Cactus – An emerging fodder alternative

Spineless Cactus with its high succulency is emerging as one of the promising fodder options for livestock. With its high water use efficiency, cactus serves as an excellent fodder species, especially under water stressed conditions. BAIF in Karnataka is successfully promoting cactus as livestock fodder among farmers in South Indian States.

In India, around 53% of land is having dry and semi dry regions. Climate change impact is already observed in several places, particularly in dry and semi dry regions, destroying crops, animals and livelihoods. Farmers have been struggling in not only accessing food but also feed for the livestock.

The arid and semiarid areas are characterized by limited resources. Production of green fodder is rare, particularly during the hot and dry season (summer) when the animal feed is strongly complemented by feeding concentrates. During summer period, farmers face green fodder scarcity and animals need green fodder with more water content. In such a situation, spineless cactus cultivation is boon to the farmers. In India, however, cactus is not yet grown as a commercial crop.

To face these critical periods, the spineless cactus which is useful for ground conservation and reduction of streaming, has emerged as an alternative feed for livestock. Spineless cactus which is being widely cultivated to combat desertification and reclaim degradation, could be used as green fodder in all seasons.

Spineless cactus is the best alternative to green fodder, especially in summer period as it consists of 80 -85% water content. Cactus is an alternative source of green fodder during scarcity period. It can be grown in soils where no other crops can grow. Cactus is not only used as fodder. It is also used as a medicine. It is an excellent source of water too for livestock as it contains 85-90% of water, besides being rich in vitamins, carbohydrates proteins (5-9%), calcium, potassium and other minerals.

The Initiative

BAIF Gramodaya campus, Tiptur, Karnataka, initiated spineless cactus cultivation and promotion with 4 accessions under  research, demonstration and training purpose, besides maintenance of germ plasm during 2018-19. BAIF has been promoting spineless cactus on farm bunds and uncultivable lands so that regular cropping area is not disturbed.

Box 1: Method of cultivating Cactus

Planting cactus during post rainy season, starting from October to March, is best time for successful establishment and survival. Fresh cactus cladodes (Flattened leaves of 6-15 inches width) have to planted after reducing its water content to 65 to 70%. The cladodes from mother plant are separated and kept for 4 to 5 days under shade, to reduce the moisture content. Raised beds of 2 feet width and 1 feet height and convenient length should be prepared for planting cactus.

Do not water the plants immediately after the planting. After a week’s time, water the plant lightly (1liter/pot). Subsequent watering may be provided at 10 days interval.

The average of 15-30 cladodes per plant was recorded at 12 months after planting. The biomass harvesting in cactus should be initiated after one year of the planting keeping the basal cladodes. The other cladodes may be harvested by cutting with sharp knife and fed to the cattle. Cactus plant should attain a height of 1 mtr preferably, at the time of first harvest.

From 2019-20 onwards,  a number of farmers, NGOs, Govt staff, School students, SHGs and Artificial inseminators from different districts and States, have visited the demo plots and have been exposed to cactus cultivation and feeding methods. Around 120 farmers from Chitradurga, 220 farmers from Sira, 110 Artificial inseminators from Mysore, Belgaum, Dharwad, Gadag, Bagalkot, Hassan, Tumkur districts in Karnataka; 65 farmers from Tamil Nadu; 180 farmers from AP and 150 farmers and vet practitioners from Telangana and Tiptur were trained on promotion of spineless cactus. Most of these farmers who visited and got to know about the importance of cactus as livestock feed collected cladodes and planted them on the field bunds and available spaces. Each farmer planted around 10-15 cladodes on an average.

Cactus is an excellent source of water too for livestock as it contains 85-90% of water, besides being rich in vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, calcium, potassium and other minerals .

As spineless cactus is an arid crop, it does not require frequent irrigation. However, a limited irrigation of once a month can increase the growth and productivity of cactus cladodes. It can survive in degraded soils, provided the soils are not so saline that it inhibits the growth of the cactus. Therefore, it can be used for reclamation of degraded soils. The PoP of cactus cultivation is one of the simplest among all fodder crops (Box 1). It requires minimum input and very easy to propagate. It is highly drought tolerant and can withstand high temperature throughout the year. Therefore, cactus needs no such maintenance, hence farmers are happy to have cladodes on field bunds or wherever space is available. It acts as live fencing, wind breaker and green fodder to their livestock.

This spineless cactus can yield up to 20T/ hac with minimum care and management and provide feed to 5-6 cattles for one year. One could  feed 10 kg cactus (8-10 cladodes) per adult cattle per day.( each cladode weighs about 0.800 to 1.200 kg)   It is rich in minerals. Well developed cladodes are chopped into small pieces and mixed with dry fodder and fed to cattle and goats.  It has high fiber content so it may be fed in summer season

Farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have started feeding their animals and small ruminants with cactus. Around 23 farmers in Chitradurga district, who planted around 15020 cladodes are eager to feed spineless cactus cladodes to their animals.

I. I. Hugar


Research Programme Manager

BAIF Gramodaya campus, Tiptur




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