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Azolla: A Sustainable Feed for Livestock
5/30/2020 11:43:33 PM

Dr. Banarsi Lal and Sh.Adarsh Gupta

Azolla is a free floating, fastly growing aquatic fern on the surface of water. It resembles with the mosses or duckweed. It is also called as the water fern, duckweed fern or fairy moss. The word Azolla has been derived from two words i.e.’Azo’ means dry and ‘Ollya’ means to kill. Thus, Azolla means the property of a fern that would be killed by drought. Its native place is said to be Asia, Africa and America. It floats on the surface of water with roots hanging underneath. It has small leaves which overlap each other. The leaves are water repellent, green in colour, sometimes red in colour. It is also called as the super plant because of its rapid speed of growing and doubling of its biomass within 2-3 days. Presently this plant has at least six species but Azolla Pinnata is mostly found in Asia. A.filiculoides, A.nilotica, A.caroliniana, A.maxicana and A.microphyle are some of its species. Each species has different fond size and colour. Red coloured Azolla is considered as the resistant to high salinity, purple is resistant to acidity and green is resistant to high temperature. The size of its leaf is 1-2 cm and its root is also 1-2 cm. The fern has sporophytic cycle. The environmental factors can alter its nutritive value. Because of its high nutritive value it is used as the feed for livestock (for dairy animals, poultry and sheep and goat).Dried Azolla has crude protein, fibre, calcium, phosphorus, nitrogen free extract, lysine, ash, cystine and methionine. It also helps in nitrogen fixation. It lives with the blue green algae which fixes atmospheric nitrogen for the rapid plant growth. It can be used to grow the organic paddy. The symbiosis of Anabaena Azolla is estimated to produce 1 tonne of green manure each day from one hectare of land. It contains 3Kg of fixed nitrogen which is equal to 15 Kg of Ammonium Sulphate or 7Kgs of urea. Dry Azolla contains 3-5 per cent of nitrogen. The colour of Azolla does not indicate its nitrogen content. Both red and green Azolla contains almost the equal nitrogen.
Azolla can be grown under wild and controlled environmental conditions. It has the ability to fix the nitrogen. It helps to solubilize elements like iron, zinc, manganese etc. and make available to paddy plants. It suppresses the weed present in the crop. It releases the plant growth regulators and vitamins to support the plant growth. It can be used as a substitute of chemical fertilizers and is useful for organic farming. It reduces the water evaporation in the farming area. It increases the fertilizers use efficiency. It is cheaply and readily available. It can be grown easily in the farming area. It helps to balance the carbon dioxide cycle. In order to make the Azolla unit firstly we have to select the land. Then there should be adequate amount of water and land should have shade otherwise shade needs to be maintained. The site should not contain stones or thorns. The size of Azolla unit can be made according to its need. Generally a pond size of 6x4 ft. can produce 1Kg of Azolla each day for one year. The land should be leveled and cleaned. The pond can be created with the bricks, cement and sand or it can be made by raising the embankbanks by evacuating the soil. The area should be covered by the durable polythene sheet which should be secured by the bricks from all the sides so as to avoid the effect of air on the sides. The sheet should not contain any hole to avoid leakage of water. Wooden poles or bamboo sticks can be installed around the pond to support the shade net. Azolla is propagated vegetatively .It is difficult to preserve the species in very cool or very hot temperatures. Azolla can be preserved in the winter by placing it in a pit with 25 cm of water and covering it with the plastic sheet to keep it air tight. During winters kit should not be touched or transported otherwise it will die. Azolla is grown by the two methods. One is to grow in nurseries and then sow them in the paddy fields for further propagation and second is to grow independently over a large areas as a green manure crop.
It produces more than 4 to 5 times of protein of excellent quality in comparison to lucern and hybrid napier. Besides this, the bio-mass production is almost 4 to 10 times as compared to hybrid napier and lucern, respectively. It is helpful in improving the livestock health in an organic way. It is an excellent alternative source of concentrates, fodder and feed, thus it provides a sustainable feed for livestock. It contains most of the nutrients which are required for all classes of livestock, including poultry and fish. It does not have any adverse effects on the livestock and thus it can be said as the safe food for the animals. It has been observed through various researches that feeding of Azolla to dairy cows increased milk production by 15 to 20%.It also improves the weight of broiler chicken and increased the egg production in egg laying poultry birds. Azolla can be used as an unconventional high potential feed resource for non-ruminants. It can be used as an ideal source of feed for cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits and fish. It is very rich in proteins, essential amino acids, vitamins(vitamin A, vitamin B12, Beta Carotene), growth promoter intermediaries and minerals including calcium, phosphorous, potassium, ferrous, copper and magnesium. Dry Azolla contains 25-35% protein, 10-15% minerals and 7-10% of amino acids, bioactive substances and biopolymers. It is useful for small, marginal, landless and resource-poor farmers. Rocky and rain fed areas farmers lack the availability of green fodder for livestock and they are incapable for higher investment. They can produce Azolla cheaply at their farms to feed their animals and poultry birds.
In rural areas Azolla units can be established to provide the feed to the livestock, to enhance the soil health and to increase the crop productivity. There is need to create awareness among the farmers about the Azolla. This technology is very cheap and easy and can be adopted by the small and marginal farmers. In Reasi distt.NABARD, Reasi has established Azolla units with close co-ordination of Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), Reasi and We Care Society. These units are working excellently and are helpful to increase the income of the farmers. The beneficiaries are from very remote areas of the distt. and they are producing sufficient quantity of Azolla. Presently they are feeding it to their cattle, goat and poultry and reaping very good benefits. The economically weak farmers of Reasi distt. were unable to purchase the quality feed for their animals and poultry. They found Azolla as an excellent feed for their livestock. It is a very successful model and can prove as a boon for the farmers of hilly areas of J&K.
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