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Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) forage


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Common names 

Pigeon pea, no-eye pea, no-eyed pea, tropical green pea, cajan pea [English]; pois d'Angole, pois cajan, pois-congo, ambrevade [French]; guandú, gandul, guandul, frijol de palo, quinchoncho [Spanish]; guandu, andu, anduzeiro, guandeiro, feijão boer [Portuguese]; Straucherbse [German]; pwa kongo [Haitian creole]; gude, kacang gude [Indonesian]; caiano [Italian]; umukunde [Kinyarwanda]; pī kula [Tongan]; Đậu triều [Vietnamese]; 木豆 [Chinese]; તુવર [Gujarati]; अरहर दाल [Hindi]; キマメ [Japanese]; نخود کفتری [Persian]; Голубиный горох [Russian]; துவரை [Tamil]


Cajanus bicolor DC., Cajanus flavus DC., Cajanus indicus Spreng., Cytisus cajan L.

Feed categories 

Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan (L.) Huth) is one of the most common tropical and subtropical legumes cultivated for its edible seeds. Pigeon pea is fast growing, hardy, widely adaptable, and drought resistant (Bekele-Tessema, 2007). Because of its drought resistance it can be considered of utmost importance for food security in areas where rainfall is not reliable and droughts are likely to occur (Crop Trust, 2014). At the end of the dry season, pigeon pea provides green forage of outstanding value when other forages are not available (Sloan et al., 2009).


Pigeon pea is an erect, short-lived perennial leguminous shrub that usually grows to a height of about 1-2 m, but can reach up to 2-5 m high. It quickly develops a deep (2 m depth) poisonous taproot. The stems are woody at the base, angular and branching. The leaves are alternate and trifoliate. The leaflets are oblong and lanceolate, 5-10 cm long x 2-4 cm wide. Leaves and stems are pubescent. The flowers (5 to 10) are grouped in racemes at the apices or axils of the branches. The flowers are papilionaceous and generally yellow in colour. They can also be striated with purple streaks. The corolla is about 2-2.5 cm. The fruit is a flat, straight and pubescent pod, 5-9 cm long x 12-13 mm wide. It contains 2-9 seeds that are brown, red or black in colour, small and sometimes hard-coated (FAO, 2016a; Bekele-Tessema, 2007).


Though mainly cultivated for its edible seeds, Cajanus cajan can be considered a multipurpose species. Pigeon pea stems are a good fuel source, valued for pigeon pea's fast growing habit, though their energy value is half that of charcoal. Stems and branches of pigeon pea are also used for basketry. Among other uses of pigeon pea, trials have shown a potential use as a raw material for paper pulp. Pigeon pea also contributes to the environment through its use in alley cropping and as a windbreak, cover crop, shade plant and green manure (see Environmental impact below) (Cook et al., 2005).

Cajanus cajan has numerous uses in animal feeding. The leaves and pods are valuable and palatable protein-rich fodder. Leaves are sometimes used to replace alfalfa in ruminant diets where alfalfa cannot be grown. Seed processing by-products, and sometimes the whole seeds, are used as livestock feed (Phatak et al., 1993). The seeds can be fed to poultry and, in Hawaii, mixtures of pigeon pea with maize grain were successful. Bees actively feed on pigeon pea and produce a honey with a distinctive colour (greenish) in the comb (Orwa et al., 2009). Pigeon pea is also a good host for lac insects and silkworms (Cook et al., 2005). Plant breeders have bred varieties adapted to drier conditions, more resistant to disease and suited to different production systems and cropping cycles (Valenzuela, 2011). Since the 1990s there has been an increase in varieties available, allowing selection of cultivars with not only higher grain yields but also higher forage yields and crude protein (Phatak et al., 1993).


The origin of Cajanus cajan is either North-Eastern Africa or India (Ecocrop, 2016; van der Maesen, 1989). Its cultivation dates back at least 3000 years (Mallikarjuna et al., 2011; van der Maesen, 1989). It is now a pantropical and subtropical species particularly suited for rainfed agriculture in semi-arid areas due to its deep taproot, heat tolerance and fast growing habit (Mallikarjuna et al., 2011). Cajanus cajan can be found in both hemispheres from 30°N to 30°S, and from sea level to an altitude of 2000 m (3000 m in Venezuela) (Ecocrop, 2016). It is very heat-tolerant and grows better in places where temperatures range from 20° to 40°C and which are frost-free (FAO, 2016a). Though sensitive to frost, pigeon pea keeps growing at temperatures close to 0°C and tall plants can survive light frost. It does better where annual rainfall is above 625 mm but it is highly tolerant of dry periods. However, where the soil is deep and well-structured it continues to grow with rainfall as low as 250 to 375 mm. Pigeon pea can grow on a wide range of soils, from sands to heavy black clays, with variable pH. However, the best pH range is within 5-7. It has low tolerance of soil salinity, although some cultivars were reported to tolerate high (6-12 dS/m) salinity (Duke, 1983). Cajanus cajan is sensitive to salt spray and waterlogging. Under shade, it shows reduced growth and bears thin, pale green foliage with few pods (FAO, 2016a).

World production of pigeon peas was 4.85 million t in 2014. The main producers were India (3.29 million t, 65% of world production), Myanmar (0.57 million t), Malawi (0.3 million t), Kenya (0.28 million t) and Tanzania (0.25 million t). Most of the production occurred in Asia (79.1%), followed by Africa (17.6%) and the Americas (2.5%) (FAO, 2016b).

Forage management 


Pigeon pea can be grown for seed production, forage production, or both. Some double purpose cultivars have been developed. In Hawaii, pigeon pea has been successfully grown in pure stands or sown with Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana), Cynodon dactylon and molasses grass (Melinis minutiflora), and in Brazil with pangola grass (Digitaria eriantha) (FAO, 2016a). Mixtures with cereal grains such as maize, sorghum or millet are possible (Bekele-Tessema, 2007; Cook et al., 2005). In combination with other legumes, pigeon pea is not recommended for fodder production (Cook et al., 2005). Seeds can be broadcast or planted in rows with at least 20 kg/ha. Seeds should be sown (drilled, broadcast or hand dibbled) in a weeded, deep and well prepared seedbed at 2.5 cm to 10 cm depth. For the later maturing of highly branched fodder varieties, recommended density is 50,000-60,000 plants/ha (Cook et al., 2005). Pigeon pea does not establish easily. It may require irrigation during the first 2 months if rainfall is insufficient. It is important to maintain effective weed control (Valenzuela, 2011; AFF, 2009; Duke, 1983). Pigeon pea has a very variable growing pattern. Depending on the cultivar, the location and time of sowing, flowering can occur as early as 100 days to as late as 430 days. In the West Indies, the range was within 60-237 days between planting and pod formation, time for flowering being only 60 days. In India, pigeon pea can require 8 months before flowering (Duke, 1983).


Pigeon pea can be sown in pure stands or in mixed pastures. It was once thought that young plants were not palatable to livestock, but experiments have shown that cattle relished them (Sloan et al., 2009; Cook et al., 2005). For this reason and because the plant is sensitive to heavy defoliation, it has been recommended to wait for full establishment (flowering stage) before grazing (Sloan et al., 2009). Once establishment is achieved, grazing should remain light and rotational. Pigeon pea does not withstand heavy and continuous grazing. In Brazil, pigeon pea could be grazed for up to 5 years with careful management (FAO, 2016a). However, fodder production declines over its lifespan (Cook et al., 2005).


Forage yield ranges from 20-40 t DM/ha. Levels as high as 24 t DM/ha of fodder and stalks have been reported from the Sahel, and it has been suggested that there should be further study on the use of pigeon pea as forage plant in this area (FAO, 2016a). Up to 40 tons DM/ha could be expected under optimal conditions (ILRI, 2013).

Environmental impact 

Cover crop, soil improver and green manure

Pigeon pea is used as a contour hedge in erosion control (Bekele-Tessema, 2007). An N-fixing legume, it does not need inoculation before sowing. It was reported to fix 40-97 kg N/ha/year in Africa and up to 235 kg N/ha/year in Florida, 88% being used for pods and seeds formation. Pigeon pea cultivation could provide 40-60 kg N/ha to the following crop (Valenzuela, 2011). Pigeon pea had a large residual effect on maize, increasing grain yield by 57% and total plant dry matter by 32% (Kumar Rao et al., 1983). The extensive root system of Cajanus cajan improves soil structure by breaking plow pans, and enhancing water holding capacity of the soil (Crop Trust, 2014; Mallikarjuna et al., 2011). Its deep taproot is able to extract nutrients (e.g. P) from the lower layers of the soil and deposit them in upper layers where they can benefit other crops (Valenzuela, 2011). The leaves and immature stems can be cut and used as a green manure (OAF, 2015). Fallen leaves act as a mulch and are estimated to return about 40 kg N/ha to the soil. They also return organic matter, which helps in preventing erosion due to heavy rains, and reduces soil temperature (Ecocrop, 2016).

Windbreak and shade provider 

Tall varieties of pigeon pea are reported to be good windbreaks. Pigeon pea is able to provide shade to young coffee or vanilla plants, and to forest seedlings in nurseries (Valenzuela, 2011).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Pigeon pea foliage is a protein rich forage (10-27% of DM). Young leaves contain above 20% protein in the DM, while old leaves may contain less than 12%. However, a high proportion of the protein is bound in fibre (20-26% N bound in ADF) and thus less available for digestion (Pires et al., 2006; Veloso et al., 2006; Foster et al., 2011). Pigeon pea foliage has a relatively high fibre content, particularly ADF 16-37% and lignin 7-21% of DM.


Fresh forage and hay

Pigeon pea forage is a protein-rich forage, but its high fibre content (particularly ADF and lignin) decreases digestibility and limits its potential use. It can be considered as a medium to low energy quality forage.

Digestibility and degradability 

DM or OM digestibility of fresh pigeon pea leaves and hay are within the range 50-60% (da Silva et al., 2009). In vivo DM or OM digestibility of pigeon pea hay was found to be close to that of cowpea hay (55-56%), but slightly lower than that of the other legume hays (annual or perennial peanut, soybean) (Foster et al., 2009a). Fed as haylage, pigeon pea was less digestible than the other warm-season legumes (Foster et al., 2009b).

Pigeon pea forage is characterized by low in situ rumen DM, NDF and N disappearance kinetics when compared to other warm-season legumes or poor quality forage hays, with a much lower potentially degradable fraction and much greater undegradable fraction (Carvalho et al., 2006; Pires et al., 2006; Veloso et al., 2006; Foster et al., 2011). This limits its potential use for high producing stock such as dairy cows.

Beef cattle

In the USA, yearling cattle intensively grazing pigeon pea in late summer achieved an average daily weight gain close to 1.0 kg/d (Rao et al., 2012).


In Nigeria, fresh pigeon pea was found to be the preferred browse species of 8 offered to sheep (Omokanye et al., 2001). In Zimbabwe, fresh pigeon pea included at 30% of the DM, as a protein source to supplement a poor quality maize stover diet, increased total voluntary DM intake by 20% and total diet OM digestibility from 52 to 61% (Masama et al., 1997). In Thailand, voluntary DM intake was 2.5% of BW (58 g/kg BW0.75) on a diet based on pigeon pea leaves (Cheva-Isarakul, 1992). In Brazil, voluntary DM intake was 3.5% of BW (65 g/kg BW0.75) on a diet based on pigeon pea hay (da Silva et al., 2009). In the USA, when included at 50% of the DM, in a Bahia grass (Paspalum notatum) hay or haylage based diet, pigeon pea as hay or haylage had a detrimental effect on DM intake when compared to other warm-season legumes (Foster et al., 2009a; Foster et al., 2009b).


Goats were found superior to sheep for using pigeon pea foliage (Devendra et al., 1980).

Crop residues

Voluntary DM intake of sheep fed on pods alone was very low (16 g/kg BW), and in vivo DM digestibility was only 44%. Voluntary intake of pigeon pea crop residues by goats was 18% greater than that of sheep (26 vs. 22 g DM/kg BW), and similar to that of young cattle, with low in vivo DM digestibility (47-54%). In the three species, nutrients intake from pigeon pea crop residues fed alone was not sufficient to maintain weight (Whiteman et al., 1980).


Several experiments on using pigeon pea as a forage protein source for growing and fattening pigs have been carried out since the turn of the century in Cuba, Venezuela and Spain. Diets including up to 24% pigeon pea were fed to creola pigs without health problems. However, pigs had increased ileal and rectal flow of both DM and water, which indicates a lower digestibility of the diets containing pigeon pea forage (Diaz et al., 2007). In another trial with creole pigs, growth decreased at levels as low as 6% pigeon pea in the diet, and backfat thickness increased as pigeon pea forage increased. Economic performance also decreased with increasing levels of pigeon pea forage (Estupiñán et al., 2013; Estupiñán, 2013).


In Nigeria, pigeon pea leaf meal tested in layers maintained laying performance up to 7.5% inclusion, but feed efficiency decreased due to an increase in feed intake. Egg yolk colour score was increased by pigeon pea leaf meal in the diet (Udedibie et al., 1989). An early study in the USA found dry pigeon pea leaves to be a useful replacement for alfalfa as a source of carotene and other essential nutrients in chicken rations (Squibb et al., 1950).


Green forage

Green leaves and small branches of pigeon pea are used as protein rich forage in backyard rabbit units in West and East African countries such as Uganda (Lukefahr, 1998; Djago et al., 2010). Pigeon pea forage, fed in addition to a concentrate to breeding does, reduced fertility and litter size when compared to forages such as Moringa oleifera and Tephrosia candida (Ola et al., 2012). This may have been due to the very low phosphorus content of the pigeon pea forage offered: 0.15 to 0.17% DM vs. 0.30-0.35% DM for the other two forages (Lebas et al., 2013). The change in reproductive performance may also have been related to the increase of serum progesterone level, as observed in pregnant rats receiving aqueous extract of pigeon pea leaves (Olayaki et al., 2009). While the increase in serum progesterone level during pregnancy has favourable consequences on female reproduction, its effect is negative before mating, as demonstrated in hyperprogesteronemic rabbit does (Boiti et al., 2006). As a consequence, it is recommended not to feed pigeon pea forage to does during the 8-10 days preceding a programmed mating, and until confirmation of pregnancy. Thereafter it can be safely included at up to 25-30% of the DM intake.

Pigeon pea hay and leaf meal

Pigeon pea hay was found to have very low digestibilities of DM, protein and crude fibre (24%, 26% and 27%, respectively), resulting in a very low nutritive value (Ferreira et al., 1997). However, its incorporation in the diet as replacement of Cynodon dactylon hay led to non-significantly better performance of growing rabbits: daily gain 32.3 vs. 30.7 g/d (Moura et al., 1992). In growing rabbit diets, 15% of pigeon pea leaf meal, as a replacement for 15% maize offal resulted in identical growth and slaughter performance (Togun et al., 2008). Pigeon pea hay completely replaced alfalfa hay (37%) in the diet of growing rabbits without any alteration of growth or slaughter performance. However, feed efficiency was impaired with 100% replacement when compared with 0, 25, 50 or 75% replacement (Crespi et al., 1992). The replacement of 25% of commercial feed for growing rabbits gave growth and slaughter rates similar to that of the control (100% commercial feed). When more than 25% of the commercial feed was replaced by the pigeon pea hay performance was significantly impaired (Gonzalez et al., 1990).

It can, therefore, be concluded that pigeon pea hay or leaf meal can be used safely in rabbit feeding as a source of protein and fibre, and that it can represent up to 30-35% of a balanced diet. However, the previous recommendations on the use of green forage for breeding does should also be applied to the hay. When formulating balanced diets, the low proportion of sulphur-containing amino acids of pigeon pea protein and the very low level of phosphorus must be taken into account.

Horses and donkeys 

Pigeon pea forage is not recommended for equines due to its very low in situ caecal degradation, compared to other roughages (Silva et al., 2010). 


Pod husks

Pod husks of pigeon pea offer an excellent alternative to rice bran as a diet source for Artemia sp. in terms of survival, growth, fecundity, and naupliar production (Yoganandhan et al., 2000).

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 31.8 7.6 24.4 49.7 15  
Crude protein % DM 19.0 4.7 10.1 26.7 33  
Crude fibre % DM 30.6 6.5 21.3 45.1 21  
NDF % DM 47.5 8.4 37.2 62.9 11  
ADF % DM 30.5 6.7 15.7 38.7 11  
Lignin % DM 15.1 3.6 7.3 21.4 12  
Ether extract % DM 4.3 1.1 2.4 6.1 16  
Ash % DM 6.1 1.0 4.0 8.8 31  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 19.7   19.7 24.5 2 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 7.2 1.7 4.6 10.8 19  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.8 0.5 1.0 2.6 15  
Potassium g/kg DM 14.7 4.1 9.1 20.8 12  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.3   0.2 0.3 2  
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.4 1.2 1.5 5.5 13  
Manganese mg/kg DM 74   73 75 2  
Zinc mg/kg DM 39   23 54 2  
Copper mg/kg DM 10   7 12 2  
Iron mg/kg DM 213   181 244 2  
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Arginine % protein 5.7       1  
Histidine % protein 2.7       1  
Isoleucine % protein 3.8       1  
Leucine % protein 6.6       1  
Lysine % protein 2.2       1  
Phenylalanine % protein 4.2       1  
Threonine % protein 5.8       1  
Valine % protein 5.2       1  
Secondary metabolites Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Tannins (eq. tannic acid) g/kg DM 28.0       1  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 64.6         *
OM digestibility, ruminants (gas production) % 69       1  
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 61.7         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 12.1         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.6         *
ME ruminants (gas production) MJ/kg DM 10.2       1  
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 64.5   60.0 69.0 2  
a (N) % 30.8       1  
b (N) % 58.6       1  
c (N) h-1 0.120       1  
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=4%) % 75         *
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=6%) % 70         *

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


Adjolohoun, 2008; Ahmed et al., 2003; Ajayi et al., 2009; Axtmayer et al., 1938; Barnes, 1998; CIRAD, 1991; FUSAGx/CRAW, 2009; Kambashi et al., 2014; Krauss, 1921; Meale et al., 2012; Mecha et al., 1980; Omokanye et al., 2001; Padilla et al., 2002; Pires et al., 2006; Silva et al., 2010; Work, 1937

Last updated on 21/09/2016 16:29:22

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 90.3   88.8 91.8 2  
Crude protein % DM 14.5   12.2 16.7 2  
Crude fibre % DM 32.5       1  
NDF % DM 78.6       1  
ADF % DM 60.2       1  
Lignin % DM 17.1       1  
Ether extract % DM 1.9       1  
Ash % DM 4.6   3.9 5.3 2  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 19.2         *
Secondary metabolites Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Tannins, condensed (eq. catechin) g/kg DM 11.3       1  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 59.7         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 56.3         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.8         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.7         *

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


Foster et al., 2009; Krauss, 1921

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:43:53

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 93.0       1  
Crude protein % DM 6.7       1  
Crude fibre % DM 38.0       1  
Ether extract % DM 0.3       1  
Ash % DM 5.0   4.1 5.8 2  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.4         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 9.7   8.4 11.0 2  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.8   0.9 2.7 2  
Magnesium g/kg DM 3.0       1  
Zinc mg/kg DM 33       1  
Copper mg/kg DM 13       1  
Iron mg/kg DM 744       1  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 82.0         *
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 30.4         *
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 5.6         *

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


Devendra et al., 1970; Gowda et al., 2004

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:43:53

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 87.3       1  
Crude protein % DM 20.3       1  
Crude fibre % DM 35.2       1  
Ether extract % DM 1.7       1  
Ash % DM 3.3       1  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 19.7         *
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 82.9         *
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 34.8         *
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 6.9         *

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


Krauss, 1921

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:43:53

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Thiollet H., Tran G., Delagarde R., Bastianelli D., Lebas F., 2017. Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) forage. Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/22444 Last updated on March 8, 2017, 11:10

English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant)