Animal nutrition is the focus of a collaboration between the University of Minnesota Crookston, North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo, N.D., and the Université de Ségou in Ségou, Mali.
U of M Crookston Professor Harouna Maiga and his longtime colleague at NDSU, Associate Professor Marc Bauer, along with faculty collaborators at the Université de Ségou are studying the digestion and nutrient absorption of cattle feed using the cassava plant and other protein feeds used in animal nutrition in Mali.
A bushy shrub, cassava is native to South America and cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible root. In the United States, dried cassava extract is known as tapioca.
Cassava plant is nutrient-rich containing significant amounts of protein and carbohydrates. It is also toxic. A cyanide compound produced by the plant for self-defense is reduced by processing either by drying, cooking, or fermenting, which lower the cyanide level and make it safe for consumption.
In order to study how the protein in the cassava feed is used in the digestive process, Bauer and Maiga performed surgery to insert a rumen cannula in three steers in Ségou. The rumen is the stomach chamber in which microbial fermentation of ingested feed takes place. The cannulas provide access to the rumen and allow a small sample of cassava, approximately 5 grams, in a small nylon bag to be placed into the stomach of the animals.
Recording the contents of the nylon bag before placing it in the stomach and removing the bag at pre-determined lengths of time and examining the contents will help the scientists learn how much of cassava protein has been used in the digestive process. “If the contents of the bag show little degradation, we know the steers are not gaining any nutritional benefit from feeding cassava,” Maiga says.
The use of the cannula is a common research practice in the United States, but in Ségou, this is one of the first times the procedure has been used benefitting the research faculty at Université de Ségou in the process.
Bauer, like Maiga, has a research interest in animal nutrition, and will use the data collected to analyze the results. “The data will tell us the role cassava may play as a potential food supplement particularly for sheep and goats in the future,” Maiga explains. “I will be going back to Mali this summer to spend time on the project and assist with data collection.”
Bauer and Maiga will be looking for other potential funding sources to help continue the research. The project originally received $10,000 from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the U of M Crookston to support the work and encourage further investigation into the potential of cassava as animal feed.