Animal feed resources information system

Did you find the information you were looking for? Is it valuable to you? Feedipedia is encountering funding shortage. We need your help to keep providing reference-based feeding recommendations for your animals.
Would you consider donating? If yes, please click on the button Donate.

Any amount is the welcome. Even one cent is helpful to us!

Golden millet (Setaria sphacelata)


Click on the "Nutritional aspects" tab for recommendations for ruminants, pigs, poultry, rabbits, horses, fish and crustaceans
Common names 

African bristle grass, African pigeon grass, canary seed grass, common setaria, golden bristle grass, Rhodesian grass (Southern Africa), golden millet, golden setaria, golden timothy (Zimbabwe), Kazungula setaria, pigeon grass, pigeongrass, setaria (Australia), Rhodesian grass, Setaria (Australia), South African pigeon grass [English]; sétaire d'Afrique [French]; capim de Congo, capim maranga, setaria, setaria narok, capim-setária, napierzinho [Portuguese]; cola de perro, mijo silvestre, rabo de cachorro, setarea, narok, zacate setaria, pasto nandi, zacate nandi, pasto san Juan (Costa Rica), pasto miel (Ecuador), fleo dorado (Mexico) [Spanish]; Mannagras [Afrikaans]; 南非鴿草 [Chinese]

  • Var. anceps: golden bristle grass, golden millet, south African pigeon grass, rhodesian grass, setaria, capim setária, napierzinho, pasto san juan, pasto miel, fleo dorado, golden timothy

Var. anceps (Stapf) Veldkamp: Setaria anceps Stapf, Setaria anceps Stapf var. sericea Stapf, Setaria sphacelata (Schumach.) Stapf & C.E. Hubb. var. sericea (Stapf) Clayton, nom. illeg.

Taxonomic information 

There are several subspecies of Setaria sphacelata. This datasheet is about Setaria sphacelata var. anceps, usually called golden millet. Setaria sphacelata var. splendida is described the Giant setaria datasheet.


Golden millet (Setaria sphacelata var. anceps (Schum.) Stapf & Hubb) is a tropical and subtropical perennial grass. It is a productive and variable species, of which numerous subspecies and varieties have been described. Many commercial cultivars have been developed for various climates and soil conditions. It is cultivated worldwide for pasture and for cut fodder. It can be used to make silage and finer types are reported to be suitable for hay making (Cook et al., 2005). It is used as ground cover for soil conservation (FAO, 2017).


Setaria sphacelata var. anceps is a stout and usually tufted grass. It produces short rhizomes and many flattened blue-green stems up to 1.8-2 (-3) m high. The leaves are bluish grey green, soft and glabrous, 50 cm long x 1-1.7 cm wide, with long pointed tips (Moore, 2016; Cook et al., 2005). The inflorescence is a spike-like 7-25 cm long x 8 mm wide, dense narrow panicle, that radiates golden-yellow bristles (Cook et al., 2005; FAO, 2017).


Golden millet is an important fodder plant in Africa. Its relatively easy establishment from seeds makes it worth using for pasture development (Hacker, 1992). Setaria sphacelata var. anceps was reported to be as productive as Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana) and molasses grass (Melinis minutiflora) (van Wijk, 1980). Golden millet is important in crop rotation with maize and cereals, mainly in mixed farming systems (van Wijk, 1980). Golden millet can be used for pasture, cut-and-carry systems, hay (with finer types like cv. Nandi), and good silage (Cook et al., 2005). It forms stable groundcover for soil conservation (Cook et al., 2005). Golden millet seeds are an important food source for several bird species, including the long-tailed widowbird (Roberts et al., 2005).


Golden millet originated from tropical and subtropical Africa. It was introduced into many countries of South East Asia, America and Oceania (Australia, New Zealand and some Pacific Islands) where it became naturalized (Cook et al., 2005). It is cultivated under irrigation in Morocco and Israel (Bogdan, 1977). It is considered a weed in three states of Australia (Moore, 2016). Golden millet is naturally found on grassland, woodland, roadsides, disturbed sites, waste areas and swampy places, usually on clay soils but also on rocky hillsides (FAO, 2017; Cook et al., 2005). In medium to high natural grasslands of East Africa, golden millet may represent a considerable proportion of the herbage though not dominant (Hacker, 1992).

Golden millet is found in both hemispheres from 29°N to 5°S and from sea level to an altitude of 2600 m (-3300 m) (FAO, 2017). Golden millet is a spring and summer growing species but it keeps growing late in autumn (Moore, 2016). Golden millet grows at higher altitudes than panicoid pasture grass as it survives freezing temperatures (Hacker, 1992). It does better when temperatures are between 18-22°C but can still grow during winter if frost is not too heavy (FAO, 2017). Golden millet grows usually in places with more than 750 mm annual rainfall. For cultivation, wetter places with more than 1000 mm rainfall are preferred. Golden millet has variable tolerance of waterlogging and flooding, and generally low tolerance of drought (Cook et al., 2005; van Wijk, 1980). However, some cultivars such as Kazungula are particularly suited to wet lowlands while having good drought tolerance (Cook et al., 2005). In South East Brazil, golden millet was reported to have only moderate tolerance to flooding compared to Brachiaria species (B. mutica, B. arrecta and B. humidicola), Hemarthria altissima and Paspalum atratum (Botrel et al., 2002). Golden millet thrives on moist fertile soils but can grow on poor sandy and stony soils. It generally grows on soils with a pH of 5.5-6.5 and does not withstand acidity, alkalinity or salinity (FAO, 2017). Golden millet is fairly tolerant of shade: its yield is reduced by 50% under 60% shade (Cook et al., 2005). Once established, the species is tolerant of fire and regrowth may even be more tillering after burning (Cook et al., 2005).

Several cultivars of Setaria sphacelata var. splendida have been developed in Australia to satisfy different cultivation conditions. Some of their characteristics are summarized in the table below.

Table 1. Characteristics of the main cultivars of Setaria sphacelata

Name Temperature Moisture Establishment Oxalates Forage quality
Nandi Sensitive to frost Waterlogging tolerance, no drought tolerance Fair 3.22% (moderate) Leafy, good quality
Kazungula Frost tolerant Warterlogging, flooding and drough tolerance Easy, robust plant 3.3-7.0% (high) Coarse, very stemmy at maturity but well accepted
Narok Frost resistant Warterlogging, flooding and drough tolerance Keeps growing during cool season +++ Leafy, palatable
Forage management 


The average DM yield of golden millet forage ranges from 10 to 15 t/ha. However, much higher yields of 26-28 t/ha have been reported from well-fertilised irrigated stands (FAO, 2017; Cook et al., 2005).

Pasture management

Golden millet can be successfully sown or vegetatively propagated. The seeds should be drilled at a rate of 2 kg/ha in a well-prepared seedbed no deeper than 1.8-2.5 cm depending on the cultivar (Moore, 2016; Cook et al., 2005). Golden millet should be sown during spring or midsummer as the optimal period for growth is from spring to autumn (FAO, 2017). Golden millet establishes relatively slowly but reliably provided that the seeds can benefit from soil moisture. Vegetative propagation is time-consuming but reliable (Bogdan, 1977). It can be done after cutting tufts to a height of 15 cm, splitting them in units of 1-3 tillers and planting vertical in moist soil. Root stocks can also be used for propagation (Hacker, 1992). 

Golden millet can be sown with companion legumes such as Neonotonia wightii, Desmodium intortum, D. uncinatum, Macroptilium atropurpureum, Vigna parkeri, Lotus uliginosus, Trifolium repens (Cook et al., 2005; Bogdan, 1977). Such association is profitable if the K status of the soil is maintained. In Himalayan rangelands, golden millet is grown in association with soybean and berseem (Trifolium alexandrinum), providing good amount of dry matter. This association is reported to be one of the most profitable (Bhag Mal, 1997). Association with other grasses is not recommended (FAO, 2017; Cook et al., 2005).

A small-seeded species, golden millet does not establish readily and is less favorable than Rhodes grass (Hacker, 1992; van Wijk, 1980). Golden millet shoud be weeded frequently till establishment occurs (ILRI, 2013). However, once well established it competes with weeds and is more persistant than Rhodes grass. Golden millet responds positively to N and K fertilizers (Hacker, 1992; van Wijk, 1980).

Golden millet shoud be leniently grazed until establishment since grazing can cause uprooting of young plants (FAO, 2017). Once the establishment is obtained, it is recommended to have golden millet heavily grazed in order to maintain good quality forage, because of its tendency to become stemmy and coarse. In Queensland, the highest yield of forage was obtained by cutting every 3 weeks at a height of 15 cm (FAO, 2017). In mixed stands, continuous and heavy grazing is well tolerated for golden millet, but it can be deleterious to the companion legume (Hacker, 1992). However, the Kuzungula cultivar is prone to shade companion legumes if not heavily grazed (FAO, 2017).

Cut-and-carry systems

In India, golden millet is used for cut-and-carry systems. The first cutting can be done after 3 months of planting (sowing) and subsequent cuttings every 3-4 weeks in well irrigated and properly manured pastures (Trivedi, 2002).

Hay and silage

Most golden millet varieties are tall and coarse, become stemmy with maturity, and are thus not recommended for hay. The leafy Nandi cultivar has thinner stems and is more suitable to make hay. It was reported to require only 50-70 hours to cure and had no more than 5% DM losses provided it was cut in the afternoon (Catchpoole, 1968). It was possible to obtain good quality silage with Nandi grass with or without addition of molasses or Desmodium intortum (Catchpoole, 1968; Catchpoole, 1965). The Kazungula cultivar is used widely for silage in southern Africa (FAO, 2017).

Standover and deferred feed

Though coarse at late stages of maturity, golden millet standover provides low-quality roughage, as a supplement to urea-molasses feeding. It is used for this purpose in Kenya and Uganda, but losses of protein and dry matter may reach 33% (FAO, 2017).

Environmental impact 


Setaria sphacelata has become naturalised in many countries and is a significant environmental weed in three Australian states.

Erosion control

Because of its large crown, the Kazungula cultivar was reported to provide good erosion control when sown in contour strips (FAO, 2017).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Like many tropical grasses, golden millet forage has a rather low protein content (about 6-8% DM) that is highly variable, with observed values as high as 20% DM.

Potential constraints 


Golden millet forage contains moderate to high levels of oxalates, depending on variety, stage of growth, fertiliser level, the part of the plant used, etc. N fertilized golden millet and golden millet cultivated in association with a legume species had a higher oxalate content (Seawright et al., 1970).

Due to this high oxalate content, golden millet is unsuitable for horses (Moore, 2016) as it causes the "big head disease" (Osteodystrophia fibrosa), a calcium imbalance due to the binding of Ca by oxalates in the horse's intestine. Horses afflicted with big head disease have affected gait, poor performance and swelling of bones of the head (DAF, 2010).

Golden millet has occasionally been reported to cause nephrosis and hypocalcaemia in ruminants though cattle can get used to oxalates (developping adequate rumen flora) and it is possible to alleviate the oxalate effect with a provision of Ca (Moore, 2016; Cook et al., 2005; Boonman, 1993). In Queensland, outbreaks of cattle poisoning were reported in swards containing a high proportion (more than 95%) of golden millet (Moore, 2016; Seawright et al., 1970).


Goden millet is a relatively high yielding quality forage for ruminants. 

Palatability and intake

Compared to Brachiaria brizantha and Megathyrsus maximus, Setaria sphacelata cv. Kazungula had the lowest DM percentage year-round and the smallest leaf blade during spring and summer. This can limit its intake by ruminants, especially during the rainy season (Sánchez et al., 1996; Gerdes et al., 2000a; Gerdes et al., 2000b). Compared to Narok and Nandi, Kazungula was the least acceptable cultivar as it flowered early in the growing season and remained stemmy for a long period (Jones et al., 2003).

Nutritive value

Early trials found OM digestibility of golden millet to be quite high, in the 65-75% range, even for mature grass (Butterworth, 1963; Van Wyk et al., 1951). In sacco DM digestibility of Setaria sphacelata cv. Splenda after 14 days of regrowth in cycle 1 (65.1%) is similar to that of Urochloa pullulans, Megathyrsus maximus cv. Riverdale and Digitaria milanjiana. In cycle 2, it was similar (55.3%) to that of Brachiaria decumbens cv. Basilisk, D. milanjiana and Cenchrus ciliaris, and lower than that of M. maximus. It was always higher than that of Imperata cylindrica var. Maiwa or Heteropogon contortus (Bulo et al., 1994). The in sacco degradability of cultivar Nandi is higher than that of cultivars Kazungula and Narok, because its cell wall fraction was more digested, which means that it has a lower rumen fill (Singh et al., 1992).


Beef production

Golden millet has a good potential for grazing beef cows. In particular, the Narok cultivar, which is more tolerant to frost than Nandi or Kazungula cultivars, allowed a higher liveweight gain/ha (822 kg) than Kazungula (568 kg) (Evans et al., 1992a; Evans et al., 1992b; Hacker et al., 1992). In Queensland (Australia), steers continuously grazing golden millet fertilized with 330 kg/ha N, and stocked at about 3 steers per hectare, produced liveweight gains of 500-800 kg/ha/year (Cook et al., 2005). In subtropical Australia, well-fertilized golden millet pastures sustained continuous stocking rates of up to 6 steers per hectare (Hacker, 1992). Similar stocking rates could be anticipated in tropical regions without a pronounced dry/cold season. In Kenya, cattle grazing unfertilized Nandi cv. were reported to gain 336 kg/ha/year (Skerman et al., 1990). In Parana (Brazil), golden millet cv. Kazungula was compared to six other grasses pastured by finishing beef cattle. With an average gain per animal of 223 kg/ha/year, it was inferior to all other grasses (Postiglioni, 2000).

Golden millet cv. Kazungula is a successful forage grass if rotationally grazed with 1.5 and 1.0 animals/ha in the wet and dry seasons respectively (Gonçalves et al., 1988). Golden millet cv. Narok had higher yields with higher sward heights and more seed heads when rotationally grazed, compared to continuously grazed pasture. However, the liveweight gains were not different for the two types of management (Jones et al., 1989).

Breeding livestock

In New Zealand, the introduction of 10% or 30% farm area in golden millet reduced total pasture supply slightly during winter and spring, but doubled (10%) and nearly tripled (30%) summer supply. Stocking rates could subsequently be increased by 22% and 25% for the 10% and 30% golden millet scenarios, respectively. Golden millet was recommended to sustain breeding stock liveweights during periods of scarcity (dry periods). It was particularly effective for breeding cows as breeding ewes could not control stem growth of golden millet (Boom et al., 1996).

Dairy cattle

In Costa Rica, golden millet (Setaria sphacelata cv. White or cv. Purple) met the energy requirement for a cow to produce about 7 kg milk/day, as energy is the most limiting nutrient for milk production (Sánchez et al., 1999). With a supplement of 0.25 kg feed per litre of milk produced, golden millet (Setaria sphacelata cv. Sericea) had the same nutritive value as elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) (Olivo et al., 1992).

In Fiji, a supplementation of concentrate with molasses included at 5 to 10% of the diet increased milk yield, fat corrected milk, body condition score and apparent nutrient digestibility of setaria grass pasture (Tamani Eroni et al., 2006). A level above 10% molasses in the concentrate was not nutritionally and economically suitable for lactating dairy cows, as digestibility tended to decrease and health problems might appear (Tamani Eroni et al., 2006).

In Minas Gerais (Brazil), cows grazing a golden millet pasture at a stocking rate of 2.3/ha with daily access to Lolium multiflorum pasture for 3 hours produced 11 to 12 kg milk daily without concentrate supplements. There was no difference in milk yield, quality of diet selected or liveweight of cows on golden millet pasture at forage availability (FA) 1500, 1800, 2500 or 2800 kg DM/ha. At lower FA values stalk to leaf ratio increased, and the protein content and the digestibility of available forage increased (Alvim et al., 1995).

In a trial in Malaysia, intake of golden millet by dairy cows managed in rotational grazing was higher than intake in a cut-and-carry system (Wan Hassan et al., 1989). Grazing cows had a higher milk yield than pen-fed cows (1365 vs. 1067 kg/lactation) but dairy performance was lower than that obtained with a mixture of signal grass (Brachiaria decumbens) and leucaena (Leucaena leucocephala).


Golden millet cv. Kazungula can be used for growing lambs after weaning. Mean slaughter weight, dressing percentages and wool yield were similar for animals grazing either native or golden millet cultivated pastures, but meat and wool yield/ha were greater on golden millet pasture, because of a higher stocking rate (Silva et al., 1987). Supplementation of golden millet with either cassava leaves or gliricidia leaves (Gliricidia sepium) improved intake and digestibility of diets and thus had a significant effect on liveweight gain (Sitorus, 1989).


In growing Nubian crossbed goats, the nutritive value of pastures of golden millet was lower than that of pangola grass (Digitaria decumbens), elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) and Guinea grass (Megathyrsus maximus) as the average daily weight gain was respectively 34, 47, 47 and 45 g/day (Hsieh et al., 1990). Supplementation with concentrates increased growth performance (Hsieh, 1996).

Fresh forage

In growing bulls, supplementation with molasses (10%) of a mixture of golden millet and leucaena (1:1 DM basis) increased significantly DM intake, DM digestibility and liveweight gain (419 g/day vs. 292 g/day) of initial liveweight of 123 kg (Huque et al., 1995).


The improvement of the quite low nutritive value of golden millet could be achieved with the inclusion at ensiling of either high-protein tree leaves or small amounts of molasses (Tjandraatmadja et al., 1994). In a trial with sheep, golden millet cv. Kazungula was ensiled with either molasses (4%, w/w fresh basis), or with young leaves and shoots of Leucaena leucocephala or Gliricidia sepium (33%, w/w fresh basis), or with a mixture of legumes and molasses. Compared to hay alone, the addition of legumes and/or molasses increased the intake and the digestibility of the diet. The greatest improvement was obtained with a mixture of gliricidia and molasses. Liveweight change in sheep was correlated with intakes of digestible DM and N intake (Tjandraatmadja et al., 1993).


Fresh Setaria sphacelata forage is used as a cut-and-carry forage by rabbit farmers in different countries such as Indonesia (Prawirodigdo, 1985), Uganda (Lukefahr, 1998) and Eritrea (Tesfay et al., 2014). However, when used as the only feed, golden millet forage failed completely to support maintenance of rabbits (Raharjo et al., 1986).

Young forage (8 weeks) has a relatively high protein content of about 14-16% DM (Lebas, 2007) and is relished by rabbits (Ghosh et al., 2009). On the contrary, older forage (more than 15-20 weeks) has a very low protein content (6-7%) and its protein is poorly digested by rabbits: 6.2% of N digestibility. In addition, the measured digestible energy content of this type of forage is also very low: 1.7 MJ/kg DM (Raharjo et al., 1986). This type of "old" forage is not appreciated by rabbits in cafeteria free choice tests or when distributed alone (Raharjo, 1987). However, dried golden millet included at 25% in a balanced diet induced intake or digestibility performance similar to those obtained with other forages such as Panicum maximum cv. hamil or Thysanolaena maxima.

From a practical point of view, fresh young Setaria sphacelata may be recommended as forage for smallholder farms. When cut older, dried S. sphacelata may be included in rabbit balanced diets at up to 20-25%, but exclusively as a source of fibre, like a cereal straw.

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 23.1 8.6 8.5 67.5 245  
Crude protein % DM 7.7 3.7 2.2 21.4 301  
Crude fibre % DM 38 5 9.1 49.7 283  
Ether extract % DM 2.1 0.9 0.1 7.2 270  
Ash % DM 10.1 2.9 3.4 23.4 295  
Insoluble ash % DM 4 1.9 0.4 10.1 259  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 72.9 5.9 51.9 78.2 29 *
Acid detergent fibre % DM 44 5.2 32 52.3 24 *
Lignin % DM 6.3 1.6 2.6 7.4 12 *
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 3 1.2 0.7 8.2 271  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.4 1 0.2 6.6 270  
Magnesium g/kg DM 2 0.7 0.8 4.3 246  
Potassium g/kg DM 26.7 12.7 2.5 74.9 248  
Sodium g/kg DM 1.1 0.94 0.16 2.39 9  
Manganese mg/kg DM 164 57 83 263 13  
Zinc mg/kg DM 30 12 12 53 13  
Copper mg/kg DM 7 2 5 11 13  
Iron mg/kg DM 232   126 339 2  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 12.2   11.2 13.4 2 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.8         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 68         *
OM digestibility, ruminants % 71 4 65 75 7  
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 67 14 44 77 7  

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


Aumont et al., 1991; Butterworth, 1963; Campos et al., 2010; CIRAD, 1991; Gerdes et al., 2000; Kabuga et al., 1993; Mlay et al., 2006; Nasrullah et al., 2003; Pozy et al., 1996; Scaut, 1959; Sen et al., 1965; Singh et al., 1992; Van Rensburg, 1956; Van Wyk et al., 1951; Warly et al., 2006; Yadav et al., 1991

Last updated on 01/12/2017 18:42:55

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Thiollet H., Tran G., Giger-Reverdin S., Lebas F., 2019. Golden millet (Setaria sphacelata). Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/381 Last updated on July 9, 2019, 17:29