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Cockspur grass (Echinochloa crus-galli) forage


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

Barnyard grass, barnyard millet, barn grass, billion dollar grass, chicken panic grass, cocksfoot panicum, cockspur, cockspur grass, German grass, Japanese millet, panic grass, water grass, wild millet [English]; bourgon, crête de coq, echinochloa pied-de-coq, ergot de coq, millard, millet du Japon, panic, panic pied-de-coq, panic des marais, panisse, patte de poule, pied de coq [French]; gewöhnliche Hühnerhirse, Hühnerhirse [German]; giavone comune [Italian]; canarana, capim-andrequicé, capim-capivara, capim-quicé, milha-maior, milha-pe-de-galo [Portuguese]; arrocilla, arrocillo, arroz silvestre, cola de caballo, cresta gallo, grama de agua, gramilla, gramilla de rastrojo, hualcacho, jaraz fina, mijo japonés, pagarropa, panicello, pasto colorado, pasto rayado, pata o pie de gallina, pierna o o pata de gallo, zacate de agua [Spanish]; padi burung, dwajan [Indonesian]; song chang [Vietnamese]


Echinochloa crus-galli subsp. spiralis (Vasinger) Tzvelev, Echinochloa crus-galli var. edulis Hitchc., Echinochloa crus-galli var. mitis (Pursh) Peterm., Echinochloa spiralis Vasinger, Panicum crus-galli L. (basionym), Panicum crus-galli var. mite Pursh


Cockspur grass (Echinochloa crus-galli (L.) P. Beauv.) is a tall, robust, tufted, quick growing annual grass that is cultivated in the tropics and subtropics for grain. It can be grazed before being harvested for grain. Cockspur grass may be cultivated for grass and is then preferably used green. It is suited to make silage but is too succulent for easy haymaking. Cockspur is mainly considered a weed in cash crops like rice or maize but it can also be used for soil reclamation.


Cockspur grass is a tall, robust, and tufted annual grass growing up to a height of 60-120 cm. It has stout culms, geniculate at the base and then erect. It has a fibrous root system but no rhizome. The leaves are linear, very acute at the apex, leaf-blades are up to 65 cm long x 5-30 mm wide, usually glabrous, occasionally sparsely hirsute. The inflorescence is 5-25 cm long, erect, densely flowered and hairy. It forms a drooping and racemose panicle. The primary racemes are 1.5-10 cm long, erect to spreading, purplish in colour (Quattrocchi, 2006). There may be secondary branches. The spikelets are 2.5-4 mm long, 1.1-2.3 mm wide, disarticulating at maturity, and they can be awned. The seeds are ovoid or oblong caryopses, 1.3-2.2 mm long x 1-1.8 mm wide, brownish in colour (SEINet, 2017; Quattrocchi, 2006). Echinochloa crus-galli is taller than other members of the Echinochloa genus such as Echinochloa colona. It has wider leaf-blades and longer inflorescences (SEINet, 2017).


Echinochloa crus-galli is a dual purpose grass that can be grown for grain or forage though, as a pasture species, it has fair to poor value for livestock. Cockspur grass can be ensiled and less easily made into hay. Cockspur young shoots are edible, raw or cooked. Cockspur grass provides habitat to wildlife, and seeds to birds. When grown as a cereal, seeds are used as a millet, and roasted seeds make a coffee substitute. Cockspur grass can help reclaiming saline and alkaline soils. In ethnomedicine, it has been used to cure spleen dieseases (Quattrocchi, 2006).


Echinochloa crus-galli is native to Eurasia. It has been introduced into many countries for its potential as forage and is now widespread worldwide in tropical, subtropical and temperate areas, from 50°N to 40°S (Rojas-Sandoval et al., 2014). Cockspur grass is found from boreal moist to wet areas, and from tropical very dry to wet forest (Duke, 1983). It is mainly found in moist disturbed and degraded places like swamps, ponds and depressions or temporarily flooded palustrine wetlands, and seasonnally wet habitats. It is often seen around wet meadows, rice fields and along ditches, lakeshores and river banks (Quattrocchi, 2006). It can be found at elevations between sea level and 2500 m. It is well adapted to hot and wet conditions (Rojas-Sandoval et al., 2014). Echinochloa crus-galli grows in places where annual precipitation ranges from 310 mm to 2500 mm, and where annual temperatures vary between 5.7 and 27.8°C (Duke, 1983). It can still grow in cooler areas, but does better where average annual temperatures are between 14°C and 16°C (Duke, 1983). Cockspur grass grows on poorly drained or flooded soils like silts and clays. It can grow in brackish water since it has tolerance of saline and alkaline soils, withstanding soil pH 4.8 to 8.2. It cannot stand shade and severe drought (Ecocrop, 2017; Duke, 1983). Cockspur grass is killed by fire but the seeds burried in the soil may benefit from fires to germinate (Esser, 1994).

Forage management 


Cockspur grass production of green material as a rice crop weed was reported to be up to 4-11 t/ha between first and last weeding (Ecocrop, 2017). In Korea, DM yields were reported to range between 11.9 and 16.9 t/ha, depending on sowing rate (the higher the better at 40 kg/ha) (Cho NamKi et al., 2001).


Echinochloa crus-galli is a fast growing grass that can be propagated from seed. The optimum germination temperature is 35°C but germination is possible between 5-10°C and 40°C. If cockspur grass is sown during the rainy season, it reaches maturity in about six weeks with good yields of rather coarse fodder. Sometimes, it can already be grazed three weeks after sowing (Duke, 1983). When cockspur grass is intended for forage, strip grazing is recommended. It should start when the crop is 30-40 cm high and the crop can then be grazed five times. Cockspur grass was not reported to be a reliable forage and, even if cultivated in some places for forage, it could not become economically important for grazing (Duke, 1983).

Environmental impact 

Weed potential

Echinochloa crus-galli is considered one of the world's worst weeds and is included in the Global Compendium of Weeds (Randall, 2012). It is listed as a weed in 36 crops and is the worst in rice paddies (Holm et al., 1991). A vigorous competitor for nitrogen (removing up to 80% available N), invasise cockspur grass reduces considerably crop yields and cause forage crops failures. It is considered an invasive worldwide in natural grasslands, coastal forests and disturbed sites, and may act as a reservoir for virus diseases (Rojas-Sandoval et al., 2014). In rice paddies, where cockspur grass can be a very troublesome weed, a way of alleviating this problem is to flood the rice field with more than 15 cm of water. It favours the rice seedlings, since cockspur grass seeds cannot germinate at this depth (Ecocrop, 2017).

Erosion control and soil reclamation

Cockspur grass is useful for erosion control and habitat rehabilitation. In Egypt, it is used for reclaiming saline area (Ecocrop, 2017). It has been refered to as suitable for alkaline areas (Quattrocchi, 2006). It could help controlling erosion on coal mine sites in eastern USA (Vogel, 1981).


Echinochloa crus-galli is an important habitat for waterfowl and pheasant (Quattrocchi, 2006). In the USA (Arizona), cockspur grass could grow on riparian sites flooded by wastewater and thus provide habitat rehabilitation for birds and subsequent avian colonization (Rea, 1988).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Cockspur grass has a low to good protein content, ranging from 5% DM to more than 16% DM.

Potential constraints 

Nitrate poisoning

The high potential of nitrogen scavenging may result in toxicity to livestock. Toxic levels of nitrate have been reported (Rojas-Sandoval et al., 2014).


In Korea, a case of photosensitization occured on a 4 month-old calf after the calf had entered a sward of lush cockspur grass. The animal recovered after being protected from sunlight and removed from the pasture (Kwang-ho Jang et al., 1998).


Depending on the place where it is found or cultivated, opinions on cockspur grass as a forage grass for livestock are not consistent. In the 1960s and 1970s, cockspur grass was said to be readily grazed by livestock and was cultivated for hay in Arizona and West Virginia (Esser, 1994). It was reported to be palatable to sheep in Minnesota (Marten et al., 1975). While cockspur grass has a fair nutritive value for ruminants in the early stages of growth, it becomes harsh and unpalatable at maturity (Stubbendieck et al., 1985). In Brazil, it was shown that cockspur grass composition did not differ between the stages of growth, but degradability was reduced as the grass became mature (Medeiros et al., 2009).


In Nigeria, in an attempt to value weed meal from rice, a mixture made out of green matter from Echinochloa colonaE. crus-galliCommelina benghalensisCyperus difformisC. iria and Eclipta prostrata was chopped and dried, and subsequently assessed as broiler feed. It could be included in broiler diets at only relatively low level (5%). Above this level animal performance was reduced, but no mortality occurred at any level (Anigbogu, 1999).


No information on the traditional or experimental use of Echinochloa crus-galli in the feeding of domestic rabbits seems available in the international literature (2017). Nevertheless the cultivation of this plant to feed wild rabbits, deer and turkeys is encouraged in the USA (Smith et al., 1983). When cockspur grass was planted in flood plain areas along the Illinois river, primarily to feed waterfowls and game birds, rabbits and deer also consumed the leaves and seed heads of this grass (Ahn et al., 2004). Cockspur grass is thus probably usable to provide forage and/or grain to domestic rabbits. However, some experiments are necessary to determine the real nutritive value and conditions of use of the different parts of the plant to feed rabbits.


In Northern Vietnam, cockspur grass has been used (though at a low extent) in grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) diets (Dongmeza et al., 2009).

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 40.9   19.2 90.7 4  
Crude protein % DM 10.3 3 5.4 16.7 40  
Crude fibre % DM 26 6.1 5.9 31.5 15  
Ether extract % DM 4.7 1.2 2.5 6.3 16  
Ash % DM 11.7 2.4 6 14.6 16  
Insoluble ash % DM 4.4       1  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 66.4 3.3 59.3 73.9 25  
Acid detergent fibre % DM 37.4 2.2 33.3 43.6 25  
Lignin % DM 4.8       1 *
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18       1 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 1.1       1  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 4.5       1  
Secondary metabolites Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Tannins (eq. tannic acid) g/kg DM 0.6       1  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.8         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.7         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 60         *
OM digestibility, ruminants % 63       1 *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 57       1  

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


Cho NamKi et al., 2011; Dongmeza et al., 2009; Khanum et al., 2007; Lee et al., 2013; Phelps et al., 1896; Vargas et al., 1965

Last updated on 22/12/2017 10:51:18

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 89.1       1  
Crude protein % DM 13.5       1  
Crude fibre % DM 22.7       1  
Ether extract % DM 2.5       1  
Ash % DM 10.4       1  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 58.5         *
Acid detergent fibre % DM 27.2         *
Lignin % DM 2.6         *
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.8         *
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 12.2         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.9         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 69         *
OM digestibility, ruminants % 72       1 *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 60       1  

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


Newlander, 1935

Last updated on 22/12/2017 10:56:03

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Thiollet H., Tran G., Lebas F., 2020. Cockspur grass (Echinochloa crus-galli) forage. Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/451 Last updated on September 4, 2020, 13:49