International Bamboo and Rattan Organization

International Bamboo and Rattan Organization

Bamboo leaves: an alternative food source for dairy cattle


Bamboo leaves: an alternative food source for dairy cattle

A recently published study from Madagascar investigates the potential for using bamboo leaves as an alternative source of fodder for dairy cattle during the dry season’s feed shortages, writes Eilif Ronning.

In Madagascar, agriculture is one of the main forms of employment with 74% of the working population engaged in agricultural activities, including dairy farming. The Vakinankaratra region in the country’s central highlands is responsible for 80% of national milk production; however food shortages during the seven-month dry season, which lasts from from April to November, threaten milk production and farmer’s food security. Drawing on previous research conducted in South America and Africa, a team working out of the Rural Development and Applied Research Centre in Agriculture and Livestock in Antsirabe investigated the feasibility of supplementing Malagasy dairy cattle diets with bamboo leaves.

In many countries, bamboo shoots and leave are a normal part of the diet of many farm animals. In this picture from 2013, a goat enjoys a snack of some bamboo leaves in Ethiopia.

Naturally occurring across Madagascar’s central highlands and coastal regions, bamboo is already an integral component of many agroecosystems. Bamboo cultivation is a low-input system with great rewards, providing a variety of benefits as building materials, to prevent soil erosion and, potentially, providing feed for livestock. Bamboo can easily be incorporated into existing agricultural landscapes as is it suited to a variety of soil types and does not generally require irrigation.

The study, funded by INBAR, examined the impacts of mixing maize silage with bamboo leaves from two bamboo species – Bambusa vulgaris and Dendrocalamus giganteus – on cattle’s milk production. These two bamboo species were selected from a group of nine after investigating factors including crude protein, dry matter, and fibre contents. Determining the nutritional quality of bamboo leaves is an important step in creating a balanced diet for dairy cattle and help increase understanding of how this multipurpose resource can be implemented. According to the authors, “bamboo leaves can provide an important component of [cattle] diets and enable the maintenance of the animal performance through the year, especially during seasons of fodder shortage” (Andriarimalala et al., 2019).

“Bamboo leaves can provide an important component of [cattle] diets and enable the maintenance of the animal performance through the year, especially during seasons of fodder shortage”

Not only could the use of bamboo leaves as fodder increase farmer’s economic and food security by ensuring milk production, but also by reducing costs. The authors remark that using forage resources that are high in protein, such as some bamboo species, can reduce the costs of milk production. Additionally, if they are incorporated into the local agricultural landscapes, they can be locally available thereby reducing potential transport costs.

Ultimately, the study found that the consumption of bamboo leaves allowed the cows to continue milk production during the dry season and had no significant effect on milk production compared to a diet of maize silage. In fact, the high protein and nutrient contents of the bamboo leaves complement the energy content of the maize improving the cows’ digestion quality. However, the authors note that further studies should be made on the optimal time to harvest bamboo leaves, as their fibre content varies during different stages.

Though there is further research to be done, it seems that using bamboo leaves to diversify their cattle’s feed and ensure its sufficiency could better ensure Malagasy dairy farmers’ food security.

To read the original article published in English in the Brazilian journal Pesquisa Agropecuária Tropical (Agricultural Research in the Tropics), click here.

If you have further questions about this research, please contact INBAR staff member and co-author Jayaraman Durai.