Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
In the science world, it is called Trichantera gigantea. Commonly, this fodder tree is known as “madre de agua” or “nacedero.” In other parts of South America, its other names are “cajeto” in Colombia, “suiban” or “cenicero” in Bolivia), “tuno” in Guatemala, “naranjillo” in Venezuela, “palo de agua” in Panama, and “pau santo” in Brazil.
Madre de Agua was introduced in the Philippines some years back. Since then, it has caught the attention of poultry and livestock raisers. The reason: the plant is a good source of proteins and other nutrients that chickens, pigs, goats, and even fish need.
A study headed by M. Rosales in 1989 showed that the leaves of Madre de agua are a potential source of protein, varying from 18-22 percent in dry matter form, and apparently, most of this protein are true protein. The calcium content has been found to be particularly high compared to other fodder crops.
According to the Davao office of the Department of Agriculture, the young leaves can be offered to the pigs in fresh form. It can also be processed into leaf meal and use of ingredients in the mash.
“Trichantera leaves can replace about 20-30 percent of the commercial diet of growing-finishing pigs,” the DA Davao said. “Six kilograms of fresh leaves consumed by pigs per day is equivalent to one kilogram of mixed feeds saved.”
Partial replacement of mixed feeds with Madre de agua gives almost the same results regarding weight gain, meat quality, and income with those pigs given sole mixed feeds, the DA Davao pointed out.
How true is this? Prof. Alex Jaya of the College of Agriculture at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City headed a group to use madre de agua leaf meal (MDALM) as feed for growing-finishing pigs.
The chemical analysis showed that MDALM contained 88.44 percent dry matter, 18.21 percent crude protein, 12.5 percent crude fiber, 2.66 percent crude fat, 21.80 percent ash, 11.56 percent moisture, 5 percent calcium, and 0.41 percent total phosphorus.
The study showed that in vivo digestibility of dry matter, crude protein, crude fiber, calcium, and phosphorus by growing-finishing pigs fed diets containing 5 percent, 10 percent, and 15 percent MDALM were lower than those fed rations without MDALM. The live weight gain, average daily gain, feed conversion efficiency, feed cost per kilogram gain, and age to 90-kilogram live weight did not differ among pigs fed a ration with varying levels of MDALM.
According to Prof. Jaya, pigs fed with 10 percent MDALM had the highest feed consumption while those that received 15 percent MDALM had the lowest feed consumption. The highest return above feed and animal cost was obtained on pigs given a diet with 10 percent MDALM. The addition of up to 10 percent level of MDALM did not affect the slaughter and carcass characteristics of the growing-finishing pigs. The raw pork from pigs fed higher levels of MDALM had better color than the rest.
On the other hand, researchers from the National Swine and Poultry Research and Development Center of the Bureau of Animal Industry tried to use MDALM as a substitute for soybean oil meal (SBOM).
After a preliminary feeding trial, whereby SBOM was replaced with T. gigantea leaf meal at 25 percent, 50 percent, and 100 percent in starter, grower, and finisher rations, respectively, the pigs showed a comparable average daily gain of 602 grams. Furthermore, it was noted that by using madre de agua in pig ration, a farmer’s income increased to about 50 percent.
Aside from pigs, MDALM can also be mixed to poultry diets (ducks, hens, quails, rabbits, and even to large (cattle and carabaos) and small ruminants (sheep and goats) feeds.
But madre de agua is not only used for fodder. It can be utilized as a living fence and shade tree. In South America, it is also used to protect water springs from degradation through stream bank erosion.
In Colombia, farmers have used the plant as an indigenous medicinal plant to treat conditions in humans and domestic animals. In humans, it is used as a blood tonic, to treat nephritis, and as a lactogenic drink for nursing mothers. In domestic animals, it is used to treat colic and hernia in horses and retained placenta in cows. Sprouts are used for human consumption in corn porridge.
Madre de Agua is well adapted to acid infertile soils of pH down to 4.5. It is adapted to 1,500-3,000 mm annual rainfall environments with outer limits of 1,000 mm and over 5,000 mm. Although common to stream banks, it requires well-drained soils. During dry periods, it drops its leaves but regrows rapidly the following rain.
Propagation may be done through cuttings. Rosales gave this information: “Generally established from stem cuttings that strike roots easily. Cuttings 2.2 to 2.8 millimeters in diameter, 20 centimeters long and with at least 2 leaf buds are most effective in striking roots (92% of cuttings). Larger and longer cuttings are less successful. Cuttings should be selected from the basal part of young stems. Strike rate has been improved by storing cuttings in a shaded place for one day prior to planting into a nursery bed. Cuttings produce shoots in about one month and can be planted into the field after about 50 days.”
The cuttings can be grown in a plastic bag (10 inches by 6 inches) and allowed to grow in three months before they can be transplanted to the field. However, it can be directly planted in the prepared field.
When the trees are 8 to 10 months old, the first harvest can be made. The production of foliage (on a fresh matter basis) is 15.6 tons to 16.74 tons at a density of 40,000 plants per hectare (0.5 by 0.5-meter spacing). Madre de Agua is harvested every three months, yielding 17 tons per hectare per cutting.
Planted as a living fence, Madre de agua can yield 9.2 tons per hectare of fresh foliage per linear kilometer harvested every three months.
In Vietnam, Madre de agua produced 34 percent higher yield under the shade of bananas planted at 5 meters by 5 meters spacing, compared with sun-grown plants. Advantage has been made of shade tolerance by growing Madre de agua under ipil-ipil and other agroforestry species.