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High Protein Shrubs & Trees for Goats

How to feed your goats what they would  eat naturally

There are a number of shrubs and trees in the tropics (including arid and semi-arid regions) that are used for ruminant fodder.  Many are Nitrogen-fixing, meaning that they can help to regenerate Nitrogen depleted soils, and many are also excellent soil binders.  Those of you who live in the southern part of the States might want to consider trying some of them; many are fast-growing. 

A Leucaena fodderbank used for cut-and-carry fodder with chickens raised underneath.  Ngozi, Burundi.

Below are examples of Leucaena species; the 1st [L. leucocephala]  is an especially good supplement for weak and recovering goats: highly palatable, high in TDN.  We use it instead of grains or other concentrates for sick goats..  Even our project donkey is exceedingly fond of Leucaena.  However, Leucaena is not good to feed to monogastic [single-stomached] animals because they do not have the enzymes needed to process this and other tannin-rich species.  Deer, goats and some other related species contain a substance in their saliva called proline, which binds tannins, thereby controlling their toxic effects. 

As shown in the picture above, from Ngozi Burundi, Leucaena can be grown in an enclosed are and browsed regularly by goats or used as cut-and-carry fodder.  Here,  chickens are profitably raised underneath, thus adding fertility and benefiting from nutrients of the Leucaena.

Quite a lot of work is being done in Africa to extend these and other agroforestry species to small farmers having goats.  As a rule of thumb, due to the tannin content, goats should receive no more than about 25% of their diet in these and related species. 

1.  Leucaena leucocephala:
Agroforestree Database.  International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, Nairobi Kenya.  1999.

L. leucocephala is one the highest quality and most palatable fodder trees of the tropics,  often being described as the 'alfalfa of the tropics'. The leaf quality compares favorably with alfalfa or lucerne in feed value except for its higher tannin content and mimosine toxicity to non-ruminants.

Livestock feed should not contain more than 20% of L. leucocephala, as the mimosine can cause hair loss and stomach problems.

L. leucocephala leaves & pods
- Zootechnie des régions chaudes

Leaves have a high nutritive value (high palatability, digestibility, intake and crude-protein content), resulting in 70-100% increase in animal liveweight gain compared with feeding on pure grass pasture. Herbage taken at peak quality (<3 weeks) has 55-70% digestibility and 20-25% crude protein.

In addition, it is very persistent over several decades of cutting or grazing, is highly productive, recovers quickly from defoliation, combines well with companion grasses and can be grazed with minimal losses from trampling or grazing.

Forage, packed in pellets and cubes, is internationally marketed as animal feed.

Tannin or dyestuff: Red, brown and black dyes are extracted from the pods, leaves and bark.

Erosion control: An aggressive taproot system helps break up compacted subsoil layers, improving the penetration of moisture into the soil and decreasing surface runoff.

Shade or shelter: Leucaena leucocephala is used as a shade tree for cocoa, coffee and tea; it generally acts as a shelterbelt, providing shade and wind protection for a variety of crops, especially during early growth.

Reclamation:  It thrives on steep slopes and in marginal areas with extended dry seasons, making it a prime candidate for restoring forest cover, watersheds and grasslands.

Soil improver: Leucaena leucocephala was one of the 1st species to be used for the production of green manure in alley-cropping systems. Leaves of L. leucocephala, even with moderate yields, contain more than enough nitrogen to sustain a maize crop. The finely divided leaves decompose quickly, providing a rapid, short-term influx of nutrients. It has even been suggested that the leaves decompose too rapidly, resulting in leaching of nutrients away from the crop-rooting zone before they are taken up by the crop. This also means that they have little value as mulch for weed control. The tree has the potential to renew soil fertility and could be particularly important in slash-and-burn cultivation, as it greatly reduces the fallow period between crops.

Growth: A small, variably shrubby and highly branched to medium-sized tree with a short, clear bole to 5 m.
Altitude: 0-1500 (max. 2100) m
Mean annual rainfall: 650-3000 mm
Mean annual temperature: 25-30 deg. C

Soil type: Performs optimally on calcareous soils but can be found on saline soils and on alkaline soils up to pH 8; it is not tolerant of acid soils or waterlogged conditions. It is known to be intolerant of soils with low pH, low phosphorus, low calcium, high salinity, high aluminum saturation and waterlogging and has often failed under such conditions


2.  Leucaena diversifolia:
Agroforestree Database.  International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, Nairobi Kenya.  1999.

L. diversifolia has lower palatability and digestibility and higher condensed tannin levels than L. leucocephala, indicating lower fodder quality. However, digestibility and tannin levels are intermediate compared with other Leucaena species. The mimosine content is low (1.5-2.5%). Rations for ruminants should not contain more than 50% L. diversifolia, and the proportion for non-ruminants should not exceed 10%.

Soil erosion: Soil erosion can be controlled effectively by planting L. diversifolia.

Reclamation: In reforestation schemes, it is planted for soil amelioration and stabilization.

Soil improver: The annual leaf dry matter production can reach 10-16 t/ha.  When incorporated as green manure, this adds 72-119 kg nitrogen, 2.5-3 kg phosphorus, 29-60 kg potassium, 47-94 kg calcium and 7.5-18.5 kg magnesium to the soil per ha. This is equivalent to about 10-t/ha cattle manure per year.

Intercropping: In agroforestry and mixed pastures, L. diversifolia is grown as an alternative for L. leucocephala, where the latter performs poorly because of high altitude or psyllid attack.

Growth: A tree or erect shrub, 3-20 m tall, with a straight bole 20-50 cm in diameter, slender and clear up to 10 m in height.
Altitude: 30-1500 (max. 1740) m
Mean annual temperature: 18-30 deg. C
Mean annual rainfall: 600-3500 mm

Soil type: Prefers slightly acid, fertile soils but is tolerant of leached soils.


3.  Gliricidia sepium:
Agroforestree Database.  International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, Nairobi Kenya.  1999.

Food: Flowers can be fried and eaten.

Fodder: Gliricidia sepium leaves are rich in protein and highly digestible, and low in fibre and tannin. There is evidence of improved animal production (both milk and meat) in large and small ruminants when G. sepium is used as a supplement. Goats on G. sepium gained weight and maintained a positive N balance. However,  non-ruminants fed on G. sepium have shown clear signs of poisoning. Perceptions of palatability vary greatly around the world. There are reports from India and Indonesia of limitations to its use because animals will not eat it. In some areas, such as Colombia and Sri Lanka, there is no palatability constraint and it is an important dry-season feed.

Gliricidia sepium leaves & pods
- Zootechnie des régions chaudes

Apiculture: The flowers attract honeybees (Apis spp.), hence it is an important species for honey production.

Fuel: Often used for firewood and charcoal production. The wood burns slowly without sparking and with little smoke, so it is an important fuelwood in the subhumid tropics. The calorific value of a 5-year-old tree is 4550 kcal/kg.

Timber: Gliricidia has light brown sapwood and dark brown heartwood, turning reddish-brown on exposure to air. It is hard, coarse textured with an irregular grain, very durable and termite resistant. Wood is utilized for railway sleepers, farm implements, furniture, house construction and as mother posts in live-fence establishment.

Poison: The leaves, seeds or powdered bark are toxic to humans when mixed with cooked rice or maize and fermented. The mechanism of toxicity is not understood. Gliricidia sepium has found application as a rodenticide and general pesticide.

Medicine: Crude extracts have been shown to have antifungal activity. Reported to be expectorant, sedative and  suppurative. Madre de cacao is a folk remedy for alopecia, boils, bruises, burns, colds, cough, debility, eruptions, erysipelas, fever, fractures, gangrene, headache, itch, prickly heat, rheumatism, skin tumours, ulcers, urticaria and wounds.

Services:  Erosion control: Hedgerows in alley cropping serve to suppress weed growth and control erosion and have been shown to reduce the incidence of disease in groundnut crops.

Shade or shelter: Gliricidia sepium is widely cultivated as shade for perennial crops (tea, coffee and cocoa). It is also used as a nurse tree for shade-loving species. Attributes contributing to its value as a shade tree include its  fine, feathery foliage giving light shade, and the ability to withstand repeated pruning and to resprout  vigorously. 

Reclamation: Gliricidia sepium has been planted to reclaim denuded land or land infested with Imperata cylindrica.

Nitrogen fixing: The tree is capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen.

Soil improver: As a green manure, G. sepium increases soil organic matter; it aids in recycling of soil nutrients as it produces much litter. It also improves soil aeration and reduces soil temperature. It is a drought-resistant and  valuable water-conserving species, because in the dry season it sheds most of its leaves, hence reducing water loss through transpiration.

Boundary/barrier/support: Suitable for live fencing around cattle pastures and for delineating boundaries. Used as live stakes to support black pepper, vanilla and yam in West Africa.

Other services: The predictable relationship between flowering in G. sepium and the onset of the rainy season in Venezuela shows that it is a promising indicator species.


In closing …

Do consider these or other shrub/tree species – rather than only grasses – when improving your pasture.  Shrubs and trees are long rooted and thus are able to pump up minerals that you goat needs.  As well, leaves will contain higher levels of nutrients than grasses as the season advances.  Foliage is the natural food for goats – what they have evolved to thrive on!

Large-scale cultivation of Leucaena for cattle and goats is becoming an important strategy to supply high-quality fodder on commercial farms in Australia
- The Leucaena Network – Australia

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