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Shrub feeds boost livestock nutritional content 60%

Farmers can boost their livestock’s nutritional content by up to 60 per cent by growing various sets of easy-to-grow shrub feeds, unlike the less productive common nappier grass.

Apart from increasing yield on average by two litres per day, the shrubs would save farmers the large sums of money spent on commercial feeds.

The best options in Kenya and East Africa are:


Part of the pea family, Calliandra is a small, thornless shrub that grows up to 12m high from direct sowing, seedlings or stem cuttings.

It is best grown alongside other crops and grows well in a wide range of soil types, from deep volcanic loams to more acidic sandy clays. It is well adapted to acid-infertile soils but will respond to fertiliser. It does not tolerate waterlogged conditions, or drought, and does not grow well on poorly drained soils.

Grows well in Central and Eastern Province, and is evergreen in humid climates, but semi-deciduous in areas with a long dry season.

The first cut can be 8-12 months after sowing, and it can be cut back to half to one meter every 2 to 3 months. Direct grazing by cattle, sheep, and goats will often kill the plant, as will cutting below 30cm. But when cut and fed, the leaves and pods are rich in protein and can contribute 25 per cent of livestock diet, compared to between 8 and 10 per cent for elephant grass and nappier grass.

Calliandra can provide fodder for up to 20 years.

Commercial Value
A farmer with 1 cow and 500 calliandra as a substitute for dairy meal will increase his net monthly income by up to Sh30,000.

Further information:


A medium-sized evergreen shrub that also helps with wind and water erosion control, land rehabilitation, and fuel wood. It does best in high rainfall areas (350-1,600 mm a year) but can survive in areas with as low as 200 mm a year due to its deep rooting habit, but cannot survive frost.  It does well in light, well-drained sandy soils on slopes and hillsides, but also on gravels, loams, and limestones.

Trees can be pruned at the end of the first year to promote a bushy, multi-stemmed habit. The plant should be maintained at a minimum of one metre. It responds well to frequent cutting, but re-growth is slow for the first week after harvest. It can persist for up to 30 years if well managed and has been proven to meet 40-60 per cent of the nutritional requirements of animals especially of the protein responsible for increased milk production.

Commercial Value
One cow is fed 500 leaves of Tree Lucerne, which can be mixed with dairy meal or bran commercial feed or can be fed alone. A cattle consumes 6kilos in a day. It delivers an annual increase in milk production worth up to Sh20,000 per animal, according to research.

World Agroforestry Centre for further information:


The Mulberry is a deciduous tree that does well in Mediterranean climates with annual rainfalls from 1500 to 2500 mm but can adapt to drier climates. It grows well on a wide range of soils if well drained and can tolerate some shading.

Aside from the fruit, the leaves are also highly nutritious and valuable fodder for poultry and livestock, especially sick or high-production animals such as dairy cows.

Commercial value

It conventionally costs some Sh8500 to establish a perennial pasture of Mulberry but gives a return of up to Sh30,000 per month from increased milk production. The tree takes 3-6 months to mature.

World Agroforestry Centre for further information:


Also known as the hummingbird tree, Sesbania is a fast-growing tree, up to 3 to 5 metres. The tree thrives in full sun and is extremely frost-sensitive. It grows in a wide range of soils from loose sands to heavy clays and also tolerates saline soils and flooding. It is tolerant of cool highland-tropical or sub-tropical conditions, growing at up to 2,300 m altitude in Kenya.

With appropriate cutting, it persists for up to 5 years. It can be cut after the plant reaches 1-2 m in height. Delaying cutting until the plant is more than 4 m tall, or low cutting to below 50 cm will result in plant deaths. More frequent cutting will decrease the lifespan of the plants. Crude protein content ranges from 25-30 per cent.

Commercial value
It can be used on its own or mixed with commercial feeds. A cow requires approximately 4-6 kilos a day. Return up to Sh20,000 a month in milk sales returns according to documented studies.


This is a medium-sized tree, often growing 10 to 20 m in height and 10 to 40 cm in diameter. It grows in deep, free-draining soils of mild acid reaction. It requires 1,500-3,500 mm of annual rainfall in preferably high-altitude regions with very short dry seasons mainly 1 to 3 months.

It has a protein concentrations range from 25-32 per cent. The higher tannin content of the foliage can increase bypass protein, which is important to livestock, because the protein is protected from degradation in the rumen, but available for absorption in the small intestine, which is metabolically efficient. The plant can provide fodder for up to 10 years. Cows, goats, sheep, and rabbits require 5-8 kilos a day for tender meat and increased milk production of between 1 and three litres a day.

Photo Courtesy: Laban Robert

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