Livestock Research for Rural Development 28 (5) 2016 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Potential contribution of neem (Azadirachta indica) leaves to dry season feeding of ruminants in West Africa

L K Adjorlolo, E C Timpong-Jones, S Boadu and T Adogla-Bessa

Livestock and Poultry Research Centre, School of Agriculture,
College of Basic and Applied Sciences University of Ghana, Ghana


This study sought to review relevant published works on the use of neem (Azadirachta indica) leaves in ruminant feeding with the view to highlighting its potential and constraints. Several studies have been conducted on the use of the neem seed as a protein source in animal feed. The leaves, however, have not received as much attention. The neem plant is very drought tolerant and yields a lot of forage even during the dry season. It is readily available in most parts of Ghana and a dominant tree species in the Accra Plains which is the most important livestock producing area in southern Ghana. Considering the drastic decline in forage availability during the dry season, such an evergreen plant can contribute significantly towards alleviating the nutritional inadequacies experienced by ruminants during the dry season. Neem leaves have higher crude protein concentration than most non-leguminous tree leaves. This coupled with a low level of fibre make it suitable as a protein supplement for ruminants on poor quality diets. However, neem leaves contain some bioactive agents, namely, azadirachtin and nimbidin, which are anti-nutritional in nature. This notwithstanding, some studies have reported no adverse effect of feeding neem leaves to livestock. Neem leaves have been fed to sheep, goats and cattle to improve their performance. It was concluded that neem leaves can be a useful dry season fodder species in the dryer areas of Ghana where ruminant feeding during the often prolonged dry season is a major challenge.

Key words: anti-nutritional factors, palatability, supplementation, tree fodder


The neem plant (Azadirachta indica) is a non-leguminous multi-purpose tree which belongs to the family Meliceae. Its common English names include nim tree and margosa tree (Arbonnier 2002). It is a tree species believed to be native to the Indian subcontinent (Girish and Shankara 2008) and Senegal (Orwa et al 2009). It has however been introduced into several countries across the globe, including 46 African countries (Orwa et al 2009). According to Streets (1962) the plant was introduced in Ghana in 1915. It has since spread throughout the country. The neem tree is a drought tolerant plant and is known to do well in areas with long dry seasons, even with rainfall as low as 130mm per annum (Gowda and Sastry 2000). It is also known to thrive in almost any type of soil and tolerate a wide soil pH range of between 4 and 10 (Arbonnier 2002; Girish and Shankara 2008). The neem tree is therefore often used in afforestation programmes, especially in semi-arid regions. It is reportedly the most widely planted exotic tree species in nutrient-deficient soils in Northern Ghana (Nanang et al 1997). It is the dominant tree species in the Accra plains (Timpong-Jones 2011) which is second in importance after the Guinea Savannah in livestock production.


The neem plant is believed to be one of the most widely studied tree species in the world (Girish and Shankara 2008) due to its wide range of uses. Reviews on the medicinal and other uses of the neem tree are available (Bhowmik et al 2010; Ogbuewu et al 2011) Studies on neem in animal production are mostly focused on its medicinal uses; mostly as an anti-helminthic agent (Chandrawathani et al 2006; Tiwary and Pandey 2010). In the area of animal nutrition, most studies involved the use of the seeds as a protein source in animal feed (Gowda and Sastry 2000; Aruwayo et al 2011; Ogbuewu et al 2011). The seed has been processed as seed meal, seed kernel cake or even as fruit cake. The leaves have not received much attention in West Africa. However, it been used in some dryer areas of the tropics in ruminant feeding.  Neem leaves incorporation into ruminant feeds will help increase the utility of the plant and help alleviate the severe feed inadequacy experienced in the dryer tropics during the dry season. This review highlights the potential of neem leaves as fodder for ruminant livestock.


Ruminant feeding constraints during the dry season


A major obstacle to ruminant livestock production in most tropical ecosystems is the seasonal fluctuation in forage availability and quality due to the modal rainfall patterns. During the dry season, forage yields and quality reportedly decline drastically. For both cultivated pastures (Olanite et al 2004) and natural pastures (Adjorlolo 2014) forage biomass yields have been shown to decline drastically in the dry season. Other studies have indicated sharp changes in forage quality during the dry season. For instance, for forage legumes, crude protein content as low as 5-7% has been reported during the dry season (Peters et al 1997). Similarly, Fujihara et al (2004) reported decreases in crude protein and increases in neutral detergent fibre of some forage legumes as the season changed from wet to dry.


Without appropriate supplementation, ruminants on range tend to lose weight during the dry season and in some cases reproductive wastage occurs. Weight losses in cattle (Rose-Innes 1977) sheep (Bourzart 1985; Otchere, 1996) and goats (Alaku and Moruppa 1983) have been reported in West Africa. A report on work done in Kenya indicated clearly that reproductive performance of goats declined sharply during the dry season. For instance, survival rate of single kids dropped from 100% for kids born in the rainy season to 46% for those born in the dry season (Rutagwenda et al 1985). Reproductive wastage, coupled with retarded or negative growth during the dry season greatly reduces productivity in ruminants. This makes supplementation of ruminant diets, especially during the dry season, imperative. Such supplements need to have high enough crude protein to elevate dietary crude protein intake to levels that can support moderate production during the dry season. Use of fodder tree and shrub leaves as dry season supplements has yielded several promising results.


Leaves of fodder trees and shrubs as dry season feed supplements


Use of tree leaves in animal feeding has been practiced since antiquity (Baumer, 1992). Since crude protein is a major liming nutrient in grasses during the dry season (Peters 1992), tree leaves which are known to retain high crude protein content well into the dry season, become an important source for grazing ruminants. Utilisation of tree and shrub leaves in ruminant feeding has been extensively studied (Speedy and Pugliese 1992; Leng 1997; Ansah and Nabilla 2011).  Leguminous fodder tree leaves are of particular importance because they normally contain more crude protein than other ligneous species. However, the fodder potential of trees and browses is determined not only by its crude protein content but also by its digestibility, palatability and the associative effects of other feeds (Smith 1992). For dry season feeding, drought tolerance of the species, which determines its forage biomass availability during the dry season, is also of importance.


Nutrient profile of neem leaves


Neem leaves are high in crude protein. There are, however, wide variations in the reported values. Crude protein concentrations between 17.5% and 18.7% have been reported (Bais et al 2002; Bhowmik et al 2008). A few authors have reported values lower or higher than these. For instance, Ramana et al (2000) reported crude protein content of neem leaves as 9.7% whereas Ogbuewu et al (2011) reported a higher value of 20.9%. The variation in crude protein values may be due to varietal differences in the neem plant. These values are higher than the range of 10% to 15% given as the range of crude protein concentration in leaves of non-leguminous fodder trees (Ganguli et al 1964).


Available reports indicate neem leaves have low fibre content. Neutral detergent fibre (NDF) and acid detergent fibre (ADF) levels of 38.0% and 27.0% respectively have been reported (Ramana et al 2000). Similarly, Bhowmik et al (2008) reported a crude fibre level of 11.3% for neem leaves. These are low compared with NDF and ADF ranges of 27.40 to 55.23 and 18.87 to 46.30 respectively for 15 tropical fodder trees (Kumar and Sharma 2003). Low fibre content of neem, coupled with the reported high nitrogen free extract (NFE) level of 53.9% (Bhowmik et al (2008) may make it an important source of readily fermentable carbohydrates in ruminant feed.


There are few reports on the mineral content of neem leaves. Some available data on minerals reported in the literature are summarised in Table 1. The content of calcium, which ranges between 1.48 to 1.53 %, is similar to the value of 1.51% reported for sesbania leaves (Ngamsaeng et al 2006). Neem leaves are reported to be deficient in copper, manganese (Niranjan et al 2008), zinc and phosphorus (Rao et al 2011). Levels of minerals, especially trace minerals, are expected to vary widely due to differences in the mineral content of the soil in which the trees grow.

Table 1: Mineral profile of neem leaves

Macro-minerals (% DM)

Micro-minerals (ppm in DM)





















Bhowmik et al 2008










Ansari et al 2012










Ngamsaeng et al 2006










Niranjan et al 2008

Acceptability of Neem leaves by livestock


 Neem biomass yield is estimated to be 0.35 tonnes per mature tree per annum (Panhwar 2005) and 5 to 50 tonnes/ha (Girish and Shankara 2008). Neem leaves can therefore be a potentially valuable alternative feed resource for small holder ruminant producers. However, there is a widely held perception that neem leaves are not accepted by ruminants (Nanang et al 1997) because of their bitter taste. Some reports indicate a contrary view. Leaves of the neem tree are reported to be fed to ruminants in India and other parts of Asia during the dry season (Shukla and Desai 1988). The neem tree is listed among fodder trees in India (Singh 1982) due to its use in animal feeding. Neem leaves are reported to be palatable to sheep (Chandrawathani et al 2006) and goats (Seresinhe and Marapana 2011). In Ghana, a survey in the Telensi-Nabdam District of the Upper East Region by Ansah and Nagbila (2011) reported that 18.8% of farmers interviewed used neem leaves and fruits as fodder. According to Bais et al (2002) neem leaves compared favourably with Albizzia lebbek leaves in dry matter intake and digestible crude protein content when fed as sole diets. The acceptance of neem leaves by ruminant livestock despite the bitter taste may be due to feed insufficiency during periods of drought. It is also possible that ruminants get accustomed to the taste over time.


Anti-nutritional factors in neem leaves


The presence of some anti-nutritional factors such as tannins, phenolic compounds and oxalates have been identified in neem leaves (Table 2). The concentrations of these compounds in neem leaves are similar to what have been reported for other ligneous fodder species. For instance, tannin concentration in neem leaves is less than in Leucaena leucocephala and below the level that will depress feed intake (Niranjan et al 2008). Lignin level in neem leaves fall within the range of 4.2 to 11.7 reported for Leucaena (Garcia et al 1996).

Table 2: Some anti-nutritional compounds identified in neem leaves

Anti-nutritional factors

Concentration (%)


Condensed tannins


Ramana et al 2000


Ngamsaeng et al 2006

Crude saponins


Ngamsaeng et al 2006



Niranjan et al 2008



Ramana et al 2000



Radhakrishnan et al 2007


Ghimeray et al 2009

Total phenolics


Ramana et al 2000

The bitter taste in neem leaves is conferred by the presence of triterpenoids, particularly azadirachtin. However, ruminants, especially goats are known to tolerate bitter taste due to their ability to detoxify secondary plant compounds through allelochemical-type reactions that take place within them (Lu 1988). Azadirachtin concentration in neem leaves varies with season and ecotypes (Dhaliwal et al 2004). Less bitter varieties may thus be available that may be palatable to other ruminants.


There is a paucity of information on the effects of anti-nutritional factors in neem leaves on ruminants. Bais et al (2002) offered a sole diet of neem leaves to goats and observed no adverse effects. Even in monogastrics, neem leaves feeding has not shown any deleterious effects. In poultry, inclusion of neem leaf meal up to 3g/kg did not affect the weights of the liver, spleen and heart but had an inconsistent effect on the bursa (Manwar et al 2007). Sonaiya (1993) fed a higher level of 10% neem leaves in poultry diet and did not observe any adverse effects.


Performance of animals fed neem leaves


Neem leaves as supplement to basal diets of crop residues have been shown to improve feed utilisation and animal performance in ruminants. In a study in which 30% of mustard straw was replaced with either neem or Albizzia lebbek leaves, both dry matter and crude protein intakes were increased to similar levels with a concomitant increases in volatile fatty acid production (Raghuvansi et al 2007), indicating that neem leaves supplied critical nutrients needed to enhance ruminal microbial growth and fermentation of feed. Bais et al (2002) offered a sole diet of neem leaves to goats and observed a high voluntary intake of 3.12% of body weight. Other studies such as that of Paengkoum (2010) have shown that neem leaves can replace up to 50% of soya bean meal in ruminant diets with no negative effects on feed intake, dry matter and fibre digestibility as well as body weight gain.


Improved performance of ruminants fed neem leaves may be partly attributable to the effects of the bioactive compounds in the leaves on intestinal parasites. There is abundant literature on the effect of neem leaves and extracts on intestinal worms (Chandrawathani et al 2006; Tiwary and Pandey 2010). According to Chandrawathani et al (2006) Haemonchus contortus appears particularly sensitive to the intake of fresh neem leaves by the animal. Improved performance on neem leaves has also been reported for poultry (Sonaiya 1993).



Adjorlolo L K, Adogla-Bessa T, Amaning-Kwarteng K and Ahunu  B K 2014: Seasonal effect on rumen function in sheep on range in the Accra Plains of Ghana. Tropical Animal Health and Production, 46 (7): 1223-1228.

Alaku O and Moruppa S M 1983: Dry season weight losses in Red Sokoto (Maradi) goats reared in the Sahel region of Northeastern Nigeria. International Journal of Biometeorology, 27(2): 143-156.

Ansah T and Nagbila D A 2011: Utilization of local trees and shrubs for sustainable livestock production in the Talensi-Nabdam District of the Upper East Region of Ghana. Livestock Research for Rural Development, 23 (4), Article #75 Retrieved December 10, 2015, from

Ansari J, Sohail H K, Ulhaq A and Yousaf M 2012: Effects of the level of Azadirachta indica dried leaf meal as phytogenic feed additive on the growth performance and haemato-biochemical parameters in broiler chicks. Journal of Applied Animal Research, 40(4): 336-345.

Arbonnier M 2002: Trees, Shrubs and Lianas of West African Dry Zones. CIRAD-MARGRAF-MNHN.

Aruwayo A, Maigandi S A, Malami B S and Daneji A I 2011: Haematological and Biochemical Parameters of Uda Lambs Fed Graded Levels of Alkali -Treated Neem Kernel Cake. Nigerian Journal of Basic and Applied Science, 19(2): 277-284.

Bais B, Purohit G R, Dhuria R K and Pannu U 2002: Nutritive value of sares and neem leaves in marwari goats. Indian Journal of Animal Nutrition, 19 (3): 266-268.

Baumer M 1992: Trees as browse and to support animal production. In: Speedy, A. and Pugliese, P. (eds). Legume Trees and other Fodder Trees as Protein Sources for Livestock. Proceedings, FAO Expert Consultation, Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Bhowmik D, Chiranjib, Yadav J, Tripathi K K and Kumar K P S 2010: Herbal remedies of Azadirachta indica and its medicinal application. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research, 2(1): 62-72.

Bhowmik S, Chowdhury S D, Kabir M H and Ali M A 2008: Chemical composition of some medicinal plant products of indigenous origin. The Bangladesh Veterinarian, 25(1): 32-39.

Bourzart D 1985: The role of small ruminants in the agropastoral systems of Yatenga Province. Burkina Faso. In: Adu, I. F. et al (eds). Small Ruminants Production In Nigeria. NAPRI. Pp 186-195.

Chandrawathani P, Chang K W, Nurulaini R, Waller P J, Adnan M, Zaini CM, Jamnah O, Khadijah S and Vincent N 2006: Daily feeding of fresh Neem leaves (Azadirachta indica) for worm control in sheep. Tropical Biomedicine 23(1): 23–30.

Dhaliwal G S, Arora R and Koul O 2004: Neem research in Asian continent: present status and future outlook. In: Koul O and Wahab S (Eds). Neem: Today and in the New Millennium. Kluwer Academic Publishers, New York, Boston, Dordrecht, London, Moscow.

Fujihara T, Abdulrazak S A, Ichinohe T, Fariani A, Warly L and Evitayani 2004: Comparative rumen degradability of some legume forages between wet and dry season in West Sumatra, Indonesia. Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences, 17 (8): 1107-1111.

Ganguli B N, Kaul R N and Nambiar K T N 1964: Preliminary studies on a few top-feed species. Ann. Arid Zone 3, 33–37.

Garcia G W, Ferguson T U, Neckles F A and Archibald K A E 1996: The nutritive value and forage productivity of Leucaena leucocephala. Animal Feed Science and Technology, 60 (1-2): 29-41.

Ghimeray A K, Jin C W, Ghimire B K and Cho D A 2009: Antioxidant activity and quantitative estimation of azadirachtin and nimbin in Azadirachta Indica A. Juss grown in foothills of Nepal African Journal of Biotechnology, 8 (13): 3084-3091.

Girish K and Shankara B S 2008: Neem – A Green Treasure. Electronic Journal of Biology, 2008, Vol. 4(3):102-111.

Gowda S K and Sastry V R B 2000: Neem (Azadirachta indica) seed cake in animal feeding-scope and limitations: Review. Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Science. 13(5): 720-728.

Kumar  A and Sharma S D 2003: Nutritive evaluation of some fodder tree leaves for ruminants in Tarai Region of Uttaranchal. Indian Journal of Animal Nutrition, 20(2): 161-167.

Leng R A 1997: Tree foliage in ruminant nutrition. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper, 139. (Accessed 5th January 2016).

Lu C D 1988: Grazing behavior and diet selection of goats. Small Ruminant Research. 1(3): 205-216.

Manwar S J, Thirumurugan P, Konwar D, Chidanandaiah and Karna D K 2007: Effect of Azadirachta indica leaf powder supplementation on broiler performance. Indian Veterinary Journal, 84 (2): 159-162.

Nanang D M, Day R J and Amaligo J N 1997: Growth and yield of Neem (Azadirachta indica A. Juss.) plantations in Northern Ghana. Commonwealth Forestry Review, 76(2): 103-106.

Ngamsaeng A, Wanapat M and Khampa S 2006: Evaluation of local tropical plants by in vitro rumen fermentation and their effects on fermentation end-products. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition, 5 (5): 414-418.

Niranjan P S, Udeybir, Singh J and Verma D N 2008: Mineral and antinutritional factors of common tree leaves. Indian Veterinary Journal, 85: 1067-1069.

Ogbuewu I P, Odoemenam V U, Obikaonu H O, Opara M N, Emenalom O O ,Uchegbu M C, Okoli I C, Esonu B O and Iloeje M U 2011: The growing importance of neem (Azadirachta indica A. Juss) in agriculture, industry, medicine and environment: A review. Research Journal of Medicinal Plant, 5(3): 230-245.

Olanite JA, Tarawali S A and Aken’ova M E 2004: Biomass yield, quality and acceptability of selected grass-legume mixtures in the moist savanna of west Africa. Tropical Grasslands, 38: 117-128.

Orwa C, Mutua A, Kindt R,  Jamnadass R and Simons A 2009: Agroforestree Database: a tree reference and selection guide. Version 4.0. (

Otchere E O 1996:  Small ruminants production in tropical Africa. Small Ruminant Production in Developing Countries. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper,  58. Small ruminant production in the developing countries. Proceedings of an Expert Consultation held in Sofia, Bulgaria, 8–12 July 1985. Edited by V.M. Timon and J.P. Hanrahan.

Paengkoum P 2010: Effect of neem (Azadirchta indica) and leucaena (Leucaena leucocephala) fodders on digestibility, rumen fermentation and nitrogen balance of goats fed corn silage. Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances, 9(5): 883-886.

Panhwar F 2005: The neem tree (Azadirachta indica A. Juss), a natural pesticide practice in Pakistan. Diditalverlag Gmbh, Germany. Edition Chem Lin.

Peters M 1992: Evaluation of tropical pasture legumes for fodder banks in subhumid Nigeria. PhD Thesis. Justus-Liebig-Universităt, Giessen, Germany.

Peters M, Tarawali S A and Alkamper J 1997:  Dry season performance of four tropical pasture legumes in subhumid West Africa as influenced by superphosphate application and weed control. Tropical Grasslands, 31: 201-213.

Radhakrishnan L, Gomathinayagam S and Balakrishnan V 2007: Evaluation of anthelmintic effect of neem (Azadirachta indica) leaves on Haemonchus contortus in goats. Research Journal of Parasitology, 2: 57-62.

Raghuvansi S K S, Prasad R, Mishra A S, Chaturvedi O H, Tripathi M K, Misra A K, Saraswat B L and Jakhmola RC 2007:  Effect of inclusion of tree leaves in feed on nutrient utilization and rumen fermentation in sheep. Bioresource Technology 98 (2007) 511–517.

Ramana D B V, Singh S, Solanki K R and Negi AS 2000: Nutritive evaluation of some nitrogen and non-nitrogen fixing multipurpose tree species. Animal Feed Science and Technology, 88: 103-111.

Rao S B N, Radhika V, Singh N and Dutta T K 2011: Evaluation of mineral adequacy of natural browse species and concentrate ingredients for goats. Livestock Research for Rural Development, 23(8).  Article #166. Retrieved January 12, 2016, from

Rose Innes R 1977: A Manual of Ghana Grasses. Surrey: Land Resources Division, Ministry of Overseas Development.

Rutagwenda T, Schwartz H J, Carles A B and Said A N 1985: Effects of seasonal forage supply on some fertility parameters in the small East African goat in Northern Kenya. In: Wilson, R.T. and Bourzat, D. (eds) Small Ruminants in African Agriculture. ILCA: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Pp 26-33.

Seresinhe T and Marapana R A U J 2011: Goat Farming Systems in the Southern Province of Sri Lanka: Feeding and Management Strategies. World Journal of Agricultural Sciences, 7 (4): 383-390.

Shukla P C and Desai M C 1988: Neem (Azadirachta indica, Juss.) as a source of cattle feed. International Tree Crops Journal, 5(3): 135-142.

Singh R V 1982: Fodder trees of India. Oxford and IBH  Publishing Co., New Delhi, India.

Smith O B 1992: Fodder trees and shrubs in range and farming systems in tropical humid Africa. In: Speedy, A. and Pugliese, P. (eds). Legume Trees and other Fodder Trees as Protein Sources for Livestock. Proceedings, FAO Expert Consultation, Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Sonaiya E B 1993: Evaluation of non-conventional feed ingredients as supplements for scavenging chicken. Proc. VII World Conf. Anim. Prod., Edmonton, Canada, p. 28-29

Speedy A and Pugliese P 1992: Legume Trees and other Fodder Trees as Protein Sources for Livestock. Proceedings, FAO Expert Consultation, Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Streets R J 1962: Exotic Forest Trees in the British Commonwealth. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Timpong-Jones E C 2011: Estimation and management of forage production in the Coastal Savannah Plains of Ghana. PhD. Thesis. Department of Animal Science, School of Agriculture, University of Ghana, Legon.

Tiwary M K and Pandey A 2010: Feeding neem (Azadirachta indica) products to small ruminants as anthelmentics. Food Science and Technology Letters, 1(1): 10.

Received 13 January 2016; Accepted 15 March 2016; Published 1 May 2016

Go to top