

Fujihara T, Hayashida M, Cruz  E M and Orden EA 2015 Supplementing Napier grass (P. purpureum) with Flemingia foliage (F. macrophyla) and rice bran improves mineral status and growth performances of goats. Livestock Research for Rural Development, 27 (1).

Gebreiorgis F, Negesse T and Nurf eta A 2012 Feed intake and utilization in sheep fed graded levels of dried Moringa (Moringa stenopetala) leaf as a supplement to Rhodes grass hay. Tropical Animal Health and Production, 44 : 511 – 517.

Halliday M J, Padmanabha J, Mcsweeney C, Kerven G. and Shelton H M 2013 Leucaena toxicity: a new perspective on the most widely used forage tree legume. Tropical Grassland, 1 : 1 – 11.

Kaitho R J and Kariuki J N1998 Effects of Desmodium, Sesbania and Calliandra supplementation on growth of dairy heifers fed Napier grass basal diet. Asian Australasian Journal of Animal Sciene, 11 (6) : 680 – 684.

Kaitho R J, Ummuna N N, Nsahlai I V, Tamminga S and Bruchem J V 1998 Effects of feeding graded levels ofLeucaena leucocephala, Leucaena pallida, Sesbania sesban and Chamaecytisus palmensis supplements to teff straw given to Ethiopian highland sheep. Animal Feed Science and Technology, 72 (3-4) : 355 – 366.

Kariuki J N, Gachuiri C K, Gitau G K, Tamminga S, van Bruchem D, Muia J M K and Irungu K R G 1998 Effect of feeding napier grass, lucerne and sweet potato vines as sole diets to dairy heifers on nutrient intake, weight gain and rumen degradation. Livestock Production Science, 55 (1) : 13 -20.

Kariuki J N, Tamminga S, Gitau G K, Gachui C K and Muia J M K 1999 Performance of Sahiwal and Friesian heifers fed on Napier grass supplemented with graded levels of lucerne. South African Journal of Animal Science, 29 (1) : 1 – 10.

Lopenga K O, Ebong C and Asibo O 2009 Growth performance and feed utilization by intact male goats fed various supplements with elephant grass. Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advance, 8 (10) : 1999 – 2003).

Miller D, Mc Donald D and Asiedu F 2018 The effect of Mulberry leaf meal on growth performance of weaner goats in Jamaica.

Minson D J and Milford R 1967 The voluntary intake and digestibility of diets containing different proportions of legume and mature Pangola (Digitaria decumbens). Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, 7 : 546 – 551.

Mitimura M, Ebong C, Rao I M and Nsahlai I V 2018 Effects of supplementation of Brachiria brizantha cv. Piata and Napier grass with Desmodium distortum on feed intake, digesta kinetics and milk production in crossbred dairy cows. Animal Nutrition. 4 (2) : 222 – 227.

Muinga R W, Thorpe W and Topps, J H 1992 Voluntary feed intake, live-weight change and lacatio performance of crossbred dairy cows given ad libitum Pennisetum purpureum (Napier grass cv Bana) supplemented with leucaena forage in the lowland semi-humid tropics. Anim. Sci. 33 (5) : 331 – 337.

Mpairwe D R, Mutetikka D and Tsumbira E 2003 Utilisation of Gliricidia and maize bran or their mixtures with Leucaena leucocephala as supplement to growing indigenous goats (Mubende type) fed elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum). Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances, 2 (4) : 202 – 208.

Nyambati E M, Sollenberg L E and Kunkle W E 2003 Feed intake and lactation performance of dairy cows offered Napier grass supplemented with legume hay. Livestock Production Science, 83 (2-3) : 179 – 189

Odhiambo J F 1974 The nutritive value of various growth stages of Pennisetum purpureum. East African Agriculture and Forestry Journal, 39 : 325 – 329.

Pamungkas D, Anggraeni Y N, Kusmantono, Hartutuik, Quigley S and Poppi D P 2011 Penggunaan daun Lamtoro (L. leucocephala) dalam ransum terhadap konsumsi, kecernaan dan pertambahan bobot badan sapi Bali jantan lepas sapih (English summary) Seminar Nasional Teknologi Peternakan dan Veteriner 2011 p. 200 – 206.

Preston T R and Leng R A 1987 Matching livestock systems to available feed resources in the tropics and subtropics. Penambul Books, Armidale, Australia.

Rusdy M 2016 Elephant grass as forage for ruminant animals. Livestock Research for Rural Development. Volume 28, Article #49

Semenye P P 1990 Toxicity responses of goats fed Leucaena leucocephala forage only. Small Ruminant Research. 6 : 617 – 620.

Sethi P and Kulkarni P R 2018 Leucaena leucocephala: A nutrition profile 2016. unupress/food/ 8F163e/8F163E08.htm. Accessed on February 5, 2018.

Sultana N, Alimon A R, Huque K S, Baba M and Hossain J 2015 Evaluation of Moringa foliage as goat feed. Iranian Journal of Applied Animal Science.5 (4) : 865 – 871.

Tjandraatmadja M, Macrae I C and Norton B W 1993 Digestion by sheep of silages prepared from mixtures of tropical grasses and legumes. Journal of Agricultural Science ; 120 : 407 – 415.

Wahyuni S, Yulianti E S, Komara W, Yates N G, Obst J M and Lowry J B 1982 The performance of Ongole cattle offered either grass, sun-dried Leucaena leucocephala at varying proportions of each. Tropical Animal Production, 7 : 275 – 283.

Yates N G and Panggabean T 1988 The performance of goats offered elephant grass ( Pennisetum purpureum) with varied amounts of Leucaena or concentrate. Tropical Grassland, 22 (3) : 126 – 131.

Received 9 August 2018; Accepted 10 October 2018; Published 2 December 2018

Go to top