Fodder Trees for Scrub Feeding of Beef Cattle

Successful scrub feeding is not limited to the more palatable and nutritious species, especially during dry periods. Scrub with a higher fibre content, and lower nutritive value, can be used (Table 1). Feeding urea molasses has broadened the range of trees that can be used for drought feeding.

The palatability of any one species may vary from paddock to paddock and from year to year. An assessment can be made only by offering a particular scrub to livestock and observing stock response in terms of palatability, feed intake and live weight change.

Points to note when scrub feeding

  • Cut only one species at a time.
  • Provide sufficient leafy material to minimise the eating of twigs and branches.
  • Follow a set feeding routine. It is common to cut two to three days supply, but daily cutting may be necessary in summer to avoid leaves withering. As the drought progresses, the foliage on uncut scrub dries out and fresh scrub may need to be cut daily.
  • While stock are strong, cut the scrub most distant from water, then cut closer scrub.
  • If acceptance is poor, spraying with a molasses-water mixture may increase intake, but some trees in every stand of scrub are unpalatable. Generally, older mulga trees are preferred to young ones.
  • Pulling with a chain or bulldozing can reduce acceptance because of high dust levels.
  • Consider the long-term environmental effects of pulling scrub. Leave strips of trees for regeneration and wildlife protection.

Predisposing factors contributing to gastric impaction

  • Cutting too little scrub, thus forcing cattle to eat twigs and branches.
  • Scrub drying out, either through cutting excessive amounts or leaves wilting.
  • Stock not drinking enough water.

Feed supplements

Research at Charleville Pastoral Laboratory demonstrated that supplements providing protein nitrogen (cottonseed meal), non protein nitrogen (urea), sulphur (sulphate of ammonia) and phosphorus (dicalcium phosphate) can be very beneficial to animals consuming fodder trees. These additional nutrients stimulate the rumen and increase feed intakes.

Providing molasses supplements on an irregular basis assists the passage of fibre.


The capacity for regrowth depends largely upon the kind of trees, seasonal conditions and the method of cutting. Trees such as mulga normally do not grow again if they are cut low or pushed with bulldozers.

Wilga, vine tree, boonaree and kurrajong usually produce vigorous new branches if branches are cut off high enough so that animals cannot chew the young growing shoots.


Experience has shown that the most reliable regrowth from mulga takes place if the whole of the crown of the tree is taken out above the reach of the stock leaving the thin lateral branches below the sloping branches (leaders) intact. If mulga is scarce and individual trees need to be conserved, this is the wisest way to handle it.

Regrowth will occur if the centre is broken out with a front end loader provided some horizontal side branches (laterals) are left below the break.

In more recent years the more common method of felling mulga for stock has been the use of bulldozers, either by a single bulldozer or two bulldozers joined by a cable. Regeneration of mulga from seedlings following pulling is known to occur more rapidly if sheep are excluded from pulled areas.


Using chain saws, one man full-time can feed about 300 adult cattle per day. This estimate is for mulga and assumes that feeding conditions are excellent and a spare chain saw and parts are readily available.

Of course, if the scrub is being used as a supplement to dry pasture, labour requirements are lower.

After the drought

Heavy stock losses can occur when weak cattle ´chase the green pick´ following drought breaking rain. If possible, confine weak cattle and continue to feed scrub until sufficient grass has grown for them to get their fill without expending valuable energy.

Feeding information on common fodder trees

Table 1. Feeding information on common fodder trees (A+ highest value)
Common name Palatability Nutritive value Comments
Apple tree A A Well eaten – some seasons
Athel tree A A Well eaten – short supply
Bauhinia B A Deciduous – of little value late winter and spring
Beefwood B C Leaves eaten by sheep
Belah C C Eaten readily – twigs can be a problem
Bendee B B No particularly palatable but often fed – can be poisonous at certain stages
Boonaree, Dogwood or Rosewood A A Can cause prussic acid poisoning particularly at flowering or young growth stages
Boree A B Eaten readily by sheep – very fibrous
Bottle tree leaves A+ A+ Some trees appear to be toxic to hungry cattle
Bottle tree pith B C
Brigalow C C
Brigalow (15cm or less) B A May eat young suckers as last resort
Budda sandalwood D C Not readily eaten. Said to reduce impaction if fed with more fibrous scrub
Bulloak D D Is eaten fairly readily – very fibrous
Bumble tree A A Excellent fodder – short supply
Coolibah B C Leaves of young trees eaten when half dry. Adult trees have been fed with urea/molasses
Currant bush C B Not readily eaten
Desert gum or cabbage gum B B Eaten fairly readily
Doolan B B May be toxic to hungry stock
Gidyea C B Not much in the area. Best to feed by fire to lift acceptance. Good results if eaten
Green wattle X X Not touched by cattle
Ironbark B C Eaten fairly readily when supplemented with urea/molasses
Kurrajong A+ A Has laxative effect. Very palatable and one of the best to feed
Leopardwood A A Well eaten – short supply
Limebush C B Young plants are unpalatable
Mimosa bush B A Grazed by sheep
Mulga A B Well eaten and a plentiful supply in south-west Queensland. Dense stands make easy pushing and cutting
Myall A B Well eaten
Myrtle tree B B Readily eaten by sheep and cattle
Old man saltbush A+ A+ Self harvested
Plumwood or true sandalwood A+ A+ Short supply
Popla box C C Eaten if nothing else
Vinetree or supplejack A+ A+ Excellent fodder – short supply
Wilga A A Good fodder – palatability varies widely from year to year
Scrub wilga (Turpentine wilga)
(Lavender bush)
X X Untouched even in drought
Weeping willow A A Planted in damp areas. Winter deciduous. Eaten readily
Whitewood A A Fruits poisonous but avoided by stock
Yapunyah C C Leaves are eaten to some extent

Further information