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Foxtail millet (Setaria italica), forage


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Common names 

Foxtail millet, dwarf setaria, foxtail bristle grass, German millet, giant setaria, green bristle grass, green foxtail, green foxtail millet, Hungarian millet, Italian millet, wild foxtail millet, nunbank setaria [English]; mijo, mijo de Italia, mijo menor, moha, moha de Alemania, moha de Hungria, panizo común, almorejo [Spanish]; painço, milho painço, milho painço de Itália [Portuguese]; millet d'Italie, millet des oiseaux, petit mil, sétaire verte, sétaire d'Italie [French]; Kolbenhirse, Italienische Borstenhirse [German]; jawawut, sekoi [Indonesian]; setária-verde [Italian]; juwawut, otèk [Javanese]; setariya [Kinyarwanda]; ذيل الثعلب الإيطالي [Arabic];  粟 [Chinese]; 조 [Korean]; कंगनी [Hindi]; アワ [Japanese]; ನವಣೆ [Kannada]; തിനയുടെ [Malayalam]; कागुनी [Nepali]; Щети́нник италья́нский [Russian]; தினை [Tamil]; కొఱ్ఱలు [Telugu]; ข้าวฟ่างหางหมา [Thai]


Chaetochloa italica (L.) Scribn., Chaetochloa viridis (L.) Scribn., Chamaeraphis viridis (L.) Millsp., Panicum italicum L., Panicum pachystachys Franch. & Sav., Panicum viride L., Setaria italica subsp. maxima (Alef.) Dekapr. & Kasparian, Setaria italica var. moharia Alef. ex Hegi, Setaria pachystachys (Franch. & Sav.) Matsum., Setaria viridis (L.) P. Beauv., Setaria viridis subsp. pachystachys (Franch. & Sav.) Masam. & Yanagita


Foxtail millet (Setaria italica (L.) P. Beauv.) is one of the oldest cultivated cereal grain and the most economically important species of the Setaria genus. Foxtail millet is usually grown for its grain (see the Foxtail millet grain datasheet) but it is also cultivated as a fodder plant.

Foxtail millet is an erect annual grass, fast-growing, leafy and tufted, 90-220 cm high. It has a dense root system of thin adventitious roots. Its stems are erect, slender and tiller from the base. The leaves are alternate with lanceolate and serrated blades, 15-50 cm long and 0.5-4 cm broad. The inflorescence is an erect or pendulous spike-like bristly panicle, 5-30 cm long x 1-5 cm wide, bearing between 6 and 12 spikelets (FAO, 2011; Brink, 2006).

There are many wild and cultivated types of Setaria italica, which are interfertile. Wild types are annual weeds (green foxtail millet) that are very common in temperate areas. Cultivated types differ in height, habit, structure of inflorescences, number and colour of grain. Moha cultivars are high-tillering (up to 50 culms) with more or less erect inflorescences. They are grown in Europe, USA and in Southwestern Asia, mainly for fodder. Maxima cultivars have between 1 and 8 unbranched culms with large inflorescences. They are cultivated in Russia and Asia. Indica cultivars are intermediate in terms of number of tillers and in inflorescence size. They are grown in Southern Asia (Brink, 2006; Prasada Rao et al., 1987).

Foxtail millet provides valuable hay and silage. The stover and straw is an important fodder in China, and can also be used for thatching and bedding (Brink, 2006).


Foxtail millet may have originated from China, where its cultivation dates back to 5000 BC. It probably spread from the highlands of Central China towards India and Europe and can now be found all over the world. The major production centres are China and India. In Africa, foxtail millet can be found in upland areas in East Africa, Cameroon and Southern Africa (Brink, 2006). In Europe, where it used to be cultivated as a summer crop until the 17th century, it has become marginal and Central Europe is now the main area of production (Panaud, 2006).

Foxtail millet is a fast-growing summer annual and crop duration varies from 60 to 120 days. It is very adaptive and can be cultivated from sea level up to an altitude of 2000 m. It grows best in places where annual rainfall ranges from 500 to 700 mm of summer rain. However, it continues growing with under 300-400 mm annual rainfall and in semi-arid areas with less than 125 mm rainfall during the 3 to 4 months of growth (Brink, 2006). Foxtail millet is frost sensitive and grows better between 16 and 26°C, though it has much larger temperature tolerance (5-35°C). It thrives on many kinds of soils, from sandy to heavy clay soils, but not on saline soils. The pH should be in the 5.5-8.3 range and soils should not be water-logged (FAO, 2011; Ecocrop, 2011; Brink, 2006).

Forage management 

Foxtail millet can be sown as a sole crop or intercropped with legumes, cotton, or other cereals such as sorghum or finger millet (Eleusine coracana). It is an excellent catch crop: for example it can replace paddy rice when the latter has failed. In the USA, it can be sown as late as mid-July to produce a forage crop. Foxtail millet is mainly valued for its ability to grow in dry conditions but does well under irrigation (Brink, 2006).

Foxtail millet grows quickly and maturity occurs within less than 90 days. It does not regrow after cutting or grazing. While it cannot stand continuous grazing, it can be heavily grazed during summer (FAO, 2011; Teutsch, 2009). It should be cut at the flowering stage. Foxtail millet may yield 15-20 t green matter/ha and 3.5 t hay/ha. (FAO, 2011).

Environmental impact 

Erosion control and afforestation

Foxtail millet is a quick growing species that can be grown in contour strips for erosion control. The stubble left after hay harvest provides an excellent winter soil cover and a protective seedbed for stubble seeding of the following crop (FAO, 2011; Brink, 2006).

Foxtail millet is recommended in the “Forestry Reclamation Approach”, which consists of growing tree seedlings under the cover of fast-growing grass species. However, foxtail millet can inhibit the recruitment of native species during its first year and may attract rodents and deer, which may be harmful to tree seedlings (Burger et al., 2009).


Foxtail millet may be useful as a wildlife planting to provide food and cover for doves, quails and other birds (Rasnake et al., 2005).

Global warming

Foxtail millet may help to alleviate the effects of global warming as it can be grown in drier areas than other cereal crops (Brink, 2006).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Foxtail millet forage is not a high-quality forage, being relatively poor in protein (9-12.5% DM for the fresh forage, less than 8% for hay) and rich in fiber (NDF 48-72% and ADF 33-44% DM).

Potential constraints 


Foxtail millet forage contain oxalates (0.7% DM) (Hintz et al., 1991) and should not be fed to horses as the only source of roughage since it may have a laxative effect, cause excessive urination, and kidney and bone problems (Teutsch, 2009).


If foxtail millet has been severely stressed it may accumulate nitrates at levels toxic for livestock (Teutsch, 2009; Oelke et al., 1990).


In Argentina, a case of mycotoxicity (5% morbidity) was reported in heifers consuming foxtail millet hay from bales contaminated with Fusarium chlamydosporum (Rodriguez et al., 1997).


Information about the use of foxtail millet forage in ruminants is scarce.

Digestibility and energy value

For the fresh forage, the OMD and ME content predicted from the chemical composition are about 59% and 8.3 MJ/kg DM respectively. Using the gas production technique, ME content was estimated to be in the 6-8.7 MJ/kg DM range, depending on the sowing date and density (Torbatinejad et al., 2009). The OMD and ME values for the hay and stover are much lower. The low digestibility of mature foxtail millet and other stovers and straws is mainly due to the high proportion of coarse cell wall material that induces an incomplete and delayed access of the rumen microorganisms (Wilman et al., 1999). It seems that there is no influence of stage of maturity on the in vitro DM degradability and in vivo DM intake by sheep (Mustafa, 1985).


Foxtail millet hay was found to be of lower quality than alfalfa hay in a series of experiments where dairy cows grazing alfalfa pasture were supplemented with either foxtail millet or alfalfa hay. Foxtail millet supplementation resulted in a lower DM intake (Castro et al., 1992) and in lower milk production and milk protein yield (Gallardo et al., 1992). However, in situ NDF rumen degradability was similar for foxtail millet and alfalfa hay (Castillo et al., 1992).


The application of 5% or 7.5% of molasses increased the protein and energy content of foxtail millet silage (Arbabi et al., 2008).


In sheep fed different kinds of roughages, the voluntary DM intake of foxtail millet leaves was moderately high (46-70 g/kg W0.75) and comparable to that of wheat chaff and alfalfa stems, while millet stems resulted in the lowest DM intake. Foxtail millet stems and stover had a low in sacco OM degradability (about 40% after 24h) and cell wall degradability (40-59% after 96h), comparable to those of wheat and rice straws (Wilman et al., 1999).

Horses and donkeys 

Due to its oxalate content (see Potential constraints), foxtail millet forage should not be fed to horses as the sole roughage and should be supplemented with a calcium source (Hintz et al., 1991; Teutsch, 2009).

Nutritional tables

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

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 35.6 3.3 30.3 42.3 11
Crude protein % DM 10.7 1.2 8.3 12.5 15
Crude fibre % DM 35.2 *
NDF % DM 56.4 9.0 48.4 72.0 14
ADF % DM 41.3 2.7 33.4 43.8 14
Lignin % DM 5.7 0.5 5.7 7.0 4 *
Ether extract % DM 2.2 0.2 1.9 2.4 10
Ash % DM 8.7 1.4 6.3 11.2 14
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.4 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 1.9 0.1 1.7 2.1 9
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.3 0.1 1.1 1.5 9
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 59.0 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 56.4 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.4 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.3 *
ME ruminants (gas production) MJ/kg DM 7.2 0.8 6.0 8.7 9
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 55.0 1

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


Arbabi et al., 2008; CGIAR, 2009; Neumark, 1970; Torbatinejad et al., 2009

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:44:13

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Crude protein % DM 7.6 1
Crude fibre % DM 45.1 1
NDF % DM 79.7 *
ADF % DM 52.0 *
Lignin % DM 8.0 *
Ether extract % DM 1.7 1
Ash % DM 9.7 1
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.3 *
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 48.2 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 44.9 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.2 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 6.6 *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 57.2 1

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


Van Wyk et al., 1951

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:44:13

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Crude protein % DM 4.2 0.6 3.8 4.9 3
Crude fibre % DM 39.0 *
NDF % DM 73.0 70.0 76.1 2
ADF % DM 46.2 39.6 52.8 2
Lignin % DM 6.3 2.6 10.0 2
Ash % DM 13.8 13.1 14.6 2
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 16.8 *
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 46.8 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 43.6 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 7.3 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 5.9 *

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


CGIAR, 2009

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:45:42

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Sauvant D., 2015. Foxtail millet (Setaria italica), forage. Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/382 Last updated on May 11, 2015, 14:30

English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant) and Hélène Thiollet (AFZ)