Melinis minutiflora is palatable to cattle once they become used to the smell (Göhl, 1982). In Minas Gerais, Brazil, Melinis minutiflora was the principal component of the diet of grazing cattle and was preferred during the rainy season. In the dry season, Andropogon bicornis and Imperata brasiliensis were preferred to molasses grass (Bauer et al., 1998).
Molasses grass has a low to acceptable nutritive value. An in vivo OM digestibility of 54% was reported (Axtmayer et al., 1938; Göhl, 1982). In vitro OM digestibility values between 45 and 66% have been observed (Coser et al., 1997; Lebdosoekojo, 1978). In a digestibility trial on penned sheep, Melinis minutiflora grass was found to be of very low quality during the dry season, well below maintenance requirements for sheep and calves: ME values were between 5.9 and 8.6 MJ/kg DM and digestible crude protein was 0.58-2.18% DM (Costa et al., 1981).
In tropical savannahs in Colombia, steers grazing Melinis minutiflora pastures during the rainy and the dry seasons produced 111 and 68 kg live weight/ha/year respectively. Stocking rates were 0.88 and 0.44 head/ha (Paladines et al., 1974). On the plains of Eastern Colombia, beef cows grazed native grasses in the dry season and Melinis minutiflora during the rainy season, with either salt or a complete mineral supplementation. The live-weight gains of cows and the weights of calves at weaning were significantly higher (330 kg/head and 172 kg/head) with a complete mineral supplement than with salt alone (302 kg/head and 132 kg/head) (Lebdosoekojo, 1978).
In Minas Gerais, improved natural pasture sowed with Melinis minutiflora and Stylosanthes guyanensis was grazed by Zebus steers, resulting in live-weight gain/ha almost 4 times higher and an average daily gain twice that of the unimproved pasture (Vilela et al., 1978). In the same region, a comparison was made between Melinis minutiflora and Brachiaria decumbens pastures grazed by dairy calves. Daily live-weight gain was higher for Melinis minutiflora pastures (178 and 467 g during the dry and rainy seasons respectively, vs. 39 and 333 g for Brachiaria) but annual live-weight gain/ha was higher for Bracharia decumbens pastures (Coser et al., 1997). Stocking rates were 0.4 AU/ha for Melinis minutiflora and 1.2 AU/ha for Brachiaria decumbens. Also in Minas Gerais, Melinis minutiflora was the principal component of the diet and was preferred in the rainy season, but Andropogon bicornis and Imperata brasiliensis were preferred in the dry season (Bauer et al., 1998).
In Brazil, dairy cows grazing Melinis minutiflora pasture were supplemented with soybean meal, with maize grain with husks or with both soybean meal and maize grain with husks, but supplementation was not found to be economically viable as it failed to increase milk yield, DM intake and crude protein intake (Vilela et al., 1980).
Sheep and goats
Very few studies have been published on the use of Melinis by small ruminants. In Cameroon, the performance of sheep and goats grazing natural pasture (Melinis minutiflora, Pennisetum purpureum, Imperata cylindrica) was maximum at the beginning of the rainy season. The animals started losing weight at the peak of heavy rains and the greatest weight losses were at the end of the dry season. As stocking rates increased from 40 to 100 heads/ha, sheep and goats increasingly lost weight. However, these results would be similar with other grass species in the same conditions (Fai et al., 2000).