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Title: The utilisation of opuntia ficus indica
Authors: Cilia, Stephen (1998)
Keywords: Agriculture -- Malta
Plants, Edible -- Malta
Plants -- Malta
Forage plants -- Malta
Cattle -- Feeding and feeds -- Malta
Prickly pears -- Malta
Issue Date: 1998
Citation: Cilia, S. (1998). The utilisation of opuntia ficus indica (Master's dissertation).
Abstract: Opuntia ficus indica was introduced in Spain at the end of the 15th century and from there spread over the whole Mediterranean basin. In Malta the plant has been used extensively in the past as a source of fodder for ruminants. However the plant was never studied scientifically. Therefore the two objectives of the study were to determine the nutritional value of the plant and to evaluate the current and potential uses of the plant for the benefit of Maltese farmers. In the first study the proximate analysis technique was used to determine the nutritional value of the plant. In the second study a survey was carried out to determine the current uses of the plant by Maltese farmers. It's potential uses were examined by means of extensive literature review. From the study it was established that the gross composition of Opuntia ficus indica as determined by standard procedures on dry weight basis were : crude protein content of 11.03%, a crude fibre content of 8.94%, a nitrogen free extract of 54%, an ash content of 23.53% , a lipid content of 2.48% and a moisture content of 90.75%. Its metabolising energy value was of 8.46Mj/kg of dry matter. From the second study it was established that all sixteen farmers interviewed feed Opuntia ficus indica pads to their ruminants from May to early November as a supplementary feed. Preparation of Opuntia ficus indica as fodder involves cutting the pads early in the morning, chopping the pads into small pieces and feeding the pads directly to the animal. It was established that ruminants eat the pads eagerly. None of the farmers ever encountered feeding accidents from spines present and besides feeding of Opuntia ficus indica in no way effect the colour or taste of milk. Several reasons were given by farmers why they feed their animals Opuntia ficus indica. Some said because it was easily available and cheap, therefore a good cost cutting measure (55%), others due to its high nutritional value (35%), while some claimed that it increases milk production and allows the animal to give birth more easily (10%). It was established that 90% of the farmers planted the plant as a wind breaker and protective hedge in the first place rather than as a source fodder for animals. Only the remaining 10% of the farmers planted Opuntia ficus indica primarily as a source of fodder. Based on the above results it was concluded that the plant is extensively used as a protective hedge and to a lesser extent as a source of fodder. Ruminants find no problem in consuming Opuntia ficus indica and no negative effects were observed . The plant was found to be rich in carbohydrates, lipids and moisture. However contrary to what was expected, the crude protein content of the plant was found to be very similar to that of grasses, while its crude fibre content was found to be quite low. When the plant is used as a supplement, it has a number of advantages. It has been estimated that feeding a flock of sixteen sheep 60 kg of fresh pads daily saves the farmer two bales of hay This would amount to saving £2.50 per day during (the period May to November). Moreover various studies suggest that due to the high palatability of the plant the consumption of low quality forage would be increased. Some authors actually suggest that the plant increases milk production. The exact mechanism is not known however it has been postulated that the plant may actually increase cellulolytic activity in the rumen. Throughout this study it was observed that Opuntia ficus indica has been consumed by humans and ruminants alike for more than four centuries without any deleterious effect. Thus it was concluded that under the circumstances herein described no harm would be expected to ruminants consuming the plant.
Appears in Collections:Dissertations - InsES - 1995-2013

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