Leaf meals are leaves and twigs dried, ground, and used as livestock feed. Leucaena leucocephala is so far the best-known source of leaf meal because of its high nutritive value. However, it is highly susceptible to psyllid infestation. Leaf meals are not traditionally used in the ration of ruminants as these animals can be fed with fresh fodder. However, there are instances when leaf meal production is necessary and becomes the most practical way of conserving excess foliage. This is what we have been doing at the farm after getting a few cuttings from a friend.
Leguminous fodder species are generally unsuitable for silage making because of their high buffering capacity. Some have leaves that shatter very easily upon drying, rendering them also unsuitable for hay making. But a considerable amount of leaves can be conveniently prepared into leaf meals and serve as a high-protein feed source.
In preparing leaf meals, leaves and browseable twigs of these fodder trees/shrubs should be sun-dried for up to seven hours or air-dried under a roof for five days, and then ground and stored in sacks. For proper storage and to avoid spoilage, the leaves and twigs should be dried to 10-13% moisture content. The amount of herbage needed to prepare one kilogram of leaf meal and the crude protein (CP) content depend on the fodder species used. The CP contents of the leaf meals are obviously higher than the recommended level of 11% dietary CP required for favorable microbial synthesis and activity in the rumen.
Both the gliricidia leaf meal and the acacia leaf meal can be fed to dairy goats at 50% of the dry matter ration. Milk yield of goats supplemented with either of the meals is comparable with that of goats supplemented with concentrate. Likewise, milk composition was similar among goats supplemented with either leaf meals or concentrate.
Income over feed cost with leaf meal supplementation was higher than that with concentrate supplementation. Since feed cost can represent 60% of the total cost to produce a liter of milk, leaf meal supplementation is indeed economically viable, particularly in small farms where concentrate feeding is not usually practiced owing to a lack of cash.