Animal feed resources information system

Golden millet (Setaria sphacelata)

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: This datasheet is pending revision and updating; its contents are currently derived from FAO's Animal Feed Resources Information System (1991-2002) and from Bo Göhl's Tropical Feeds (1976-1982).


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Common names 

African bristle grass, African pigeon grass, canary seed grass, common setaria, golden bristle grass, Rhodesian grass (Southern Africa), golden millet, golden setaria, golden timothy (Zimbabwe), Kazungula setaria, pigeon grass, pigeongrass, setaria (Australia), Rhodesian grass, Setaria (Australia), South African pigeon grass [English]; sétaire d'Afrique [French]; capim de Congo, capim maranga, setaria, setaria narok, capim-setária, napierzinho [Portuguese]; cola de perro, mijo silvestre, rabo de cachorro, setarea, narok, zacate setaria, pasto nandi, zacate nandi, pasto san Juan (Costa Rica), pasto miel (Ecuador), fleo dorado (Mexico) [Spanish]; Mannagras [Afrikaans]; 南非鴿草 [Chinese]

  • Var. anceps: golden bristle grass, golden millet, south African pigeon grass, rhodesian grass, setaria, capim setária, napierzinho, pasto san juan, pasto miel, fleo dorado, golden timothy

Var. anceps (Stapf) Veldkamp: Setaria anceps Stapf, Setaria anceps Stapf var. sericea Stapf, Setaria sphacelata (Schumach.) Stapf & C.E. Hubb. var. sericea (Stapf) Clayton, nom. illeg.

Taxonomic information 

Setaria sphacelata is a highly variable species that has different subspecies. While Setaria sphacelata var. anceps is called golden millet and documented in this datasheet, the supbspecies Setaria sphacelata var. splendida is detailed in the Giant setaria datasheet.


Golden millet (Setaria sphacelata) is a stout, usually tufted, and shortly rhizomatous perennial grass. It is a productive and variable species, of which numerous subspecies and varieties have been described. Many commercial cultivars have been developed for various climates and soil conditions. It is cultivated worldwide for pasture and for cut fodder. It can be used to make silage and finer types are reported to be suitable for hay making (Cook et al., 2005). It may also be used as ground cover for soil conservation (FAO, 2017).


Setaria sphacelata produces short rhizomes and many flattened blue-green stems up to 1.8-2 (-3) m high. The leaves are bluish grey green, soft and glabrous, 50 cm long x 1-1.7 cm wide, with long pointed tips (Moore, 2016; Cook et al., 2005). The inflorescence is a spike-like 7-25 cm long x 8 mm wide, dense narrow panicle, that radiates golden-yellow bristles (Cook et al., 2005; FAO, 2017).


Golden millet is an important fodder plant in Africa. Its relatively easy establishment from seeds makes it worth using for pasture development (Hacker, 1992). Setaria sphacelata was reported to be as productive as Rhodes grass and Molasses grass (van Wijk, 1980). Golden millet is important in crop rotation with maize and cereals mainly in mixed farming systems (van Wijk, 1980). Golden millet can be used for pasture, cut-and-carry systems and hay (finer types like Nandi cv.) (Cook et al., 2005). Golden millet also makes good silage. It forms stable groundcover for soil conservation (Cook et al., 2005). Golden millet seeds are an important food source for several bird species, including the long-tailed widowbird (Roberts et al., 2005).


Golden millet (Setaria sphacelata) originated from tropical and subtropical Africa. It was introduced into many countries of South East Asia, America and Oceania (Australia, New Zealand and some Pacific Islands) where it became naturalized (Cook et al., 2005). It is cultivated under irrigation in Morocco and Israel (Bogdan, 1977). It is considered a weed in 3 states of Australia (Moore, 2016).

Golden millet (Setaria sphacelata) is naturally found on grassland, woodland, roadsides, disturbed sites, waste areas and swampy places, usually on clay soils but also on rocky hillsides (FAO, 2017; Cook et al., 2005). In medium to high natural grasslands of East Africa, golden millet may represent a considerable proportion of the herbage though not dominant (Hacker, 1992).

Golden millet is found in both hemispheres from 29°N to 5°S and from sea level to an alitude of 2600 m (-3300 m) (FAO, 2017). Golden millet is a spring and summer growing species but it keeps growing late in autumn (Moore, 2016). Golden millet grows at higher altitudes than panicoid pasture grass as it survives freezing temperatures (Hacker, 1992). It does better when temperatures are between 18-22°C but can still grow during winter if frost is not too heavy (FAO, 2017). Golden millet grows usually in places with more than 750 mm annual rainfall. For cultivation, wetter places with more than 1000 mm rainfall are preferred. Golden millet has variable tolerance of waterlogging and flooding, and generally low tolerance of drought (Cook et al., 2005; van Wijk, 1980). However, some cultivars such as Kazungula are particularly suited to wet lowlands while having good drought tolerance (Cook et al., 2005).

Golden millet thrives on moist fertile soils but can also grow on poor sandy and stony soils. It generally grows on soils with a pH of 5.5-6.5 and does not withstand either acidity, alkalinity or salinity (FAO, 2017). Golden millet is fairly tolerant of shade: its yield is reduced by 50% under 60% shade (Cook et al., 2005). Once established, the species is tolerant of fire and regrowth may even be more tillering after burning (Cook et al., 2005).

Cultivars of golden millet (Setaria sphacelata) have been released to satisfy different cultivation conditions. Some of their characteristics are summarized in the table below.

Table 1: Characteristics of the main cultivar of Setaria sphacelata

Name Temperature Moisture Establishment Oxalates Forage quality
Nandi Sensitive to frost Waterlogging tolerance, no drought tolerance Fair 3.22% (moderate) Leafy, good quality
Kazungula Frost tolerant Warterlogging, flooding and drough tolerance Easy, robust plant 3.3-7.0% (high) Coarse, very stemmy at maturity but well accepted
Narok Frost resistant Warterlogging, flooding and drough tolerance Keeps growing during cool season +++ Leafy, palatable
Forage management 


The average DM yield of golden millet ranges from 10 to 15 t/ha. However, much higher yields of 26-28 t/ha have been reported from well-fertilised irrigated stands (FAO, 2017; Cook et al., 2005).

Pasture management

Golden millet can be successfully sown, or vegetatively propagated. The seeds should be drilled at a rate of 2 kg/ha in a well-prepared seedbed no deeper than 1.8-2.5 cm depending on the cultivar (Moore, 2016; Cook et al., 2005). Golden millet should be sown during spring or midsummer as the optimal period for growth is from spring to autumn (FAO, 2017). Golden millet establishes relatively slowly but reliably provided the seeds can benefit from soil moisture. Vegetative propagation is time-consuming (Bogdan, 1977), but reliable. It can be done after cutting tufts to a height of 15 cm, splitting them in units of 1-3 tillers and planting vertical in moist soil. Root stocks can also be used for propagation (Hacker, 1992). 

Golden millet can be sown with companion legumes such as Neonotonia wightii, Desmodium intortum, D. uncinatum, Macroptilium atropurpureum, Vigna parkeri, Lotus uliginosus, Trifolium repens (Cook et al., 2005; Bogdan, 1977). Such association is profitable if the K status of the soil is maintained. In Himalayan rangelands, golden millet is grown in association with soybean and berseem, providing good amount of dry matter. This association is reported to be one of the most profitable (Bhag Mal, 1997). On the contrary to its association with legumes, it is not recommended to sow golden millet with other grasses (FAO, 2017; Cook et al., 2005).

A small-seeded species, golden millet does not establish readily and, to this respect, is less favorable than Rhodes grass (Hacker, 1992; van Wijk, 1980). Golden millet shoud be weeded frequently till establishment occurs (ILRI, 2013). However, once well established it competes with weeds and is more persistant than Rhodes grass. Golden millet responds positively to N and K fertilizers (Hacker, 1992; van Wijk, 1980).

Golden millet shoud be leniently grazed until establishment since grazing can cause uprooting of young plants (FAO, 2017). Once the establishment is obtained, it is recommended to have golden millet heavily grazed in order to maintain good quality forage, because of its tendency to become stemmy and coarse. In Queensland, the highest yield of forage was obtained by cutting every 3 weeks at a height of 15 cm (FAO, 2017).

In mixed stands, continuous and heavy grazing is not a problem for golden millet, but it can be deleterious to the companion legume (Hacker, 1992). However, the Kuzungula cultivar is prone to shade companion legumes if not heavily grazed (FAO, 2017).

Cut-and-carry systems

In India, golden millet is used for cut-and-carry systems. The first cutting can be done after 3 months of planting (sowing) and subsequent cuttings every 3-4 weeks in well irrigated and properly manured pastures (Trivedi, 2002).

Hay and silage

Most golden millet varieties are tall and coarse, and become stemy with maturity. They are thus not recommended for hay. However, the leafy Nandi cultivar has thinner stems: it is thus more suitable to make hay. It was reported to need only 50-70 hours to cure and had no more than 5% DM losses provided it was cut in the afternoon (Catchpoole, 1968). It was also possible to obtain good quality silage with Nandi grass with addition (or not) of molasses or Desmodium intortum (Catchpoole, 1968; Catchpoole, 1965). The Kazungula cultivar is used widely for silage in southern Africa (FAO, 2017).

Standover and deferred feed

Though coarse at late stages of maturity, golden millet standover provides low-quality roughage, as a supplement to urea-molasses feeding. It is used for this purpose in Kenya and Uganda, but losses of crude protein and dry matter may reach 33% (FAO, 2017).

Environmental impact 


Setaria sphacelata has become naturalised in many countries and is a significant environmental weed in three Australian states.

Erosion control

Because of its large crown, the Kazungula cultivar was reported to provide good erosion control when sown in contour strips (FAO, 2017).

Nutritional aspects
Potential constraints 


Golden millet forage contains moderate to high levels of oxalates, depending on variety, stage of growth, fertiliser level, part of the plant, etc. N fertilized golden millet and golden millet cultivated in association with a legume species had a higher oxalate content (Seawright et al., 1970).

Due to this high oxalate content, golden millet (Setaria sphacelata) is unsuitable for horses (Moore, 2016). It causes "big head disease" (Osteodystrophia fibrosa), a calcium imbalance due to the binding of Ca by oxalates in the horse's intestine. Horses with big head disease have affected gait, poor performance and swelling of bones of the head (DAF, 2010).

It has also been reported to occasionnally cause nephrosis and hypocalcaemia in ruminants though cattle can get used to oxalates (developping adequate rumen flora) and it is possible to alleviate the oxalate effect with a provision of Ca (Moore, 2016; Cook et al., 2005; Boonman, 1993). In Queensland, outbreaks of cattle poisoning were reported in swards containing a high proportion (more than 95%) of golden millet (Moore, 2016; Seawright et al., 1970).


Goden millet is a relatively high yielding quality forage for ruminants. 

see (Hacker et al., 1969)


In Kenya, cattle grazing unfertilized Nandi cv. were reported to gain 336 kg/ha/year (Skerman et al., 1990). In Queensland (Australia), steers continuously grazing golden millet fertilised with 330 kg/ha N, and stocked at about 3 steers per hectare, could produce liveweight gains of 500-800 kg/ha per year (Cook et al., 2005).

In subtropical Australia, well-fertilized setaria pastures sustained continuous stocking rates of up to 6 steers per hectare (Hacker, 1992).

Similar stocking rates could be anticipated in tropical regions without a pronounced dry/cool season.

Animal production

In Kenya, live-weight gains from three pasture species over a three-year trial, without nitrogen fertilizer and without a legume, respectively, were 336 and 192 kg/ha from Nandi setaria, 369 and 220 kg/ha from Nzoia Rhodes grass, and 369 and 131 kg/ha from molasses grass. Hereford steers continuously grazing Nandi setaria and Samford Rhodes grass, fertilized with 330 kg N/ha each at Samford, Queensland, and stocked at 2.5 and 4 steers per hectare, gained a mean of 575 and 522 kg/ha per year on Nandi setaria and 535 kg/ha on the Samford Rhodes grass. In the first two years the animals on Nandi setaria gained significantly more weight at the higher stocking rate than did those on Rhodes grass (Hacker & Jones, 1969) (FAO, 2017).

Breeding livestock

In New zealand, the introduction of 10% or 30%  farm area in setaria reduced total pasture supply slightly during winter and spring, but doubled (10%) and nearly tripled (30%) summer supply. Staocking rates could subsequently be increased by 22% and 25% for the 10% and 30% setaria scenarios respectively. Golden millet was recommended to sustain breeding stock liveweights during periods of scarcity (dry periods). It was particularly effective for breeding cows as breeding ewes could not control stem growth of golden millet (Boom et al., 1996).


Green Setaria sphacelata is used as a cut-and-carry forage by rabbit farmers in different countries such as Indonesia (Prawirodigdo, 1985), Uganda (Lukefahr, 1998) or Eritrea (Tesfay et al., 2014). Nevertheless, when used as the only feed, this graminaceous forage failed completely to support maintenance of rabbits (Raharjo et al., 1986).

Young forage (8 weeks) has a relatively high protein content of about 14-16% DM (Lebas, 2007) and is relished by rabbits (Ghosh et al., 2009). On the contrary, older forage (more than 15-20 weeks) has a very low protein content (6-7%) and its protein is poorly digested by rabbits: 6.2% of N digestibility. In addition, the measured digestible energy content of this type of forage is also very low: 1.7MJ/kg DM (Raharjo et al., 1986). This type of "old" forage is not appreciated by rabbits in cafeteria free choice tests or when distributed alone (Raharjo, 1987).

However, included at 25% in a balanced diet, dried golden millet induced intake or digestibility performance similar to those obtained with other forages such as Panicum maximum cv. hamil or Thysanolaena maxima.

From a practical point of view, fresh young Setaria sphacelata may be recommended as forage for familial small units and when cut older, dried S. sphacelata may be included in rabbit balanced diets at up to 20-25%, but exclusively as a source of fibre, like a cereal straw.

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: This datasheet is pending revision and updating; its contents are currently derived from FAO's Animal Feed Resources Information System (1991-2002) and from Bo Göhl's Tropical Feeds (1976-1982).

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 22.8 6.3 14.2 39.9 218
Crude protein % DM 7.2 2.6 3.7 14.6 270
Crude fibre % DM 38.3 3.6 30.4 44.5 256
NDF % DM 73.3 3.3 63.0 75.9 21 *
ADF % DM 44.5 4.2 32.6 46.2 18 *
Lignin % DM 6.4 1.6 2.6 7.4 12 *
Ether extract % DM 2.0 0.6 1.1 3.6 241
Ash % DM 10.0 2.4 5.8 14.9 265
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.0 18.0 19.9 2 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 2.9 0.9 1.2 5.0 244
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.3 0.7 1.1 4.0 243
Potassium g/kg DM 26.1 10.0 10.4 47.0 226
Sodium g/kg DM 1.4 1.4 0.2 4.3 10
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.0 0.6 1.1 3.4 221
Manganese mg/kg DM 172 58 83 263 11
Zinc mg/kg DM 27 11 12 41 11
Copper mg/kg DM 7 2 5 10 11
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 58.5 3.9 58.5 74.6 7 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 55.9 55.9 67.4 2 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.1 10.1 13.4 2 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.1 *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 67.5 13.7 44.1 77.4 7

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Aumont et al., 1991; Butterworth, 1963; CIRAD, 1991; Gerdes et al., 2000; Kabuga et al., 1993; Mlay et al., 2006; Nasrullah et al., 2003; Pozy et al., 1996; Scaut, 1959; Sen et al., 1965; Singh et al., 1992; Van Rensburg, 1956; Van Wyk et al., 1951; Yadav et al., 1991

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:44:15

Datasheet citation 

DATASHEET UNDER CONSTRUCTION. DO NOT QUOTE. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/381 Last updated on June 6, 2017, 15:22