Livestock Research for Rural Development 24 (2) 2012 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Farmers’ preference and nutritive value of selected indigenous plant feed materials for cattle in drylands of south-eastern Kenya

Aphaxard J N Ndathi, Moses M Nyangito*, Nashon K R Musimba** and Barnabas N Mitaru***

Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, National Range Research Centre, P.O. Box 12-90138.Makindu, Kenya.
* Department of Land Resource Management and Agricultural Technology, University of Nairobi, Kenya.
** South Eastern University College, Kitui, Kenya.
*** Department of Animal Production, University of Nairobi, Kenya.


This study was undertaken in the drylands of southeastern Kenya to identify and rank important indigenous plant feed materials for cattle. Through the use of a structured questionnaire administered at the household level, farmers were asked to identify and rank the plant feed materials. The households were selected through systematic sampling along road transects in three agroecological zones namely LM4, LM5 and IL5. Samples of edible plant parts of top ranked feed materials were collected and nutritional analysis done at University of Nairobi, Department of animal production nutrition laboratory. Farmers’ preference, nutritional value rankings and climate variability were used to give the final ranking of the feed plant materials.

The top ranked grass species were Cynodon plectostachys and Eragrostis superba. Other grass species included Cenchrus ciliaris and Panicum maximum. Among the browse species, Combretum exalatum and Duosperma kilimandscharicum were the top ranked species. However, Acacia tortilis, Melia volkensii and Combretum apiculatum were also valuable browse plant species in the study area. The most important crop residues were from maize, pigeon peas and cow peas. However, maize stover may not be reliable especially with increasing aridity and hence more drought resistant cereal crops such as sorghum and millets should be promoted.

Key words: degradation, grasses, indigenous, Kibwezi, legumes, shrubs, trees


Climate change is affecting drylands ecosystems with observed increase in woody plants species (Morgan et al 2007, IPCC 2007, Galvin et al 2004). This has a negative effect on cattle production that relies heavily on grass species. The growing seasons are expected to become shorter (Galvin et al 2004, Gimenez 2006) increasing difficulties in crop production hence more households will opt for livestock production (Thornton et al 2007). However, some climate change predictions suggest wetter seasons and longer growing seasons in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya (Thornton et al 2002). Efforts to reduce these constraints and improve cattle nutrition in the drylands have led to the introduction of feed plant species from higher potential areas but their survival and production in these drylands has been observed to be poor. Feeding cattle especially during the dry seasons and drought periods still remains the major challenge in drylands. Though cattle are largely grazers, trees and shrubs forage play an important role during the dry seasons and drought periods when the quality and quantity of biomass from herbaceous vegetation is low (Kamalak et al 2004). However, within the drylands, there exists a rich biodiversity of highly productive, nutritious and adapted plant species that can support improved cattle production all year long.

With increasing human population, changes in land tenure and land use, and decreasing agricultural productivity (Little et al 2001, Galvin et al 2004), clearing of more land for crop production and settlements are on the rise. This leads to many of the indigenous plant feed species being cut down and lost from the drylands ecosystems (Teklu eat al 2011). The main reason for this continued degradation of indigenous plant species is the low importance placed on them by the agro-pastoralists. Additionally, lack of information on their nutritive value compared to exotic feed species introduced to the drylands worsens the problem (Osuga et al 2008, Aregawi et al 2008). To rescue some of the indigenous plant feed species, efforts must be made to add value to them by generating and disseminating information on their usefulness as livestock feed. This study was an effort to identify and generate information on some of the most preferred plant species in the southeastern Kenya drylands.

Materials and methods

This study was carried out in Kibwezi district in the drylands of southeastern Kenya. Kibwezi District lies between the latitudes to 206’ S and 30 S and longitudes 37036’ E and 38030’ E (CBS 2000) and covers an area of 3954 km2 (GoK 2009). The human population is 258,120 persons with a density of 108 persons per km2 (GoK 2009). The district is predominantly occupied by the Akamba agro-pastoralists (Musimba et al 2004, GoK 2009) whose main activity is livestock keeping (GoK 2009). The livestock populations are 1,020 dairy cattle, 52,925 beef cattle, 183,500 goats, 91,000 sheep and 142,460 poultry (GoK 2009). Other livestock species are kept but their numbers are low. The District is low lying with Athi River belt being the lowest (300 metres above sea level) and Chyullu Hills the highest (1100 metres above sea level). Kibwezi is largely a dryland district being covered largely by Agro-Ecological Zone (AEZ) LM4 (Lower Midland: Marginal cotton zone), LM5 (Lower Midland: Livestock – Millet zone) and IL6 (Inner Lowland: Ranching zone) (Jaetzold et al 2006). The annual rainfall is low and erratic averaging between 351.8 mm and 687.4 mm while the diurnal temperatures vary between 11.0°C and 35.8°C (GoK 2009). The soils are dominated by the orthic, rhodic and xanthic ferralsols (Sombroek et al 1982)The dominant plant genera include Acacia sp, Commiphora sp, Adansonia sp, Tarmarindus sp and Grewia sp, Cenchrus sp, Chloris sp, Panicum sp, Eragrostis sp, Digitaria sp and Enteropogon sp (Nyangito et al 2008). However, expansion of cultivated land is changing the composition of the vegetation with introduction of planted exotic plant species and loss of indigenous plant species.

The listing and ranking of the preferred plant species was done through a questionnaire that was administered through a reconnaissance survey. The questionnaire was administered to households that were selected through a systematic sampling method along a road transect placed in each of the three major agro-ecological zones (LM4, LM5 and IL6). The respondents were asked to mention the most important cattle feed materials in the study area while the ranking was done through the pairwise ranking method (Defoer and Budelman 2000). Data collected was analyzed using the frequency and descriptive tools of the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 12 (SPSS 2003) and weighted using the Likert scale weighting procedures (Vagia 2006).


Samples of important plant species were collected for nutritional analysis. Grass species samples were harvested from dry standing hay in natural pastures. The samples were collected in paper bags and oven dried at 600C for 48 hours to determine the Air Dry Matter (ADM). The air dried samples were then ground through a 1.0 mm sieve hammer mill and samples stored in labelled containers. The ground samples were oven dried at 1050C overnight to determine the Dry Matter (DM) while the percent Crude Protein (CP) was determined through the Kjeldal procedure (AOAC 2005). The percent NDF, NDL and ADL were determined through the Van Soest et al (1991) method while the ash content was determined by burning the sample in a muffle furnace at 5500c. The IVDMD was done through the Tilley and Terry procedure (Tilley and Terry 1963). The tannin content was determined using the Folin Ciocalteu method (Makkar 2003). To rank the feed materials using the nutritive quality, the CP, IVDMD and the mean percentage of the fibre components were used.


The highly valued grass species were Cynodon plectostysus and Eragrostis superba but Cenchrus ciliaris replaced Eragrostis superba in the drier IL6 (table 1). For trees and shrubs, shrubs were more important than trees in the drier in IL6. Maize stover was the top ranked crop residue used for feeding cattle in all the three zones. Pigeon peas and beans pods residues were only important in the higher potential zone (LM4) and were replaced by cowpeas and green grams pods in the drier LM5 and IL6 zones.

 All the grass species had low CP of less than 7% (Table 2). However, the indigenous trees, shrubs and crop residues had a CP of more than 7%.

Table 1: Farmers’ ranking of indigenous plant feed materials for cattle in Kibwezi District, south-eastern Kenya




Grass species

1.      Cynodon plectostachys (K. Schum)

2.      Eragrostis superba Peyr.

3.      Panicum maximum Jacq.

4.      Cenchrus ciliaris L.

5.      Sehima nervosum (Rottler) Stapf

1.      E. superba Peyr.

2.      C. plectostachys (K. Schum)

3.      P. maximum Jacq.

4.      S. nervosum (Rottler) Stapf

5.      C. ciliaris L.

1.      C. plectostachys (K. Schum)

2.      C. ciliaris L.

3.      E. superab Peyr.

4.      P. maximum Jacq.

5.      Enteropogon macrostachysus (Hochst ex A. Rich)

Tree and shrub species

1.      Acacia tortilis (Forsk.) Hayne

2.      Combretum apiculatum Sond.

3.      Duosperma kilimandscharicum

4.      Acacia mellifera (Vahl) Benth

5.      Combretum exalatum Engl.

1.      A. tortilis (Forsk.) Hayne

2.      Melia volkensii (Gurke)

3.      Grewia hexamita Burret

4.      C. exalatum Engl.

5.      Premna ologotricha Baker

1.      D. kilimandscharicum

2.      C. exalatum Engl.

3.      Cadaba farinose Forssk

4.      A. tortilis (Forsk.) Hayne

5.      G. hexamita Burret

Crop residue species

1.      Maize (Zea mays L. ssp mays)

2.      Pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan (L). Millsp)

3.      Beans (Phaselus vulgaris L.)

4.      Cow peas (Vigna unguiculata)

1.      Maize (Z. mays L. ssp mays)

2.      Cow peas (V. unguiculata)

3.      Green grams (Vigna radiata (L.) Wilezek)

4.      Pigeon peas (C. cajan (L). Millsp)

1.      Maize (Z. mays L. ssp mays)

2.      Cow peas (V. unguiculata)

3.      Green grams (V. radiata (L.) Wilezek)

4.      Pigeon peas (C. cajan (L). Millsp)

LM4 = Lower Midland: Marginal Cotton zone, LM5 = Lower Midland: Livestock – Millet zone, IL6 = Inner Lowland: Ranching zone

Table 2: Nutritive value of important indigenous plant feed materials in Kibwezi District southeastern Kenya


% DM

% CP




% Ash


% Tannin

Grasses species

Cynodon plectostachys (K. Schum)









Eragrostis superba Peyr.









Panicum maximum Jacq.









Cenchrus ciliaris L.









Sehima nervosum (Rottler) Stapf









Enteropogon macrostachysus (Hochst ex A. Rich)









Trees and shrubs species

Combretum exalatum Engl. (leaves)









Duosperma kilimandscharicum (leaves)









Crop residue species

Pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan (L). Millsp) (pods)









Cow peas (Vigna unguiculata) (pods)









     -    Implies analysis not done


The most preferred grass species in the Kibwezi district were C. plectostachys, E. superba, C. ciliaris and P. maximum. However, P. maximum is most preferred by farmers in cropped farms because of its high biomass production and is commonly grown on terraces in semi-arid lands of southeastern Kenya (Carnevalli et al 2006, Aganga and Tshwenyane 2004). The most common and highly preferred C. plectostachysus is not common in farms hence is accessed in natural pastures especially in higher potential microclimates. This may be because it has not been promoted as an important feed grass species for cattle production in the drylands of Kenya. The two other most preferred grass species and E. macrostachyus and are being evaluated for forage by range scientist (Mganga et al 2010, Bulle et al 2010, Ogillo et al 2010, Kirwa et al 2010).

Nutritional analysis showed E. superba as the superior grass species with the highest percent IVDMD and the second lowest % NDF after E. Macrostachyus. However, E. superba produces low leafy material biomass with most biomass being in the stems, seeds and the roots (Mganga et al 2010, Opiyo et al 2011). Using production alone under the same environmental conditions, Mganga et al (2010) ranked C. ciliaris as the most productive followed by E. superba and E. macrostachyus in the second and third positions respectively. Similarly, working in southeastern Kenya, Nyangito et al (2008) found that E. macrostachyus, P. maximum and E. superba contributed substantially to the total energy intake of cattle. From both the farmers’ ranking and nutritive analysis, C. plectostachys and E. superba were the top ranked grass species for cattle feeding in drylands of southeastern Kenya. However, using above ground biomas production, Opiyo et al (2011) working in the neighbouring Kitui county ranked E. macrostachyus higher than C. ciliaris and E. superba.

The most preferred trees and shrubs were A. tortilis, C. apiculatum, M. volkensii, D. kilimandscharicum and C. exalatum. However, C. apiculatum was only mentioned as a preferred species in the higher potential zone (LM4). Throughout the three zones, A. tortilis, D. kilimandscharicum and C. exalatum were the highly ranked tree and shrub species. Osuga et al 2008, working with goats and sheep used shrubs and trees from the semi-arid Egerton University’s Chemeron Field station in Marigat Dvision, Baringo District Kenya and found Acacia brevispica to be the most preferred hence Acacia species are important source of livestock feed in most drylands in kenya. Shrubby plant species are easier to manage and harvest than trees. Therefore D. kilimandscharicum and C. exalatum are the important browse species for cattle feeding in Kibwezi district of southeastern Kenya. This concurs with findings by Nyangito et al 2008, though working on goats, found that both D. kilimandscharicum and C. exalatum were the key browse species. Between D. kilimandscharicum and C. exalatum, D. kilimandscharicum leaves were superior in terms of the percentage CP and IVDMD. However, C. exalatum is a larger shrub and produces more biomass than D. kilimandscharicum. Since the importance of C. exalatum increases with increasing aridity it should be the most preferred plant species in the drylands of southeastern Kenya. However, the tannin content of C. exalatum is high hence may depress its palatability and digestibility. The importance of browse plant species to livestock especially during the dry and drought periods cannot be over emphasized (Aregawi et al 2008).

The most common and preferred crop residues in southeastern Kenya drylands are from maize, pigeon peas, beans, cow peas and green grams. Throughout all the zones, maize stover was the most preferred. This concurs with Methu et al (2001) that maize stover is the most popular crop residues for cattle feeding in Kenya. The importance of beans and pigeon peas diminishes with increasing aridity being replaced by cow peas and green grams. Therefore, with increasing climate variability cow peas and green grams should be promoted for improved residue production for cattle feeding. In addition, other higher yielding and drought tolerant cereal crop species such as sorghum and millet should be promoted to improve the production of stover for cattle feeding in southeastern Kenya. Between the two crop residues that we analyzed for their nutritional value, pigeon peas had a higher percentage of CP and IVDMD and lower % mean (NDF + ADF + ADL) than Cow peas. However with increasing aridity the preference of pigeon peas decreases over that of cow peas. Therefore, under increasing climate variability, cow peas become more important for cattle feeding than pigeon peas. There is need to evaluate and promote dual purpose cow pea varieties for improved cattle feeding in drylands of southeastern Kenya.



Aganga A A and Tshwehyane S 2004: Potentials of guinea grass (Panicum maximum) as forage crop in livestock production. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition  Wolume3(1), pp. 1-4.

AOAC 2005: Official Methods of Analysis of the Association of Analytical Chemists. 18th Edn., AOAC, Gathersburg, MD. USA.

Aregawi T, Melaku S and Nigatu L 2008: Management and utilization of browse species as livestock feed in semi-arid district of North Ethiopia. Livestock Research for Rural Development.  Volume 20, Art. # 86.

Bulle H, Mamo M and Geikuku P 2010: Comparative evaluation of Chrolis gayana (Kunth), Eragrostis superba (Peyr) and Cenchrus ciliaris (L) for pasture production in Marsabit central district, northern Kenya. Proceedings of the 12th KARI biennial scientific conference. 8th – 12th November, Nairobi, Kenya, pp 826 – 830.

Carnevalli R A, Silva S C, Bueno A A O, Uebele M C, Bueno F O, Hodgson J, Silva G N and Morais J P G 2006: Herbage production and grazing losses in Panicum maximum CV. Mombaca under four grazing managements. Tropical Grasslands Volume. 40, pp. 165-176.

Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) 2000: Republic of Kenya, Ministry of Economic Planning and Development. Nairobi, Kenya.

Defoer T and Budelman A 2000: Managing soil fertility. A resource guide for Participatory Learning and Action Research (PLAR). Royal Tropical Institute. Amsterdam.

Galvin K A, Thornton P K, Boone R B and Sutherland J 2004: Climate variability and impacts on east African livestock herders: the Maasai of Ngorongoro conservation area Tanzania. African Journal of range and forage science, 21(3), pp 183 – 189.

Gimenez A 2006: Climate change and variability in the mixed crop/livestock production systems of the Argentinean, Brazilian and Uruguayan pampas. Report on assessment of impacts and adaptations to climate change (AIACC). Project No. LA 27.

Government of Kenya (Gok) 2009: Kibwezi District Development Plan 2008 -2012. Vision 2030. Towards a globally competitive and prosperous Kenya. Ministry of State Planning, National Development and Vision 2030. Government Printers, Nairobi, Kenya.

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 2007: Climate change 2007: Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Summary for policy makers.

Jaetzold R, Schmidt H, Hornetz B and Shisanya C 2006: Farm Management Handbook of Kenya. Vol.II. Natural conditions and farm management information, 2nd edition. Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya, in cooperation with the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ).

Kamalak A, Canbolak O, Gurbuz Y, Ozay O, Ozkan C O and Sakarya M 2004: Chemical composition and in vitro gas production characteristics of several tannin containing tree leaves. Livestock Research for Rural Development Vo. 16, Art. # 44.

Kirwa E C, Mnene W N, Kubasu D, Kimitei R K, Kidake B and Manyeki J K 2010: Assessing the performance of established range grass species in southern Kenya rangelands. Proceedings of the 12th KARI biennial scientific conference. 8th – 12th November, Nairobi, Kenya, pp 871 – 876.

Little P, Smith K, Cellarius B A, Coppock D L and Barrett C B 2001: Avoiding disaster: diversification and risk management among East African herders. Development and Change 32. Pp. 387–419.

Makkar H P S 2003: Quantification of tannins in tree and shrub foliage: a laboratory manual. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Methu J N, Owen E, Abate A L and Tanner J C 2001: Botanical and nutritional composition of maize stover, intakes and feed selection by dairy cattle. Livestock Production Science,  Volume71, pp.87 – 96.

Mganga K Z, Musimba N K R, Nyangito M M, Nyariki D M, Mwangombe A W, Ekaya W N, Muiru W M, Clavel D, Francis J, von Kaufmann R and Verhagen J 2010: The role of moisture in the succeful rehabilitation of denuded patches of a semi-arid environment in Kenya. Journal of Environmental Science and Technology 3(4), pp 195 – 207.

Morgan J A, Milchunas D G, Lecain D R, West M and Mosier A R 2007: Carbon dioxide enrichment alters plant community structure and accelerates shrub growth in the shortgrass steppe. Proceedings of the National Academy of sciences 104 (37), pp. 14724 – 14729.

Musimba N K R, Nyariki D M, Ikutwa C N and Teka T 2004: Dryland husbandry for sustainable development in the southern rangelands of Kenya. OSSREA, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Nyangito M M, Musimba N K R and Nyariki D M 2008: Range use and dynamics in the Agropastoral system of southeastern Kenya. African Journal of Environmental Science and technology.   Volume 2(8), pp 222 – 230.

Ogillo B P, Nyangito M M, Nyariki D M and Kubasu D O 2010: A comparison of two micro-catchment technologies on aboveground biomass production and financial returns of three range grasses in southern Kenya, pp 849 – 854.

Opiyo F E O, Ekaya W N, Nyariki D M and Mureithi S M 2011: Seedbed preparation influence on morphomeric characteristics of perennial grasses of a semi-arid rangeland in Kenya. African Journal of Plant Science   Volume 5(8), pp. 460-468.

Osuga I M, Wambui C C, Abdulrazak S A, Ichinohe T and Fujihara T 2008: Evaluation of nutritive value and palatability by goats and sheep of selected browse foliages from semi-arid area of Kenya. Animal Science Journal.   Volume 79, pp. 582 – 589.

Sombroek W G, Braun H M H and Van der Pouw B J A 1982: Exploratory soil map and Agro-Climatic Zone Map of Kenya. National Agricultural Laboratories. Kenya Soil Survey. Ministry of Agriculture. Kenya.

Statistical Procedures for Social Sciences (SPSS. SPSS (Version 12) 2003: Illinois, Chicago, USA.

Teklu B, Negesse T and Angassa A 2011: Effects of farming systems on livestock feed resources and feeding systems in Benishangul-Gumuz region, western Ethiopia. International Research Journal of Agricultural Science.   Volume 1(1) pp. 020-028.

Thornton P, Herrero M, Freeman A, Mwai O, Rege E Jones P and Mcdermott J 2007: Vulnerability, climate change and livestock – research opportunities and challenges for poverty alleviation. SAT,   Volume 4 Issue 1.

Thornton P K, Kruska R L, Henninger N, Kristjanson P M, Reid R S, Atieno F, Odero A N and Ndegwa T 2002: Mapping poverty and livestock in the developing world. International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Nairobi, Kenya. 124pp.

Tilley J M A and Terry R A 1963: A two-stage technique for the in vitro dry matter digestibility of forage crops. Journal of British Grassland Society, 18: 104-111

Vagia W M 2006: LIkert-type scale response anchors. Clemson International Institute for Tourism and Research Development, Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management. Clemson University.

Van Soest PJ, Robertson JB, Lewis BA 1991: Methods for dietary fiber, neutral detergent fiber, and non starch polysaccharides in relation to animal nutrition. Journal of Dairy Science 74, 3583 – 3597.

Received 13 October 2011; Accepted 15 December 2011; Published 7 February 2012

Go to top