Neem Leaves as a Potential Supplement in Ruminant Feeding
Authors: Neeti Lakhani, Preeti Lakhani, Aamrapali Bhimte and Vandana Yadav
ICAR- National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal, Haryana


Azadirachta indica (neem) is a perennial tree in the mahogany family Meliaceae. Due to its wide range of use, the neem plant is one of the most widely studied tree species in the world (Girish and Shankara 2008). It thrives in almost any type of soil and tolerate a wide range of soil pH between 4 to 10 and temperatures 21 – 32o C (Girish and Shankara 2008). Studies on neem leaves feeding in animal production are mostly focused on its medicinal uses; mostly as an anti-helminthic agent (Tiwary and Pandey 2010). In the area of animal nutrition, most studies involved the use of seeds as a protein source in animal feed (Aruwayo et al 2011). The seed has been processed as seed meal, seed kernel cake or even as fruit cake.The incorporation of neem leaves into ruminant feeds helped increase the utility of plant and alleviate the severe feed inadequacy experienced during the dry season. This article highlights the potential of neem leaves as fodder for ruminant livestock.

Nutrient profile of neem leaves

Neem leaves are high in crude protein, lower in fibre content and a high NFE. There are, however, wide variations, crude protein concentrations between 17.5% and 18.7% have been reported (Bhowmik et al 2008) whereas authors have reported values lower or higher than these.The variation in crude protein values may be due to differences in the neem plant variety. Neutral detergent fibre (NDF) and acid detergent fibre (ADF) levels of 38.0% and 27.0% respectively have been reported (Ramana et al 2000). Similarly, Bhowmik et al (2008) reported a crude fibre level of 11.3% and nitrogen free extract (NFE) level of 53.9% for neem leaves. This chemical composition of neem leaves makes it an important source of readily fermentable carbohydrates in ruminant feed.

There are few reports on the mineral content of neem leaves. The content of calcium ranges between 1.48 to 1.53 % which is similar to the value of 1.51% reported for sesbania leaves .

Table 2: Some anti-nutritional compounds identified in neem leaves
Anti-nutritional factors Concentration (%) Source
Condensed tannins 9.38 Ramana et al 2000
Crude saponins 2.80 Ngamsaeng et al 2006
Oxalate 0.63 Niranjan et al 2008
Lignin 10.2 Ramana et al 2000
Azadirachtin 0.024 Ghimeray et al 2009
Total phenolics 6.53 Ramana et al 2000

Performance of animals fed neem leaves

Neem leaves used as a supplement to basal diets of crop residues have shown to improve feed utilisation and animal performance in ruminants. In a study, 30% of mustard straw was replaced with either neem or Albizzia lebbek leaves, the dry matter and crude protein intake increased to similar levels with an increase in volatile fatty acid production, which indicated that neem leaves supplied nutrients needed critically to enhance ruminal microbial growth and fermentation of feed. Similarly studies of Paengkoum (2010) have shown no negative effects on feed intake, dry matter and fibre digestibility as well as body weight gain when neem leaves replaced up to 50% of soya bean meal in ruminant diets. This improved performance of ruminants fed neem leaves is partly attributable to the effects of the bioactive compounds in the leaves on intestinal parasites. There is abundant literature on the effect of neem leaves and extracts on intestinal worms (Chandrawathani et al 2006) where Haemonchus contortus appears particularly sensitive to the intake of fresh neem leaves by the animal. Improved performance on neem leaves has also been reported for poultry (Sonaiya 1993).


The neem plant produces a large amount of forage that potentially help alleviate the challenges of dry season feeding of ruminant livestock. Despite its content of bitter principles, it has shown positive results when the leaves were fed to ruminants. It may be fed as a supplement to increase feed intake as well as diet quality. Research on neem leaves as fodder should therefore be given adequate attention to find ways to utilise this abundant resource where dry season feeding remains a major challenge.


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