Dichrostachys cinerea is browsed during the dry season. Pods, twisted and borne in large bunches, are much relished by cattle and game (Göhl, 1982). Surveys have shown that Dichrostachys cinerea is well known by farmers in several regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. In South Africa, it was the most known shrub species in the Bushbuckridge area (Chepape et al., 2011) and ranked second as predominant fodder in the Limpopo province (Matlebyane et al., 2010). In Central Tanzania, it was known and used by 40% of respondents (Komwihangilo et al., 1995).
The high protein content of Dichrostachys cinerea browse may alleviate problems of protein shortage during the dry season, when it is fed to goats as a supplement to low quality forages (Aganga et al., 2000; Sharma et al., 1998). It was comparable to alfalfa hay as a supplement to buffalo grass (Paspalum conjugatum) in yearling male goats, which ate more dry matter and drank less than the animals fed alfalfa hay (Aganga et al., 1998). However, a survey of Central Tanzania farmers found that most farmers reported that feeding Dichrostachys cinerea caused goats to consume more water (Komwihangilo et al., 2001). Goats supplemented with sicklebush during the month before kidding had increased milk production, reduced kid mortality, and their kids had higher growth rates and weaning weights (Maphosa et al., 2009). Dichrostachys cinerea can also be included in urea-molasses blocks (Aganga et al., 2007).
Dichrostachys cinerea leaves have been found to be very nutritious and constitute the major edible portion of the plant (Tefera et al., 2008). However, the thorns make the leaves difficult to eat for cattle and they tend to avoid them when they have the choice (Aregawi et al., 2008; Moleele et al., 2002). Goats, who have sharper muzzles and can maneuver their mouths between thorns, eat the leaves in spite of the thorns (Aregawi et al., 2008; Sebata et al., 2010). The leaf accessibility index (measured as the ratio between inter-thorn spacing and mean goat muzzle width) of sicklebush was higher than that of Acacia tortilis, but lower than that of Terminalia prunioides (Sebata et al., 2010).
Dichrostachys cinerea retains its leaves late in the dry season, which is particularly valuable in periods of biomass scarcity (Aregawi et al., 2008). Their protein content is adequate for maintenance and growth of small ruminants (Tefera et al., 2008). They contain adequate amounts of Ca and Mg but are deficient in K and P (Tefera et al., 2008).
Sicklebush pods are well accepted by all ruminant species (Onana, 1995). They contain more protein than the grasses available in the same regions. This cheap protein source can replace commercial protein sources, especially during the dry season (Smith et al., 2005; Mlambo et al., 2004; Shayo et al., 1999). They are a better supplement than Acacia etbaica fruits for fattening young goats (Yayneshet et al., 2008b) and better than Digitaria grasses for yearling Friesian bulls (Choongo et al., 2008).
Since the pods are indehiscent, their nutritive value for cattle is improved when they are milled through a 4 mm screen (Mlambo et al., 2004): a larger percentage of intact seeds were found in the faeces of calves (76%) and heifers (67%) than in those of small ruminants (20 to 50%). The beneficial effect of grinding was only effective for cattle (Shayo et al., 1998).