Spine Less Cactus as Fodder for Livestock

Drylands comprise 40 % of the global land area and host more than 2 billion people. Ironically these areas are mostly overpopulated, thus increasing pressure on natural resources. On the top of it, the world is caught in the web of climate change, which is showing its menacing effect in the different parts of the world. In fact, the effects of global-warming are very much here and visible, especially in the hotter regions like arid and semi arid zones of the world. In India, because of failure of rains in many parts of the country, the water scarcity is emerging as the new adversary for the country. The failure of rains leads to the failure of crops, which in turn, is forcing lot of Indian farmers to commit suicide.
Due to overdraft of ground water, to meet its excessive requirement for wheat-paddy cropping system, the water table has reduced drastically in many states, especially in Punjab and Haryana. In these states it has gone down from 10 meters to 25 meters in the last decade. Thus, there is an urgent need to adopt all kinds of water conservation techniques, like micro and drip irrigation, use of laser levelers, planting of permanently raised beds, direct seeding of paddy and roof top rain harvesting. In fact, the Prime Minister of India, knowing the gravity of the situation, has coined this national slogan “Per Drop More Crop”, for water conservation and its efficient use for crop and animal husbandry.
Rangelands in semi arid zones are usually the basis for livestock production system. However, as the global livestock population is increasing steadily, this is leading to the rangeland degradation. With water being another limiting factor, the very sustainability of the livestock production in these regions is in danger, which is directly going to affect the survivability of human population in these regions.
Just like food crops, even fodder crops need lot of water for their cultivation. Seasonal and yearly fluctuations of rainfall do severely reduce the potential of crops such as maize and beans. Perennial adapted crops are the best alternative to produce food for humans and feed for livestock. Today we have two technologies for growing fodder in the water scarcity areas, viz., “Hydroponics Fodder” and “Spine-less Cactaii as green Fodder”. While good information is being dissipated on hydroponics, there is also the need to propagate the technology of Cactaii as green fodder through information diffusion.
In this scenario, spineless cactus, more specifically Opantia and Neopalea become the most important crops for the 21st century. The succulents have the consistency of being thick, soft and juicy, and are so adapted that in periods of drought these are able to store water in their tissues. These cactaii require least care and can be cultivated in nurseries or greenhouses too. Cactaii have the potential to produce > 20 tones of DM per hectare per year and provide 180 tones of fresh good quality water stored in the Cladodes for livestock (Dubeux et al, 2015). The productivity is enough to produce forage to sustain 5 adult cows per year. This means a 60 fold increase over rangeland productivity. The potential of this Cactus, however, is still unexploited. Just less than 0.1% of the dryland area is covered so far under its cultivation.
Under the National Dairy Plan, NDDB, Anand has taken up the cultivation and the propagation of Cactaii in a big way in the semi arid area of Gujrat state. The pictures show the different stages of cultivation of the cactaii being undertaken by the fodder experts from NDD under the transfer of technology. of thorn . In fact, I am glad that one of my old student’s, Nihar Ranjan Gosh has been overlooking these operations of transfer of technology of thorn-less cactus cultivation with drip irrigation system on the farmers’ field for green fodder production. These operations are being conducted in villages facing acute water shortage, due to drought conditions in Banaskantha and Dahod districts of Gujrat. Brazil has 500,00 to 600,000 ha of cultivated cactus, mostly Opuntia and Neopalea.
Chemical composition of the average cactus plant
The cactus plant has a high water content, and is also high in energy. However, It is low in CP as well as fibre. The digestibility is moderate, varying from 65 -7
i) CP 3-7 %
ii) NDF 25-30 %
iii) Water soluble carbohydrates 45 – 55 %
iv) Digestibility 65- 70 %
Benefits of using Cactus plant

  • It is a multipurpose crop and provides multiple benefits to the society.
    It protects soil against erosion
  • Provides green fodder for livestock. In Mexico, 3 million hectares of native cactus is extensively used by the population to feed livestock.
  • Provides food for human beings, as fruits and vegetables. In fact, Italy, Mexico and other Latin American countries have cactus orchards in a big area.
  • It has medicinal as well as cosmetics well. Cactaii based industries are being developed in many Latin American countries.

Spineless cactus could be a tremendous resource for semi arid regions of the world, providing multiple benefits.
Establishing cactus might alleviate the pressure on rangelands, thus, providing green fodder for livestock.
An excellent plant for the reclamation of rangelands
Last but not least, these cactaii have a high potential for carbon capture, both above as well as below the soil.
* Adopted as an abridged version from the article by Jose C. B. Debeux Jr., which appeared in “Feedipedia” recently ( April, 2016).

by Dr. T. K. Walli, Managing Editor, Think Grain Think Feed