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Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris)


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Common names 

Buffel grass, African foxtail grass, foxtail buffalo grass, blue buffalo grass, rhodesian foxtail [English]; cenchrus cilié [French]; pasto buffel, zacate buffel [Spanish]; capim búfel [Portuguese]; buffelgras [Dutch]; السبط المهدب [Arabic]; 水牛草 [Chinese]; خورنال [Persian]


Cenchrus glaucus C. R. Mudaliar & Sundararaj, Pennisetum ciliare (L.) Link, Pennisetum cenchroides Rich., Pennisetum incomptum Nees ex Steud.

Related feed(s) 

Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris L.) is a valuable tropical grass cultivated in Africa, Australia, and India.


Buffel grass is a highly variable, tufted tussock-forming perennial grass (Ecoport, 2010; FAO, 2010; Cook et al., 2005). It has a deep, tough rootstock that may go as deep as 2 m. Some varieties are rhizomatous (Ecoport, 2010). The culms are erect or decumbent, reaching up to 2 m in length (Cook et al., 2005). The leaves are linear blades, green to bluish green, slightly pilose, 3-30 cm long and 4-10 mm wide (Ecoport, 2010; Clayton et al., 2006). The inflorescence is a spike-like panicle, bearing deciduous spikelets which are surrounded by hairy bristles (SANBI, 2010). The seed is an ovoid caryopsis, 1.4-2 mm long (Ecoport, 2010; Mannetje et al., 1992).


Cenchrus ciliaris is a very important pasture grass in the tropics (Ecocrop, 2010). It is cultivated for permanent pastures and leys in Central Africa, East Africa and northern Australia, and it is widely used as a forage grass in India (Duke, 1983). The qualities of Cenchrus ciliaris are numerous. It is easy to establish and provides comparatively high value forage with yields between 2 and 18 t DM/ha without fertilizer, and up to 24 t/ha with the addition of a complete fertilizer (Ecocrop, 2010; Osman et al., 2008). It makes reasonable quality hay when cut in the early flowering stage, yielding up to 2.5 t/ha per cut. Once the seed has been harvested, old grass can give low quality roughage for drought feeding with supplements. Cenchrus ciliaris is more rarely made into silage, as the moisture content of the grass in semi-arid areas is usually low (Göhl, 1982). Cenchrus ciliaris is palatable to stock and, once established it can withstand heavy grazing and trampling (FAO, 2010; SANBI, 2010). In arid areas, it maintains livestock during drought periods (Friedel et al., 2006). Some strains also grow well during the wet season (Göhl, 1982). It may be a valuable standover feed for winter grazing if supplemented with urea and molasses (FAO, 2010). In India the seeds may also be harvested in order to make bread or to be eaten raw by humans (Quattrocchi, 2006). There are many cultivars of Cenchrus ciliaris, mostly developed in Australia, and there are some accessions in Africa (Mannetje et al., 1992).


Cenchrus ciliaris is native to Africa, Arabia, the Middle-East and India. It was introduced to Australia in the late 19th century and is now widespread throughout tropical, subtropical and warm temperate areas. It can be found cultivated or naturalized in many places. It is invasive in arid and semi-arid environments and declared noxious in some areas (northern America, Hawaii, Mexico and northern Australia) (Ecoport, 2010; Cook et al., 2005).

Cenchrus ciliaris is commonly found in open bush, woodland and grassland (Ecocrop, 2010). It thrives in arid and semi-arid denuded environments, on light, sandy, rocky and shallow soils as well as in dry calcareous areas. It can be found along roadsides or dry river beds and river banks (SANBI, 2010; Quattrocchi, 2006). Cenchrus ciliaris grows from 33°S to 37°N from sea level up to an altitude of 2000 m (FAO, 2010; Cook et al., 2005). Optimal growth conditions are an annual rainfall ranging from 375 to 750 mm, with day temperatures ranging from 30°C to 35°C, on light, fertile, well-drained soils, and a soil pH between 7 and 8 (Ecoport, 2010; FAO, 2010). Cenchrus ciliaris is the most drought tolerant of the commonly sown grasses in arid areas and can be found in environments with annual rainfall as low as 100 mm. In such places, it gives the best results under irrigation, if it is available, since it has a very high water use efficiency (Osman et al., 2008). It has a moderate tolerance to salinity but is very sensitive to high aluminium and/or manganese levels (Mannetje et al., 1992). Some cultivars have a higher tolerance to salinity (cv. Biloela) (FAO, 2010; Cook et al., 2005). Buffel grass is tolerant of fire (FAO, 2010; Cook et al., 2005). It does not withstand waterlogging and is killed after 6 days under water (Ecoport, 2010).

Forage management 

Cenchrus ciliaris needs time to establish and it should not be grazed before 4-6 months and possibly up to 9-12 months after sowing, depending on establishment conditions (Cook et al., 2005). It should then be cut or grazed at 7 cm high and will stand continuous or rotational grazing and 6-8 week cutting intervals (FAO, 2010; Mannetje et al., 1992). As the maximum dry matter production occurs between 42 and 56 days of plant age and stem-leaf ratio increases rapidly with plant maturity, it has been proposed that Cenchrus ciliaris should be grazed during this time (Garcia et al., 1980). Cenchrus ciliaris may be sown with Columbus grass (Sorghum x almum) as it establishes slower but for a longer period than this short-lived perennial. The association readily provides good quality pasture. Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana) and Guinea grass (Megathyrsus maximus) are also useful companions (Mannetje et al., 1992).

Frequent grazing improves N content of the grass. When used for hay, Cenchrus ciliaris should be cut in the early flowering stage so that nutritive value does not drop. Fire can also be beneficial as it destroys old vegetative woody grass without damaging the crowns: the plant recovers and young leaves with higher nutritive value appear (FAO, 2010). 

Environmental impact 

Soil erosion control

One of the best adapted grasses to semi-arid conditions, Cenchrus ciliaris is valuable for erosion control in such places. In Australia, it was successfully planted for revegetation and erosion control in parks, reserves and river catchments from the 1960s to the mid-1970s (Payne et al., 2004; Albrecht et al., 1997). In a farm in Central Australia, using Cenchrus ciliaris in combination with ponding banks in a severely degraded area increased grazing capacity 10-fold after five years (Friedel et al., 2006). However, its tussocky nature does not allow for complete ground cover (FAO, 2010).


Cenchrus ciliaris is an aggressive grass due to its root system and allelopathic toxicity towards other seeds. It spreads readily and can out-compete native pastures in Australia and in southern USA. It is declared a noxious weed in several arid states of the USA, in Hawaii, in Mexico and in northern Australia (Ecoport, 2010; Friedel et al., 2006; Cook et al., 2005). Cenchrus ciliaris can significantly raise the fire hazzard (frequency and intensity) of an area to the point of removing competing shrubs and trees (Carter, 2006). In Australia, it is recommended for the control of calotropis (Calotropis procera) colonies thanks to its allelopathic effect on roots (Parsons et al., 2001). There have been many attempts to understand the spreading mechanism of buffel grass to help determine control strategies (Jackson, 2004). For example, it thrives in conjunction with legumes such as Desmanthus leptophyllus, Desmanthus virgatus, Desmanthus bicornutus, Leucaena leucocephala, Macroptilium atropurpureum, sicklebush (Dichrostachys cinerea), Stylosanthes hamata, Stylosanthes scabra, Stylosanthes seabrana and Stylosanthes humilis, because of the improved N status of the soil (Orwa et al., 2009; Cook et al., 2005).


Cenchrus ciliaris has been declared an environmental weed in northern Australia and is thought to have a negative impact on biodiversity through competition, altered soil nutrients, water availability, shading, altered fire regimes and changes in availability of dispersal or pollination agents. It decreases the diversity of fauna through removal of flora diversity (Friedel et al., 2006).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Young Cenchrus ciliaris contains about 6-16% DM crude protein, but in old grass this can be as low as 4% DM (Cook et al., 2005; Göhl, 1982; Jacobs et al., 2004).

Potential constraints 


Cenchrus ciliaris is reported to contain 1 to 4% DM of total oxalate (Mannetje et al., 1992; Silcock et al., 1983; Walthall et al., 1976; Jones et al., 1972), which may cause "big head" disease (Osteodystrophia fibrosa) in horses and hypocalcemia in grazing animals (Cheeke, 1995). Symptoms of big head diseases are ill thrift, lameness, and swelling of the skull (Walthall et al., 1976). This disease is most prevalent during the wet season when buffel grass is young and lush (FAO, 2010). Ruminants are less susceptible to oxalate poisoning but may suffer from hypocalcemia (milk fever in dairy cows) and develop renal problems. They have to be gradually introduced to oxalic acid in order to change the rumen flora into one able to mitigate oxalate toxicity (Duncan et al., 2000). Calcium supplementation by feeding limestone or dolomite may help controlling hypocalcemia (FAO, 2010).


Cenchrus ciliaris is considered to be highly nutritive and excellent for pasture in hot, dry areas. It is valued for its production of palatable forage and intermittent grazing during dry periods in the tropics. In Australia, it was found to be beneficial for maintaining livestock during droughts and increasing production per head and per hectare compared with alternative grasses. This was reflected in increasing returns per kilogram for finishing cattle, partly through reducing the age at slaughter, increasing options for management, and reducing dominance of unpalatable grasses due to heavy dry season grazing (Cook et al., 2005).


The digestibility of fresh Cenchrus ciliaris fed to sheep after 30 to 50 days of regrowth was in the 60-69% range (Combellas et al., 1972). In vitro OM digestibility of standing hay ranged from 53 to 64% (Jacobs et al., 2004). The digestibility of buffel grass hay fed to sheep at 56 days of regrowth was in the 49-69% range depending on the amount of N fertilizer applied to the crop (0 to 100 kg/ha) (Donaldson et al., 1977). In Mexico it was found that the nutrient content and digestion parameters of Cenchrus ciliaris varied among seasons; nutrient digestion was higher during summer and autumn and lower during spring and winter (Ramirez et al., 2001). While live-weight gain was related to digestibility, selecting buffel grass for higher digestibility would not necessarily identify the highest quality genotypes in terms of animal production (Minson et al., 1995).


Pasture and fresh forage

Cenchrus ciliaris can carry up to one grazing steer per ha and cattle can gain up to 180-200 kg/head/year, at 2 ha/animal on fertile soils under good growing conditions (Cook et al., 2005). In Australia, buffel grass grown on impoverished land produced weight loss in cattle between May and November, but where adequate fertilizer was applied annual live weight gain of 160 kg/ha was achieved (FAO, 2010).


In Tanzania, supplementing Cenchrus ciliaris hay with leaves from four legumes improved crude protein intake in growing Mpwapwa bulls (Mero et al., 1998).

Sheep and goats

Pasture and fresh forage

Cenchrus ciliaris can carry up to 6 sheep/ha (Cook et al., 2005). The voluntary intake of fresh buffel grass fed to sheep after 30 to 50 days of regrowth ranged between 70 and 80 g/kg W0.75 (Combellas et al., 1972). Early harvesting and feeding at levels allowing at least 30% refusals is recommended for growing sheep (Mero et al., 1998). In India, it was concluded that while Cenchrus ciliaris pastures provide adequate nutrition to sheep and goats during the lush season, supplementation becomes necessary during the lean season (Shinde et al., 1996).


Cenchrus ciliaris hay cut at 56 days of regrowth resulted in voluntary intake in the 50-65 g/kg W0.75 range and average daily gain from -4.5 to 57.3 g, depending on N fertilization (0 to 100 kg/ha) (Donaldson et al., 1977).


Fresh buffel grass is very palatable for rabbits in short term as in long term comparative tropical grass forages tests (Iyeghe-Erakpotobor et al., 2008). Nevertheless the low to very low content of protein and the high level of fibre exclude any possibility of utilisation as sole feed. But this forage (hay) may be an interesting source of fibre when introduced in complete balanced diets. It could introduced up to 30% in rabbit complete feeds tested with adult rabbits (Prasad et al., 1996 cited by Bhatt et al., 2001).

Horses and donkeys 

Horses should not graze Cenchrus ciliaris because it may cause "big head" disease (see Potential constraints above).

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 30.1 7.4 18.4 46.3 78
Crude protein % DM 7.1 1.8 3.6 11.7 105
Crude fibre % DM 40.2 5.0 31.9 48.0 82
NDF % DM 75.1 2.8 63.1 75.1 17 *
ADF % DM 46.6 2.7 33.2 46.6 21 *
Lignin % DM 6.8 1.8 3.4 10.1 19 *
Ether extract % DM 2.1 0.5 1.2 3.1 77
Ash % DM 9.1 2.5 5.4 16.4 89
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.3 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 2.6 0.9 0.9 5.5 70
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.7 0.7 0.7 3.9 70
Potassium g/kg DM 19.5 8.2 6.6 36.0 46
Sodium g/kg DM 0.9 0.4 0.2 1.2 4
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.2 0.4 1.3 2.8 44
Manganese mg/kg DM 33 1
Zinc mg/kg DM 179 27 332 2
Copper mg/kg DM 14 4 23 2
Iron mg/kg DM 1687 1
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 56.7 7.7 55.0 74.9 5 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 54.2 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.9 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.0 *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 57.4 11.5 41.0 76.2 6

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


Aumont et al., 1991; Caceres et al., 1986; CIRAD, 1991; French, 1943; Gowda et al., 2004; Kabuga et al., 1993; Khan et al., 1999; Malik et al., 1967; Nasrullah et al., 2003; Pozy et al., 1996; Rodrigues et al., 2004; Sultan et al., 2007; Xandé et al., 1989

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:43:51

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 90.0 3.1 87.0 93.1 3
Crude protein % DM 9.0 0.8 7.4 10.5 13
Crude fibre % DM 33.8 2.8 30.6 35.7 3
NDF % DM 69.1 2.3 69.1 73.9 10 *
ADF % DM 39.6 0.8 39.6 49.3 10 *
Lignin % DM 5.3 0.0 5.3 8.8 10 *
Ether extract % DM 1.9 0.3 1.7 2.3 3
Ash % DM 11.8 0.6 11.3 12.6 16
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.6 *
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 60.3 2.3 56.1 63.6 18 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 56.8 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.0 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.1 *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 53.0 11.3 41.3 63.7 3

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


French, 1943; Mero et al., 1998; Todd, 1956

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:43:52

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Baumont R., Lebas F., 2016. Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris). Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/482 Last updated on April 1, 2016, 17:12

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