Sorghum as a New Source of Animal Feed in Malaysia

Sorghum as a New Source of Animal Feed in Malaysia

Published: 2022.11.07
Accepted: 2022.11.03
Economic and Technology Management Centre,Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI)
Former Director
Strategic Planning and Innovation Management Centre, Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI)
Socioeconomic, Market Intelligent and Agribusiness Research Center, MARDI
Socioeconomic, Market Intelligence and Agribusiness Research Centre, MARDI, Malaysia


Animal feed is one of the factors that hindered the development of the livestock industry in Malaysia. Malaysia is relatively as a small country that lacks land area for grazing. Thus, Malaysia imports more than 3.5 million tons of corn every year as a source of material for animal feed. The Malaysian government has identified sorghum as a new source of animal feed. The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) has carried out a study to investigate the viability of venturing sorghum cultivation for animal feed. This study found that sorghum has great potential to be a substitute for corn as a new source of cereal and forage for ruminants. The cultivation of sorghum is also profitable and can increase the farmers' incomes. It is timely for Malaysia to venture into cultivating sorghum commercially and develop its sorghum industry.

Keywords: sorghum, animal feed, viability, nutrition value of sorghum 


Livestock is an essential industry in Malaysia, as it is the primary source of protein. However, the livestock industry is facing significant challenges in sustaining its sustainability. Malaysia is a small country with limited arable land for grazing. More than 85% of the arable land is used for industrial crop cultivation, such as oil palm and rubber, while the balance is used for food-crop cultivation. It is estimated that less than 300,000 hectares are used for animal grazing or as the source of forage. In addition, one of the challenges faced in the ruminant sector is the adaptation to an integrated and intensive livestock model due to the issue of a less economical and inconsistent supply of livestock feed materials. 

The government of Malaysia aspires to enhance the livestock to be a dynamic and progressive industry by addressing the issues of animal feeds. Many strategies and initiatives were introduced and implemented, and one of the most recent approaches is investigating the potential of sorghum as a new source of animal feed. 

The livestock industry is projected to contribute to gross domestic product (GDP) at a cumulative average growth rate (CAGR) of 6.00%, from RM17.15 (US$4.08) billion in 2021 to RM28.98 (US$6.90) billion in 2030. This industry is also expected to contribute between 32.38% and 36.40% to the total GDP of the agro-food sector from 2021 to 2030. 

This paper discusses the potential of sorghum as a new source of cereal and forage for ruminants, especially beef cattle. It highlights the characteristics of sorghum, its benefits if used as animal feed, and the viability of venturing into sorghum cultivation. Hopefully, this paper could help the government and industry players explore the potential benefits of undertaking sorghum cultivation for animal feed in Malaysia. 


The purpose of providing food ingredients and formulating animal feed is to supply animals with the balanced nutrients that they need. Different groups of animals need different nutrients. Animal feed needs to meet the requirements of the animal. It must contain a particular structure that includes dry matter, various groups of nutrients, minerals, and trace elements. It should not be moldy or mixed with dirt and soil nor contain toxic ingredients (for example, pesticides or herbicides on crop residues) to keep the animal healthy. Energy or calories are the main nutritional requirements. Energy is produced from carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. Usually, the nutrition for livestock will contain 80-90% energy, 10-20% protein, and 3-4% minerals and vitamins (traces). The composition of feeds in a ration depends on the type of animals being fed and their production stage. Generally, animals must have a ration containing:

  • Energy (from carbohydrates and fats) to maintain the body and produce (milk, meat, work). The carbohydrates and fats not needed for production are converted to fat and stored in the body.
  • Protein is necessary for bodybuilding (growth), maintenance, and milk production. Without protein, there would be no body weight gain or milk production. Excess protein is converted to urea and fat.
  • Minerals help in bodybuilding and the biological regulation of growth and reproduction. They are also a major source of nutrients in milk.
  • Vitamins help regulate the biological processes in the body and become a source of nutrients in milk.
  • Water helps in bodybuilding, heat regulation, and biological processes and is a large constituent of milk production.

Forage is one of livestock farmers' most widely used sources of ruminant feed. Forage is a critical matter in the livestock industry in Malaysia, as it determines the quality and cost of production. Sources of forage are pasture and legumes. Pasture use at the optimum level can supply the nutrients needed by livestock for self-sufficiency and product production. Some varieties of pasture cultivated in Malaysia include Napier/elephant grass (Pennisetum Purpura), horse grass/guinea (Megathyrsus Maximus/ Panicum Maximum), Signal grass (Brachiaria Decumbent), Oil grass/coronivia (Brachiaria Humidicola) and Para grass (Brachiaria Mutica).

However, Malaysia does not have a large grazing area to allow ruminants to be released freely. The demand for pasture and forage-based fodder is high because imported animal feed is expensive. The forage is from plants found in open spaces such as roadsides, river reserves, rice fields, and wastelands. Forage production is essential to ensure a sufficient supply of quality food. To obtain a profitable return from animal husbandry, pasture and fodder should be produced at a lower cost.

As the source of forage is limited, Malaysia imports concentrated animal feeds or grain corn from Brazil, Argentina, India, and other countries. Malaysia imports more than 3.5 million tons of grain corn annually, and more than 60% is used for animal feed. Malaysia spends more than RM5.0 (US$1.19) billion annually to purchase animal feed or raw materials for animal feed formulation. The cost of importing grain corn is expected to increase due to the depreciation of the Malaysian Ringgit and the higher animal feed demand. It is timely for Malaysia to explore new sources of animal feed so that it will reduce its dependence on raw materials from other countries.


Sorghum is a type of flowering plant from the cereal family (lat. Poaceae). It is also part of the herbaceous plant called millet (lat. Panicodeae). In general, there are approximately 25 species of sorghum, and 17 of them originated from Australia, while the rest are grown widely from Africa to Asia. According to the Whole Grain Council (WGC), sorghum is among the world's fifth most important grain crops after corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans. It is widely used in African countries, India, Central America, the Middle East, and America. In Africa, sorghum is known as Sudan grass because it was first planted in the Sudan region. 

Sorghum crop is known for multiple uses as human food, livestock feed, fodder, and fuel (bio-ethanol). In addition, many industrial applications such as health, pharmaceutical diagnosis, packaging, synthesis of organic molecules, and utility items have been in place. The sorghum crop is the main food of residents in dry land areas and is suitable for planting in areas with hot temperatures above 20oC and low humidity levels. In many countries, sorghum plants can be tolerant to heat of more than 500C for several hour. It can also be produced in areas with marginal fertility because it can live with a small amount of water. This plant is also more tolerant of dry soil and weather than other food plants (Sumarno et al., 2013). 

It may be less known in countries with sufficient water resources, including Malaysia, because other crops, such as rice and corn, are easier to grow. However, for countries with a long dry climate, sorghum is an important food and energy source for the area's people. 

Sorghum grains are high in protein, comparable to rice and corn, and low in fat. It has been used as one of the staple foods in more than 30 countries, especially on the African continent. In addition to staple food, sorghum grain is used as a primary ingredient in agro-based industrial products such as sugar, Monosodium Glutamate, and Amino Acids in producing nutritious drinks. Studies show that sorghum has high animal nutritional value, especially protein. The protein content in sorghum grains is higher than in corn, 12-15%, carbohydrates (70%), and fat (3.5-4.5%). 

One of the advantages of sorghum is that it does not contain gluten and is suitable for those allergic to gluten. This plant also has high levels of unsaturated fat, protein, fiber, and minerals, including phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and iron. According to nutritionists, sorghum grains contain more antioxidants than blueberries and pomegranates.

There are several types of sorghum plants that can be used as fodder crops. Fodder sorghum are usually classified into three major categories: forage sorghum, sudangrasses and sorghum- Sudangrass hybrids (Pedersen J.F. 1996). Forage sorghum that include sweet sorghum varieties and hybrids is best utilized as a silage crop, although it can be grazed or cut for hay if managed appropriately. Its silage is usually slightly lower in energy than that of corn but similar in protein. Sudangrass, which is characterized by small, fine stems and leafy growth be harvested as pasture, green chop, or hay. Sudangrasses are used less extensively than in the past and have been largely replaced by sorghum-Sudangrass hybrids in grazing and haying operations for which they are well suited. Sorghum-Sudangrass hybrids is crosses between Sudangrass and other forms of sorghum. They are taller, have thicker stems and can be higher yielding than Sudangrass. They are usually harvested for green chop or silage but may be pastured or hayed if sown at a high seeding rate and harvested at immature stages (0.5 m tall) (Pedersen and Fritz, 2000).

Hybrid varieties are developed for animal feed. Characteristics of sorghum for animal feed have a relatively short growth cycle; seeds can be sown as a second crop after the main harvest. The dry matter content of sorghum is higher than corn, although its nutritional content is lower. The value of metabolized energy, digestibility of organic matter, and crude protein content in sorghum is higher than that of grass in the field. The nutrient content in sorghum is relatively high, like other cereals. Sorghum is a cereal that can grow almost anywhere, rich in nutrients, fiber, and bioactive components that humans have not widely used, and is often used as animal feed. Sorghum has advantages because it has antioxidant compounds, high Fe mineral content, dietary fiber, essential amino acids, and oligosaccharides. The lignin content of sorghum ranges from 14.35% to 22.89%. The stems and leaves of sorghum contain high fiber, are suitable for silage, and are widely used as animal feed. The nutrient composition in the sorghum is presented in Table 1.

Table 1 shows that carbohydrate starch is the highest chemical component in sorghum, compared to protein and fat. Minerals and dietary fiber glucans contained in raw sorghum are higher than in polished sorghum. The plant shoots and leaves have a higher mineral content than the stems. Sorghum has the lowest digestibility among cereals because it has a physical form of granules, inhibitors such as tannins, and a type of starch. Forage sorghum is recommended for making silage because it has good nutritional value. Adding multi-nutrient feed supplements in the form of multi-nutrient block urea molasses in sorghum increased the crude protein content. Sorghum radiation can increase dry matter digestibility, crude protein, true protein, and gross energy.

In general, the composition of minerals in sorghum is not much different from other crops, such as corn, Sudan grass, and silage products. When it is processed as silage, the combination of sorghum and Sudan grass has increased the nutrition composition, as presented in Table 2.

The potential of sorghum as substitute of animal feed

The government has identified animal feed as the main factor that could hinder the development of the livestock industry in Malaysia. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry (MAFI) continues to overcome these issues and challenges to reduce the dependency on imported animal feed. Some strategies include using agricultural by-products such as rice straw, stalks, and cobs of corn, silage, palm kernel cake (PKC), and formulated food (rice bran/broken rice and maize) was implemented. 

The Malaysian government has identified sorghum as a new source of animal feed. However, not many studies were carried out to investigate the potential of sorghum as animal feed. The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) study in early 2000 showed that sorghum is suitable for animal feed. This study also proves that the integration between oil palm and sorghum does not affect the growth and production of oil palm. Integrating oil palm and sorghum allowed as many as 71,428 sorghum crops to be planted and produce 323.76 tons/hectare of wet weight or 58.82 tons/hectare of dry weight.

Malaysian people consume less sorghum. This country imports a few tons of sorghum annually, mainly for pet feed. The report by Euro-monitor revealed that Malaysia only imported around 17,000 tons of sorghum in 2020. The import quantity also reduced to 15,000 tons in 2021, indicating less favor for sorghum consumption in Malaysia. 

 Despite being very new to Malaysian farmers, sorghum has been used for animal feed in many countries, especially in Africa. The chemical composition and nutritional value of sorghum are similar to that of corn. Studies in Indonesia showed that the substitution of corn with 10-40% sorghum increased the protection of sheep from infection with Haemonchos Contortus because the tannin in sorghum has an anthelmintic effect and increases the color of lamb meat due to increased antioxidant deposition of beef. Heifers fed with sorghum silage produced higher rumen fermentation, VFA, rumen pH, digestibility, and feed efficiency. Meanwhile, goats fed with sorghum trunk bagasse can increase production by up to 30%.

The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) conducted a further study on the potential of sorghum for animal feed in 2020. The objective of this study is to evaluate the viability of sorghum cultivation for animal feed. A total of 4 sorghum varieties were selected, of which three are from India and one from the Philippines. The seeds are imported from seed producers in India. Hybrid sorghum varieties are used because they are guaranteed to produce high yields, have resistance to diseases and pests, and have high forage quality compared to inbred varieties. The selected sorghum variety is as in Table 3.

Sorghum is cultivated twice a year. Each round of cultivation sorghum can be harvested three times as follows:

- First harvest: 50 days after planting,

- Second harvest: 40 days after the first harvest, and

- Third harvest:    40 days after the second harvest.

All four sorghum varieties were grown using the planting method recommended by the seed supplier. A total of approximately 143,000 crops were cultivated in one hectare. Planting, fertilization, disease and pest control are done using mechanization and automation. The total yield of each variety is presented in Table 4.

Table 4 shows the yield of sorghum for a year. In a year, sorghum can be harvested three times. The first harvest is 50 days after planting, the second harvest is 40 days after the first harvest, and the third harvest is 40 days after the second harvest. The MS variety recorded the highest yield of 79.98 tons/ha for one crop cycle, followed by the BMR (79.50 tons/ha), SG (51.20 tons/ha), and SPV (46.40 tons/ha) varieties. The yield shows a downward trend, especially in the third harvest. MARDI conducted the second cultivation round and used the Mega Sweet (MS) variety as the planting material. The technical parameter for the cultivation of MS variety is as follows:

  • Variety: Megasweet (MS)
  • Cultivation area : 1 hectare
  • Crop density: 143,000 crops
  • Number of rotation in a year: 3 times
  • Number of harvest in 1 rotation: 2 times
  • Number of harvest in 1 year: 6 times
  • The average height of crops: 2 meter
  • Price at farm level: RM250.00/ton

An economic analysis was conducted to assess the viability of cultivating sorghum crops. The analysis is presented in Table 5.

Table 5 shows the financial analysis of sorghum cultivation and production in Malaysia. Sorghum cultivation uses machines and machinery entirely. Farm machinery is used to clear fields and plow, while drones spray fertilizers and control insect infestation. The production yield for one hectare of sorghum carried out as many as three rounds per year amounts to 214.74 tons. The production cost for one hectare of sorghum amounts to RM23,866.00 (US$5,682.00), covering the cost of field preparation, the purchase of seeds, fertilizers, herbicides, and labor wages. With the price of wet sorghum at the farm level amounting to RM250 (US$59.50)/ton, the total revenue obtained from sorghum production amounts to RM53,685.00 (US$12,782.00). After accounting for fixed costs and machinery depreciation, the net return amounts to RM17,019.00 (US$4,052.15). The benefit-cost ratio for this project is 1.46, which shows that every ringgit issued can give a return of RM0.46. The sorghum planting and production project is viable and can be implemented commercially in Malaysia.


Sorghum is a new source of forage for the livestock industry in Malaysia. Sorghum can grow and produce nutrients well in sub-optimal land and arid land. The development of the sorghum industry may help further the development of the livestock industry and thus contribute to food security in Malaysia. The government of Malaysia should take advantage of the ability of sorghum to be planted on marginal soils and its ability to provide essential nutrients to livestock. Considering that the sorghum crop is still new, a comprehensive study related to the production system, pest and disease control, and marketing system along the supply chain of production and processing should be carried out immediately.


Harmini (2021). Pemanfaatan tanaman sorgum sebagai pakan ternak ruminansia di           lahan kering. Livestock and Animal Research. March 2021. Available at  

Jabatan Perkhidmatan Veterinar (2015). Pemakanan ternakan (Animal feed). Access         from

Kelley, T.G. and R.P. Singh (1992). Trend in sorghum production and utilization.             Progress report 108. Resource management Program Economic Group.       ICRIST, Patancheru.

Nedumeran, S., p.Abinaya and MCS. Bantilan (2013). Sorghum and millets futures in      Asia under changing socio-economic and climate scenario. Series Paper          Number 2. International Crops Research Institute for the Semi- Arid Tropics.

Euromonitor. The International Strategic Marketing Research. Available at http:

Pedersen, J.F. (1996). Annual forages: New approaches for C-4 forages. In: J. Janick        (eds) Progress in new crops. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA. p. 246-251.

Pedersen, J.F. and Fritz, J.O. (2000). Sorghum: Origin, History, Technology, and              Production. In: C.W. Smith (ed.) John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Sumarno, Djoko S.D., Mahsuddin S.,and Hermanto (2013). Sorgum: Inovasi,      teknologi dan pengembangan. Badan Penelitian dan Pengembangan Pertanian,   Kementerian Pertanian Republik Indonesia