Blessing in Disguise

In Kashmir, Azolla (mangole), a pollutant, can be put to a better use as livestock feed


We are witnessing equatic weeds growing profusely. Though these weeds are new to our fresh water bodies but they have been growing around the world since long and scientists have been working on to put it to a better use. Government, though successful in getting these fast proliferating weeds out, is yet to dispose it off without causing any secondary pollution. It is disturbing to see the it dumped around the road sides in and around foreshore road, the prime tourist destinations. However being nutritionally a good fodder this obnoxious water weed finds its use in livestock feeding and animal nutritionists called it a ‘super plant’   with multiple uses.
Azolla, locally called a mangole has been deemed a "super-plant" as it can draw down as much as a tonne of nitrogen per acre per year (0.25 kg/m²/yr); this is matched by 6 tonnes per acre of carbon drawdown (1.5 kg/m²/yr). Its ability to use atmospheric nitrogen is attributed to its hosting of nitrogen fixing bacteria i.e Azollae anabaena. The plant can grow at great speed in favourable conditions – modest warmth and 12 hours of sunlight.
Nowadays one of the greatest problems livestock farmers are facing today is the shortage of feed and fodder. The arrival of High Yielding Varieties (HYV) shifted the emphasis from the bio-mass oriented agriculture to yield oriented agriculture. This in turn highly reduced the sources of fodder from agricultural crops. The rapid shrinkage of common lands of the villages and expansion of urban areas also led to disappearance of grazing lands and pastures. Traditional sources of cattle feed like oil cakes and coarse grains also declined as other cash crops replaced them. Such varied factors have aggravated the fodder crisis. A number of synthetic antibiotics, steroids and vitamins are used to increase the production of milk, meat, egg etc. These chemicals may accumulate in the human body, through the consumption of animal products and could cause various degenerative diseases. If we can substitute the cattle feeds with natural feeds that are rich in useful nutrients, it will be of great importance for human and animal health.  Azolla can be used as a good substitute for the cattle feed.
Azolla is very rich in proteins, essential amino acids (deficient in methionine only), vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin B12, Beta Carotene), growth promoter intermediaries and minerals like calcium, phosphorous, potassium, ferrous, copper, magnesium etc. Azolla, on a dry weight basis, is constituted of 25-35% protein content, 10-15% mineral content and 7-10%, a combination of amino acids, bio-active substances and biopolymers. Carbohydrate and oil content in Azolla is very low. Thus the biocomposition of Azolla, makes it one of the most economic and efficient feed substitutes for livestock. Moreover, Azolla can be easily digested by livestock, owing to its high protein and low lignin content.
Trials on dairy animals showed an overall increase of milk yield by 15–20% when 1.5–2 Kg of Azolla was combined with regular feed. 15– 20% of commercial feed, especially oil cake, can be replaced with the same quantity of Azolla on dry weight basis, without affecting milk production. It was also found that Azolla feeding improves the quality of milk and the health and longevity of livestock.
Feeding Azolla to poultry birds improves the weight of broiler chicken and increases the egg production of layers. Azolla can also be fed to sheep, goat, and rabbit as feed substitute. In China, cultivation of Azolla along with paddy and fish is said to have increased the rice production by 20% and fish production by 30%. Trials conducted on Azolla as fish feed substitute are also encouraging.
The nutrient constitution of Azolla is found to be almost similar to that of commercial poultry feed, except that the protein content is high and calcium content is slightly low. Feeding trials carried out on poultry with different combinations of commercial feed and azolla, showed that 20–25% of commercial feed could be replaced by supplementing it with fresh Azolla in diet. Birds with 75% of the regular feed and 12.5% in the form of Azolla, weighed almost equal to the birds with 100% regular feed. The birds receiving normal feed with 5% extra, in the form of Azolla, grew faster than the birds with 100% feed alone. 10–12% increase in the total body weight was also observed. The trials on broiler chicken showed a substantial increase in their body weight. The number of eggs laid per bird and quality of eggs (the yellow yolk portion of egg being more prominent and yellowish) was also better than those of the control birds.
There was a substantial improvement in the quantity, as well as, quality of milk produced, when dairy cattle were fed with Azolla combined with commercial feed along with an improvement in the health of the cattle. The increase in the milk yield was to the tune of 10–15%, which went up to 20%, during summer months from February to May. It is found that the increase in the quantity of the milk produced on the base of nutrient was higher than the quantity of Azolla fed. Hence, it is assumed that more than the carbohydrate, protein content and other components, like carotinoids, biopolymers, probiotics etc., may be contributing to the overall increase in the production of milk.
To conclude it is to be emphasized here that Azolla, a fast proliferating equatic weed can be used as an ideal feed substitute for sheep, cattle, fish and poultry, apart from its utility as a biofertilizer for wetland paddy. It is popular and cultivated widely in other countries like China, Vietnam, and Philippines etc., and is yet to be taken up in our country particularly in Kashmir with much availability. Therefore, the production technology has to be standardized and scientists, environmentalists need to work in close collaboration to make its better use as animal feed by virtue of which besides alleviating the problem of scarcity of animal feed in our fodder deficit state, the problem of water pollution can be taken care of.
Author is Ph.D Scholar, Division of Animal Nutrition, SKUAST-Kashmir. Reach him at

Lastupdate on : Mon, 15 Jul 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 15 Jul 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 16 Jul 2013 00:00:00 IST

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