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Oil palm fronds and oil palm crop residues


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Common names 
  • Oil palm fronds, oil palm leaves, oil palm leaflets
  • Oil palm trunks
  • Empty fruit bunches

Elaeis guineensis var. madagascariensis Jum. & H. Perrier, Elaeis madagascariensis (Jum. & H. Perrier) Becc., Elaeis melanococca Gaertn.


Oil palm fronds are a by-product of the cultivation of oil palm trees (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.). The rapid development of the palm oil industry since the 1990s, notably in South-East Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia), has caused an increasing output of fibrous wastes derived from the harvesting of oil palm fruit bunches, from both pruning management practices and replanting operations (Dahlan, 2000). Up to 100 kg/ha (DM basis) of oil palm fronds can be produced daily (Ishida et al., 1997). Using an annual production figure of 11 t DM/ha (Husin et al., 1986 cited by Lim et al., 2000) and a total world harvest from 15 million ha in 2009 (FAO, 2011), it can be estimated that 164 million t DM of oil palm fronds are produced every year in the world.

Oil palm fronds and oil palm trunks used to be burned but environmental concerns led to banning the practice in the 1990s. Now they are usually left on the ground to decompose and fertilize the soil (Lim et al., 2000). A considerable amount of research, notably in Malaysia and Indonesia, has been carried out to demonstrate the nutritional value and economic viability of oil palm fronds for ruminants in order to improve self-sufficiency in dairy and meat production (Abu Hassan et al., 1996; Wan Zahari et al., 2003). Oil palm fronds are a low-protein, high-fibre material that has been shown to be palatable and to have a good feeding potential for many classes of herbivore livestock, including cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, deers and rabbits (Dahlan et al., 2000; Dahlan et al., 1994). Whole oil palm fronds (the petiole and leaflets) are usually chopped into lengths of about 2 cm and fed either fresh, dried, pelleted or ensiled in combination with other ingredients as total mixed rations. Many treatments have been proposed to increase its nutritional value (Abu Hassan et al., 1996; Dahlan, 2000).


Oil palm fronds and other oil palm crop residues are available in the vicinity of oil palm plantations. They are available throughout the year, when the palms are pruned or during the fruit harvest (Abu Hassan et al., 1996).

Environmental impact 

Leaving oil palm fronds to decompose between the rows of palm trees can help soil conservation and erosion control (Abu Hassan et al., 1996). Using them for animal feeding is another way to recycle energy and nutrients.

Empty fruit bunches contain too much water (60%) to be used for fuel (unless mixed with palm press fibre) and, like the palm fronds, they are used for mulch in palm plantations and fruit orchards, where they retain moisture and return organic matter to the soil. However, they cannot be stacked in more than two layers around the tree or they attract harmful insects (Prasertsan et al., 1996).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Oil palm fronds are a crop residue and contain large amounts of fibre: NDF and ADF content are in the 63-80% DM range and 45-57% DM range respectively. Lignin content is also high with reported values ranging from 12 to 37% DM (Aim-oeb et al., 2008; Islam et al., 2000b; Khamseekhiew et al., 2001). Oil palm fronds are low in protein (about 7% DM with values between 4 and 10%) and fat (less than 2%) (Islam et al., 2000b). The fat is relatively high in unsaturated fatty acids (Hassim et al., 2010).

The leaflets have a better nutritive value than the whole frond, as they contain more protein (over 12% DM), more fat (about 4%) and less fibre (Islam et al., 2000b; Aim-oeb et al., 2008). However, they contain more silica (3.8% DM). The leaflet:petiole ratio decreases with the age of the tree (from 1.7 for a 6-year old tree to 0.3 for a 21-year old tree), which probably means that the fronds of younger trees have a higher nutritional value (Islam et al., 2000b).

Oil palm trunks have a similar composition to that of the fronds, with less protein (under 3% DM). Empty fruit bunches are particularly bulky (60% water) and contain less protein (under 4% DM) and more fibre (over 80% NDF) than fronds (Abu Hassan et al., 1996; Prasertsan et al., 1996). Both materials are rarely used to feed livestock..

Potential constraints 

No nutritional disorders or negative effects have been reported in dairy and beef cattle fed diets containing 50% oil palm fronds (Abu Hassan et al., 1996). Oil palm fronds contain more than 55% water and tend to become mouldy during storage. When fresh, they should be collected and used within two days after harvesting or pruning. For longer storage, it is necessary to dry or ensile them (Dahlan, 2000). Oil palm fronds are not a good medium for aflatoxin production and the risk of contamination in the field seems to be rather low. Contamination is more likely to occur through contact with other feed ingredients such as maize grain and copra meal (Goto et al., 2002).


Oil palm fronds are a suitable feed for ruminants. They can replace tropical grasses or roughages such as rice straw (Abu Hassan et al., 1996; Dahlan, 2000). This abundant product is available year-round and can be a satisfactory alternative when the supply of grass or other fodder is a limiting factor (Ishida et al., 1997). It can also be used to minimise grazing time in integrated sheep and oil palm systems (Abu Hassan et al., 1996). When livestock is included in oil palm plantations, oil palm fronds together with palm kernel meal, palm oil mill effluents and leguminous tree forages can provide low-cost and cost-effective balanced ruminant diets for integrated farming systems, resulting in greater animal productivity, greater oil palm yields and increased income (Devendra, 2009).

Oil palm fronds, however, have a high silica and fibre content, are low in protein and have an unbalanced mineral content. These limitations can be overcome by physical and/or mechanical processing, such as immediate chopping, grinding and drying. Other processes include pre-digestion of fibre through chemical and biological treatment and stimulation of rumen microbes by supplementation with energy and protein-rich ingredients (for example with urea and molasses) and supplementation with essential minerals (for example Ca, P and S). The potential of oil palm fronds as a roughage is improved when they are used with a concentrate supplement (Dahlan, 2000).

Empty fruit bunches can also be processed into ruminant feed as pellets but they are rarely used for this purpose (Jalaludin, 1996).


Oil palm fronds are generally quite palatable to ruminants. Good acceptance by cattle, sheep and goats has been observed (Dahlan, 2000). The petioles are unpalatable to goats (Islam et al., 2000b).

Nutritional value

Dry matter and organic matter digestibility of fresh, dried and ensiled oil palm fronds is low, in the 40-55% range (Dahlan et al., 2000; Abu Hassan et al., 1996; Kawamoto et al., 2001; Islam et al., 2000b). Estimated energy values are poor with a ME about 4.9 to 6.5 MJ/kg DM (Dahlan, 2000).

Digestibility and intake can be improved through processing. In an experiment where goats were given oil palm fronds as the sole feed, ensiling slightly increased OM digestibility while pelleting significantly increased intake. However, intake and digestibility were the highest when the animals were given a complete diet containing 50% of oil palm fronds, 15% palm kernel meal and other sources of energy (molasses) and nitrogen (fish meal and urea) (Dahlan et al., 2000). In another experiment using oil palm fronds in mixed diets, pelleted fronds were the least digestible (25%) but gave the best intake. NaOH treatment resulted in a more digestible product (more than 50%) but was detrimental to palatability (Kawamoto et al., 2001). Steaming under moderate or low pressure (such as 10 kg/cm² for 20 min followed by oven-drying at 60°C for 48 h) significantly improved nutrient degradability (Bengaly et al., 2000 cited by Paengkoum et al., 2006a).

In goats, urea treatment (3 and 6% DM) had a negative effect on digestibility (Abu Hassan et al., 1996) but the addition of up to 3 g/kg of urea to steamed-treated oil palm fronds increased intake and digestibility (Paengkoum et al., 2006a). In sheep, urea treatment of steam-treated oil palm fronds was found beneficial to intake and digestibility up to 16 g/kg (Bengaly et al., 2010).

Protein value

Oil palm fronds can support an efficient rumen function in terms of NH3-N concentration when 50% or more is used in the diet, but the latter requires additional fermentable N (Islam et al., 2000a).

Dairy cattle

Cows fed 30% oil palm fronds silage and 70% palm kernel-based concentrate produced more milk than those fed 50% oil fronds or 50% grass. No adverse effect on milk flavour was observed. Proposed optimal inclusion levels for dairy cattle vary between 30% (Abu Hassan et al., 1996) and 55% (diet DM) (Dahlan, 2000).

Beef cattle

In feeding trials with bulls, the inclusion of high amounts of oil palm silage (with or without urea treatment) combined with a palm kernel meal-based concentrate decreased carcass fat but was also detrimental to weight gain and lean meat production. However, inclusion of up to 30% oil palm silage (that resulted in a 620 g/day average daily gain) was considered to be economically viable due to the low cost of the product (Abu Hassan et al., 1996). Other authors have proposed a higher optimal inclusion of 55% (diet DM) (Dahlan, 2000).


Oil palm frond silage was found to be a satisfactory roughage for buffaloes when included as a part of the diet based on palm kernel meal or sago meal (Metroxylon sagu). Frond silage included as 30% of the diet resulted in a 470 g/d average daily gain (Abu Hassan et al., 1996; Dahlan, 2000).


Lambs fed 30% oil palm frond silage with 70% concentrates grew faster than the control group on pasture (79-82 g/day) (Schrader, 1994 cited by Dahlan, 2000).


Oil palm fronds have been found suitable to be used as a maintenance feed and to produce quality meat from goats (Dahlan, 2000). Proposed optimal inclusion levels for goats vary between 30% (Abu Hassan et al., 1996) and 50% (diet DM) (Dahlan, 2000).


Green palm oil fronds are well accepted as forage by rabbits, though their palatability is not the best when compared to other green forages (Adehan et al., 1994; Osakwe et al., 2007). Among the green tree leaves permanently available throughout the year in tropical regions, oil palm tree fronds are, however,  notably more palatable than banana leaves (Osakwe et al., 2007).

In practical rabbit feeding, palm oil leaves are suitable and recommended as green forage source in complement of a concentrate feed (Djago et al., 2010). Their nutritive value is, howvere, very low (Lebas, 2007). Pelleted dried palm oil fronds could also be introduced in rabbit feeding as source of fibre but their very low nutritive value is confirmed by the relatively low growth rate of rabbit fed on a ration with 50% dried palm oil leaves compared to the control diet: 28.3 vs 38.9 g/day (Dahlan et al, 1994).

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 39.6 7.6 31.1 45.8 3
Crude protein % DM 6.5 1.7 4.2 8.6 7
Crude fibre % DM 38.9 6.1 33.5 47.6 4
NDF % DM 70.4 6.7 62.4 78.7 6
ADF % DM 49.3 4.8 44.1 55.6 7
Lignin % DM 20.1 11.7 11.9 37.0 4
Ether extract % DM 2.0 0.3 1.7 2.5 5
Ash % DM 5.4 2.3 3.2 10.0 7
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 16.7 1
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 5.3 1
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.1 1
Potassium g/kg DM 7.0 1
Sodium g/kg DM 0.5 1
Magnesium g/kg DM 1.8 1
Manganese mg/kg DM 45 1
Zinc mg/kg DM 11 1
Copper mg/kg DM 3 1
Iron mg/kg DM 107 1
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Alanine % protein 5.9 1
Arginine % protein 4.0 1
Aspartic acid % protein 11.3 1
Glutamic acid % protein 9.1 1
Glycine % protein 5.7 1
Isoleucine % protein 2.4 1
Leucine % protein 12.9 1
Lysine % protein 3.0 1
Phenylalanine % protein 4.4 1
Proline % protein 4.9 1
Serine % protein 4.2 1
Tyrosine % protein 2.0 1
Valine % protein 4.8 1
Secondary metabolites Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Tannins (eq. tannic acid) g/kg DM 30.9 11.5 50.3 2
Tannins, condensed (eq. catechin) g/kg DM 0.3 1
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 56.0 1
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 5.7
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 43.0 1

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


Abu Hassan et al., 1996; Aim-oeb et al., 2008; CIRAD, 1991; Dahlan et al., 2000; Ishida et al., 1997; Islam et al., 2000; Khamseekhiew et al., 2001

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:44:42

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 88.9 3.0 86.8 92.3 3
Crude protein % DM 5.6 3.0 3.4 10.0 4
NDF % DM 87.9 1
ADF % DM 65.0 52.6 77.4 2
Lignin % DM 19.9 1
Ether extract % DM 1.9 0.2 1.7 2.1 3
Ash % DM 6.0 1.3 5.0 7.8 4
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
DM digestibility, ruminants % 35.0 7.1 25.0 40.0 4

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


Dahlan et al., 2000; Hassim et al., 2010; Kawamoto et al., 2001

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:45:43

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 33.4 5.7 30.1 40.0 3
Crude protein % DM 7.6 2.4 4.7 10.3 4
Crude fibre % DM 33.5 1
NDF % DM 69.2 65.1 73.2 2
ADF % DM 48.4 48.0 48.9 2
Lignin % DM 13.2 1
Ether extract % DM 2.2 1.7 2.7 2
Ash % DM 5.8 0.8 4.9 6.5 3
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
DM digestibility, ruminants % 44.3 1.2 43.0 45.3 3

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


Aim-oeb et al., 2008; Dahlan et al., 2000; Ishida et al., 1997; Kawamoto et al., 2001

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:45:43

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 46.9 43.7 50.1 2
Crude protein % DM 14.2 1.5 12.3 16.3 11
Crude fibre % DM 33.2 5.2 28.2 44.0 11
NDF % DM 57.8 5.4 51.9 69.8 10
ADF % DM 40.0 4.7 35.5 50.1 10
Lignin % DM 12.2 5.5 8.5 27.4 10
Ether extract % DM 4.5 2.0 2.6 6.5 3
Ash % DM 7.5 1.1 6.3 9.3 11
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 5.3 1
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.8 1
Potassium g/kg DM 8.8 1
Sodium g/kg DM 0.4 1
Magnesium g/kg DM 1.7 1
Manganese mg/kg DM 45 1
Zinc mg/kg DM 13 1
Copper mg/kg DM 3 1
Iron mg/kg DM 122 1
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Alanine % protein 5.1 1
Arginine % protein 4.0 1
Aspartic acid % protein 2.5 1
Glutamic acid % protein 10.1 1
Glycine % protein 4.7 1
Histidine % protein 0.9 1
Isoleucine % protein 3.2 1
Leucine % protein 7.7 1
Lysine % protein 3.1 1
Phenylalanine % protein 4.7 1
Proline % protein 4.7 1
Serine % protein 3.9 1
Tyrosine % protein 2.4 1
Valine % protein 4.8 1
In vitro digestibility and solubility Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, pepsin-cellulase % 57.2 3.3 53.0 62.6 8

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


Aim-oeb et al., 2008; FUSAGx/CRAW, 2009; Islam et al., 2000; Mecha et al., 1980

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:45:43

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Sauvant D., Lebas F., 2015. Oil palm fronds and oil palm crop residues. Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/6916 Last updated on June 25, 2015, 11:18

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