Fact Sheet: Mulato- An improved forage for the Caribbean

Mulato II grass seed field (photo courtesy tropseeds.com)

June, 2013: 

Mulato and Mulato II are improved grasses recently introduced into Trinidad and Tobago.  They are the result of more than twenty (20) years of research by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Columbia.  In 2003, CARDI imported seeds of Mulato and initiated research, in collaboration with Nestle and the Sugarcane Feeds Centre (SFC), of the Ministry of Food Production, at SFC’s field station so as to determine its suitability for local livestock production.  Officials of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Ministry of Food Production also collaborated on this project.

Forage based feeding systems for ruminant livestock production is recommended by CARDI to mitigate against the rising price of grain on the world market, concomitant with fluctuating prices for other commodities.  In steps the Institute’s research to identify and recommend suitable forages for ruminant livestock.

Mulato and Mulato II are closely related to Tanner grass, which is the species most commonly used in local pasture systems.  Tanner has proven to be very successful as a pasture grass as it is easy to establish (from cuttings), quick growing, well adapted to acid soils and very palatable to ruminant livestock.  Although Mulato and Mulato II are propagated by seed and require special land preparation and agronomic care of seedlings, these grasses represent a significant improvement over Tanner grass in terms of dry matter yield, leaf to stem ratio, nutrient content, pest resistance and persistence.  Owing to the nature of its rooting system, Mulato has been able to withstand grazing and trampling by livestock and the regrowth after grazing has been rapid.  Research has also shown that it is adaptable to acid infertile soils and drought conditions.

Mulato is already demonstrating persistence in pasture systems.  Unlike most other exotic grasses, Mulato has genes that make it adaptable to acid soils.  Most ruminant livestock production in Trinidad and Tobago is done on infertile, acid soils that are often unsuitable for other forms of agriculture.  Tanner grass, a cousin of Mulato has continued to persist for this very reason.  The similarities between the two species in terms of adaptability to local conditions, indicate that Mulato should be equally successful.  Its added value, in terms of higher yield and nutrient content, compared to Tanner grass, gives it a decided advantage.

CARDI is working with Nestle and UWI to establish model dairy farms to demonstrate the best practices required to increase profitability; this will include having pasture establishment using Mulato.  Dairy farmers are already reporting increases in milk yield when Mulato is fed to milking cows.  One such farmer has reported a twenty-three percent (23%) increase in milk yield.

In Mexico and other parts of Central and South America, Mulato seed production is advancing steadily.  This in turn allows resident farmers to access the germplasm and establish pastures for their livestock.  Farmers therefore can benefit greatly from this valuable feed resource as they are then able to reduce production costs and increase profitability.

Scientists at CARDI, SFC, UWI, Nestle Limited and the Ministry of Food Production are optimistic about the results in the field and recommend this high quality forage species to local ruminant (sheep, goats, cattle) livestock farmers.

CARDI … presenting the ‘facts on agriculture and research for development’.  The Research Institute periodically prepares Fact Sheets on related and topical regional agriculture research issues.

Contact: CARDI’s Office|868|645|1205

Tanner Grass
International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
Ministry of Food Production
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