A dairy farmer has asked me to offer comments on the issue of the feeding of banana leaves to dairy cows. The banana plantation is quite common in many areas and it is a common practice for the farmers to use various parts, such as stem, shoot and leaves of this plant as for animal feed.
As a general principle banana leaves should be fed only when other feeds are not available as due to high tannin contents the voluntary intake is low. Published papers suggest that in the case of desi cows weighing 500 kg the DM intake would not exceed 3.5-3.8 kg. It is a different matter if the cow is not fed any other feed in that case the DM intake may be higher. Digestibility of banana stem is higher (75% on DM basis) than leaves (60-65%) hence, if possible, leaves and stem can be fed after chopping. Banana leaves has DM content of 94%, crude protein 14.6%, crude fibre 7.5%, NDF 555, ADF 40.0%, lignin 7.7% .
Although gross energy is 19.7%, the metabolizable energy is quite low. In Brazil and other South American countries, banana leaves and the stem is preserved as silage. Since soluble carbohydrate content is low hence there is a need to add sources such as molasses or jaggery (6-7%) in order to achieve the right pH (3.5-3.8). While feeding banana leaves or silage it is recommended that urea (as nitrogen source) be added in feed.
My Recommendations Would be:
Banana leaves and stem can be chaffed and fed to dry animals, heifers but not to lactating cows
In case it is a necessity due to a shortage of fodder in that case banana leaves on DM basis should not exceed 15% of total Dry Matter.
When enough banana leaves and stem (for example after harvesting of banana) is available these can be preserved as silage.
Always use urea while feeding banana leaves/stem and energy sources to meet energy requirements.