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Study finds tree lucerne nutrient value comparable to concentrate feed

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By George Munene

According to a Bioversity International 2022 collection of global good practice cases, the adoption of tree lucerne as fodder by Ethiopian livestock farmers provided comparable nutrition to expensive concentrate feeds. 

This was in addition to fixing nitrogen which improved crop and soil productivity. 

For smallholders whose access to concentrate feeds is limited it can serve as a perfect substitute. Supplementation of one kilogram of dried tree lucerne leaf to a lactating dairy cow can give up to 1.2 liters of extra milk. 

Supplementation of the leguminous fodder tree; 300-400 grams of tree lucerne hay to a fattening sheep is adequate to achieve a daily body weight gain of 70 grams, with a significant improvement in carcass dressing percentage (from about 40 per cent in un-supplemented animals to about 48 per cent in supplemented ones).

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The CGIAR project led by ILRI organised farmers into eight groups in four sites in the Ethiopian highlands enabling training to targeted groups on planning and managing tree lucerne on farms, and how to mix it with other local feed sources to feed dairy cows and sheep.

In the Ethiopian highlands, grazing lands are shrinking and in some cases have disappeared as more land is used for crop production meaning extra food and nutrition supplements are needed. For many smallholders, commercial concentrates are just too expensive so they use poor-quality crop residues, and even for those who can afford them, delivery issues limit availability. 

Tree lucerne was selected as it grows in high altitude areas (2000 to over 3000 masl) and provides several ecological benefits for crops and other forage plants which grow in its vicinity, for example, contributing to soil fertility as a nitrogen-fixer and acting as a windbreaker to prevent soil erosion. Its scented flowers attract bees which supports honey-producing enterprises. It also supports wild biodiversity conservation by providing habitats for species such as birds and supports climate mitigation through carbon sequestration.

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Tree lucerne in well-managed farm fields can reach the first harvest and use as animal feed within 9 months after planting.

It can produce more than 4 -7 t ha of dry biomass per year under farmers’ management conditions and when planted at 1 m X 1 m spacing.

The leaf and edible branches of tree lucerne are very good sources of nutrients for ruminant livestock, containing high amounts of crude protein (20-25 per cent), and digestible organic matter (>= 70 per cent).

The foliage of tree lucerne can be fed green or wilted and can be preserved in the form of hay and used as needed.

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