Bananas are relished by cattle but are less palatable to sheep and goats (Göhl, 1982). They are usually fed fresh or ensiled and may be sprinkled with salt to supplement them with sodium (Babatunde, 1992).
Banana fruits are a suitable source of energy for ruminants, with a net energy value close to that of barley (Pieltain et al., 1998). However, because they are low in fibre, protein and minerals they should be fed together with grass or another roughage as well as a protein supplement (or a nitrogen source such as urea) and mineral mix. Good silage can be made from equal parts of chopped green bananas and grass or from chopped green bananas mixed with 1.5% molasses (Göhl, 1982).
Banana fruits may be included in cattle diets at up to 50-75% (Göhl, 1982). When properly supplemented with a nitrogen or protein source, or when associated to a basal diet (cereal grains, leucaena forage, urea-treated sugarcane, etc.), reject bananas can sustain acceptable performance levels in beef cattle (Reynolds, 1995). Feeding 15 kg/day of fresh green bananas to grazing steers increased the daily gain by 50% (from 0.4-0.5 kg/day to 0.6-0.7 kg/day), which was attributable to the high energy content of the banana (Ibrahim et al., 2000). Feeding fresh bananas to grass-fed steers made it possible to increase the stocking rate, and improved growth rate and weight gain per hectare (Cubillos, 1974). In growing heifers, the inclusion of dried milled banana was found economically viable up to 1 kg/day (0.36% of live weight), but higher rates decreased weight gain (Vargas-Rodriguez et al., 2007).
Banana pulp flour made from dehydrated green bananas has been used as a source of starch for calf feeds and milk replacers as a substitute for lactose. Banana flour could successfully replace up to 50% of the grain in the feeds of young growing and finishing cattle without altering intake and daily gain (Babatunde, 1992; Le Dividich et al., 1978).
Because they are palatable and have a high energy contentration, green banana fruits are a suitable feed for goats, who can consume up to 5 kg of fresh bananas per day (Pieltain et al., 1998). When goats were offered ad libitum bananas and forages separately, the animals consumed bananas at about 20-40% of their DM intake. When bananas were blended with forages, DM intake and digestible OM intake increased when the level of bananas in the ration rose from 0 to 20% (DM basis). Dry matter intake was higher for ensiled than for fresh green bananas, with a peak of 1.8 to 2.2 kg/100 kg live weight at a 20% inclusion rate in the diet (Chenost et al., 1971; Geoffroy et al., 1973; Chenost et al., 1976).
In lactating goats fed sobyean meal and cereal grains, the total replacement of grains by fresh or ensiled bananas resulted in an increase of DM intake. Milk production and weight gain were significantly higher in the animals fed bananas (Le Dividich et al., 1978). In growing goats, half of the conventional concentrates could be replaced with bananas if the ration is supplemented with urea (non-protein N could constitute about 30% of the total dietary N) (Chenost et al., 1971).
For both milk production and finishing purposes, bananas may be regarded as a good substitute for barley. Banana starch passed into the intestine faster than barley starch, fermentation in the rumen was less intense and more regular, and less volatile fatty acids were released with banana rations than with barley rations. The latter observation is consistent with the efficient utilization of urea in both banana-based and barley-based diets (Poncet, 1973).
An ensiled mixture of bananas, bagasse, wheat bran and urea maintained milk production in dairy goats and increased the growth rate in growing kids compared to animals fed a grain-based diet. The low DM intake (2.0 to 2.5 kg/100 kg live weight) increased by 30-40% after adding 5% molasses (Le Dividich et al., 1978).