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Sugarcane tops


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Common names 

Sugarcane tops [English]; bouts blancs de canne à sucre, amarres, têtes de canne [French]; cogollos de caña de azucar, puntas de caña de azucar [Spanish]; ponta de cana de açucar, brotos de cana de açucar [Portuguese]


Sugarcane tops are one of the main by-products of sugarcane milling (Devendra, 1985). At harvest time, the sugarcane biomass includes stalks which can be milled, tops, dead and dying leaves, stubble and roots (Ortiz-Rubio et al., 2007). Sugarcane tops represent 15 to 25% of the aerial part of the plant. They generally consist of green leaves, bundle sheath and variable amounts of immature cane (Naseeven, 1988). Generally the cutting point is at the highest fully-formed node (Suttie, 2000). Sugarcane tops contain phenols, amino acids and soluble polysaccharides that prevent optimal crystallization and cause undesirable colour in sugar (Larrahondo, 1995). For that reason, they are the first by-product of the sugar milling process and are discarded on the field, where they are often burned and then used as fertilizer (McKenzie et al., 2007). Sugarcane tops from sugar production are harvested at maturity, which coincides with the dry season, but tops from sugarcane grown for animal feeding can be harvested at an immature stage.

Sugarcane tops are used fresh, dried or ensiled for feeding livestock. Their nutritive value is highly variable and depends on preharvesting methods, stalk cutting point, plant maturity and the amount of dry leaves (McKenzie et al., 2007; Ortiz-Rubio et al., 2007). Sugarcane tops are low cost and abundant materials when other green fodder is not available (Suttie, 2000; Rangnekar, 1988). However, as they are not available year round, ensiling them (see Processes below) increases availability (Naseeven, 1988). Sugarcane tops ferment readily and can be used for ethanol or lactic acid production (Salcedo et al., 2011;Serna Cock et al., 2007).

Manual sugarcane harvesting in Zacapa, Guatemala


Sugarcane tops are found in most tropical countries and are generally used in the vicinity of the sugarcane fields. Yields depend on cultivars, management practices and growing conditions, and are about 18% of the aerial biomass. A crop can provide 5 t/ha of dry matter (Suttie, 2000). In 2010, world sugarcane production was about 1685 million t, resulting in approximately 252-421 million t of tops (DM). In 1986, it was estimated that only 15% of sugarcane tops were used for animal feeding (Naseeven, 1988), suggesting that about 37-63 million t of sugarcane tops go to feeding livestock.



Chopped sugarcane tops ensile readily. The silage can be made in small plastic bags in above ground low-cost silos, as well as in small or large concrete silos. The tops can be ensiled without other materials, thereby providing low protein silage. Ensiling additional leaves with the tops tends to decrease silage digestibility (Naseeven, 1988). Sugarcane tops can be ensiled with materials that will increase the nitrogen content, such as urea and molasses, ammonium sulphate and molasses, or poultry litter (Alemzadeh et al., 2006Mthiyane et al., 2001Naseeven, 1988).


Sugarcane tops can be chopped, dried for 2-3 days and then pelleted (Yuangklang et al., 2005).

Other processes

Attempts to treat sugarcane tops with alkali (ammonia, urea) have failed to produce the same improvement in feed value reported with cereal straws or bagasse (Archimède et al., 2008Göhl, 1982). In one study, urea treatment of sugarcane tops was found to be deleterious to sheep (Mousa et al., 2003). Fine chopping decreased intake rather than improving it (Göhl, 1982). 

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

The quality of sugarcane tops varies considerably, depending on variety, age, growing conditions and management practices. They are generally a bulky (DM over 30%), low protein (protein less than 6 % DM) and fibrous (crude fibre over 30% DM) material. The preharvesting burning practice is detrimental to the nutritive value of sugarcane tops (McKenzie et al., 2007).

Potential constraints 

Organochlorine residues

Certain organochlorine chemicals, notably DDT, hexachlorobenzene, pentachlorobenzene, chlordane, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene, hexachlorocyclohexane (alpha-HCH, beta-HCH, and gamma-HCH (lindane)), and chlordecone were widely used to control pests in sugarcane fields until they were banned worldwide in 2001 (Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants) (UNEP, 2009). In sugarcane plantations that were once treated with these chemicals, pesticide residues may contaminate sugarcane tops left on the ground after the harvest. This potential contamination raises concerns for the safety of meat and milk from livestock fed sugarcane tops, since the residue levels may be higher than the Minimum Risk Level. It is, therefore, necessary to ensure that tops intended for livestock do not come from fields that have received organochlorines in the past. If there is any doubt,  the tops should not be fed to livestock (McKenzie et al., 2007).


Sugarcane tops, and particularly the immature stalks, are highly palatable to livestock, with good intake characteristics (Suttie, 2000). However, because of their low protein content, their use as sole feed in ruminant diets is limited (Ferreiro et al., 1976; Ferreiro et al., 1977Montpellier et al., 1977a; Nguyen Thi Mui et al., 2000Puga et al., 2001a; Puga et al., 2001bSalais et al., 1977Galina et al., 2003Galina et al., 2007Arcos Garcia et al., 2000).

Digestibility and intake

The DM digestibility of sugarcane tops is low and ranges between 48 and 56% (Archimède et al., 2008), though immature tops are more digestible (65%) (Ferreiro et al., 1977). The voluntary intake of sugarcane tops in ruminants varies from 1.8 to 2.5 kg DM/100 kg LW (Archimède et al., 2008). Daily intakes of 2.3 and 2.2 kg DM/100 kg LW were obtained in cattle with immature and mature sugarcane tops respectively (Ferreiro et al., 1977).

Sole feed or supplementation

The feed value of sugarcane tops consumed as the sole ingredient in the rations allows animals to meet their energy requirement for maintenance. Animals either lose condition or just maintain themselves, or at best have very low levels of production (Göhl, 1982). However, in Mauritius, it was estimated that sugarcane tops could provide enough energy to meet maintenance and a production of 2-4 litres of milk in cattle (Sansoucy, 1972). In some cases, smallholders have been known to peel the cane tops, keeping the succulent central portion only, and the animals in turn select the succulent bundle sheath and eat very little green leaf. However, this method is not practical for large units (Naseeven, 1988). If animals can graze sugarcane tops selectively, or if the dry leaves are removed, the feeding value of the sugarcane tops is improved (Suttie, 2000).

The principles of supplementing diets based on sugarcane tops are essentially the same as described for whole sugarcane: it is necessary to satisfy the needs of rumen microbes for fermentable nitrogen (ammonia) and trace nutrients, and to provide sources of protein, glucose precursors and long chain fatty acids able to bypass the rumen fermentation to balance the needs of production. Supplementation of sugarcane tops should be done with low fill ingredients. Notably, molasses is a good supplement: it is generally limited to 1% LW and should not exceed 1.5% LW as higher amounts decrease the intake of the sugarcane tops (Archimède et al., 2008).

Beef cattle

High levels of supplementation are useful to increase growth when sugarcane tops are the basal diet (Archimède et al., 2008). With correct balance of both rumen nitrogen and by-pass nutrients, gains of over 1 kg per day have been obtained on ad libitum sugarcane tops and molasses with different sources of nitrogen: urea, poultry litter and wheat bran.

The following table presents the performance of beef cattle fed sugarcane tops supplemented with various ingredients:

Country Animals Experiment Results Reference
India Zebu bulls, 280 kg Sugarcane tops + 1.3 kg rice polishings ADG 300 g/d Gendley et al., 2002
Mexico Zebu steers, 200 kg Sugarcane tops + 1 kg rice polishing, 3.5 kg molasses, 115 g urea ADG 350 g/d Salais et al., 1977
Florida Steers, 340 kg Sugarcane tops with or without 1 kg of cottonseed meal ADG 520 g/d with supplementation, maintenance only without supplementation Pate et al., 1971
Mexico Zebu x Criollo steers, 200 kg Sugarcane tops + 1 kg rice polishings ADG 840 g/d Ferreiro et al., 1977
Mauritius Creole cattle Sugarcane tops silage + 1 kg copra cake, 0.2 kg fishmeal, 0.5 kg rice bran and 3 kg/100 kg LW molasses/urea (3%) ADG 570-670 g/d Deville et al., 1979
Philippines Bulls Sugarcane tops silage + molasses, copra meal ADG 410 g/d Tuazon et al., 1974
Sudan Fattening Kenana calves 20% or 30% sugarcane tops + conventional fattening ration ADG 700 g/d Mahala et al., 2013a

ADG: average daily gain

In Sudan, cattle from the local Kenana breed had better performance with 20% or 30% sugarcane tops than cross-bred Friesan x Kenana cattle (Mahala et al., 2013a). However, meat from local Kenana cattle fed on 30% sugarcane tops had lower moisture and fat contents, and a higher percentage of cooking losses (Mahala et al., 2013b).

Dairy cattle

In Mauritius, cottonseed cake was found to be an efficient supplement to sugarcane tops for smallholder dairy farmers. A supplement of 1 kg cottonseed cake during late pregnancy, and of 0.25 kg per litre of milk during lactation, was as effective as twice these quantities of commercial concentrate, and milk production increased from 5 L/d to 13 L/d (Boodoo et al., 1990). In Cuba, dairy cows fed diets containing sugarcane tops and Gliricidia sepium forage (100:0, 85:15 and 70:30) as well as multinutrient blocks (10% urea + 25% Gliricidia sepium forage meal) had milk yields between 6.8 and 7.40 kg/d, which did not differ significantly between treatments (Pedraza et al., 1998). In India,  low-producing dairy cows fed sugarcane tops (51% of the diet) twice daily gave the best results (Bandeswaran et al., 2012).

Sheep and goats

In Ghana, for West African sheep and goats sugarcane tops appeared to be more valuable than rice straw or sorghum tops and worth approximately 70% of the value of pangola hay (Digitaria eriantha) harvested at 60 days of regrowth (Grieve, 1976aGrieve, 1976b). In Mexico, ensiled sugarcane tops were found to be a practical partial substitute for sorghum stover in diets for growing and finishing feedlot lambs, as this substitution did not negatively affect daily weight gain (Salinas-Chavira et al., 2013). In Vietnam, the intake of fresh sugarcane tops was significantly higher for animals fed tops chopped into slices of 1-3 cm: 1002 g/d compared with 876 and 899 g/d for tops chopped at 15 or 20-cm, respectively (Nguyen Thi Mui et al., 2000).

In Mexico, in lambs fed sugarcane tops, supplementation with urea resulted in a better utilization of the roughage, with higher DM and OM digestibility, lower molar proportions of acetate, and greater feed intake, which was reflected in body weight gain (Galina et al., 2007). In Brazil, lambs were satisfactorily fed on sugarcane tops silage (20%) supplemented with soybean meal (30%) and concentrate (50%), and had an average daily gain of 143 g/d (Lima et al., 2013). Likewise, lambs fed a diet comprising 70% roughage (sugarcane tops, maize stubble and Napier grass) and 30% of a concentrate, acting as a controlled-release urea supplement, had higher DM intakes as well as higher digestibilities of fibre and other nutrients (Puga et al., 2001aPuga et al., 2001b). In Egypt, Saidi rams fed on 500 g/d concentrates plus ad libitum sugarcane tops, treated with 1% urea, had higher daily live-weight gains, better reproductive performance and subsequent fertility compared to rams offered wheat straw only (Megahed et al., 2006). However, the urea treatment of sugarcane tops was found to have deleterious effects on both hepatic and renal tissues in Saidi rams, with one study recommended avoiding this practice (Mousa et al., 2003).


No information found (2013).


No information found (2012).


No specific study on the utilization of sugarcane tops in rabbit feeding is available from the scientific literature. However, since sugarcane leaves (Bien-Aimé et al., 1989), stalks (Nguyen Quang Suc et al., 1995) and whole plants (Ramchurn, 1979) can be used without problems in rabbit feeding, it can be assumed that sugarcane tops could also be used safely for this species. Because of the low protein and very high fibre content (van Niekerk, 1981), this forage should be considered only as a fibre source. Before distribution to rabbits, it would be advisable to coarsely chop the sugarcane tops, as is done for the whole plant (Ramchurn, 1979).

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

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 26.8 4.5 18.1 35.6 34  
Crude protein % DM 4.9 1.0 2.5 6.3 40  
Crude fibre % DM 34.0 2.6 29.5 37.8 34  
NDF % DM 67.7 5.3 64.8 79.9 10 *
ADF % DM 39.2 5.0 34.4 54.6 12 *
Lignin % DM 5.6 1.3 3.9 8.9 11 *
Ether extract % DM 1.5 0.3 1.1 2.3 32  
Ash % DM 7.7 1.3 5.3 9.9 40  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.0         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 2.8 0.5 2.0 3.8 21  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.2 0.2 0.9 1.8 21  
Potassium g/kg DM 18.7 1.5 16.2 20.8 18  
Magnesium g/kg DM 1.6 0.2 1.3 1.9 19  
Zinc mg/kg DM 34       1  
Copper mg/kg DM 14       1  
Iron mg/kg DM 661       1  
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Arginine % protein 4.0       1  
Cystine % protein 0.2       1  
Histidine % protein 4.3       1  
Isoleucine % protein 2.4       1  
Leucine % protein 5.2       1  
Lysine % protein 4.6       1  
Methionine % protein 0.3       1  
Phenylalanine % protein 4.9       1  
Threonine % protein 2.9       1  
Tryptophan % protein 1.3       1  
Tyrosine % protein 5.2       1  
Valine % protein 4.3       1  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 57.0 7.7 48.4 65.4 7  
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 54.5         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.8         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.0         *
ME ruminants (gas production) MJ/kg DM 5.9       1  
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 43.6   36.5 50.6 2  
a (N) % 32.7       1  
b (N) % 38.0       1  
c (N) h-1 0.015       1  
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=4%) % 43         *
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=6%) % 40         *

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


Aboulfaraj, 1983; Alemzadeh et al., 2006; Butterworth, 1963; Chumpawadee et al., 2006; CIRAD, 1991; Ferreiro et al., 1977; Ferreiro et al., 1977; Galina et al., 2007; Gendley et al., 2002; Gendley et al., 2009; Gowda et al., 2004; Khanum et al., 2007; Naseeven, 1988; Nguyen Thi Mui et al., 2000; Palafox et al., 1961; Pate et al., 1971; Rangnekar, 1988

Last updated on 16/09/2013 11:14:46

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 30.9 1.3 29.6 32.1 3  
Crude protein % DM 6.7 0.5 6.3 7.2 3  
Crude fibre % DM 35.0   34.1 35.8 2  
NDF % DM 69.6         *
ADF % DM 40.3         *
Lignin % DM 5.8         *
Ether extract % DM 1.6   1.3 1.9 2  
Ash % DM 8.0   7.2 8.7 2  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.2         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 4.0       1  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 3.7       1  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 55.1       1  
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 52.7         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.6         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 7.8         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 41.1       1  

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


Alemzadeh et al., 2006; Alibes et al., 1990; Lima et al., 2013

Last updated on 16/09/2013 11:17:41

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Archimède H., Lebas F., 2016. Sugarcane tops. Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/558 Last updated on October 26, 2016, 14:52

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