Evaluation of Grain Amaranth and Quinoa as Forage Crops to Improve the Sustainability and Profitability of Small Livestock Operations

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2010: $9,800.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Grant Recipient: Purdue University
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Keith Johnson
Purdue University
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Tamilee Nennich
Purdue University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed additives, manure management
  • Crop Production: continuous cropping, cover crops, crop rotation, double cropping, organic fertilizers, relay cropping, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, value added, whole farm planning
  • Pest Management: competition
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: soil analysis
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures


    Studies were conducted in West Lafayette Indiana in 2011 to determine the feed value of grain amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus) for dairy production. Studies consisted of treatments comparing amaranth, corn silage (Zea mays), and BMR Sorghum Sudangrass (Sorghum bicolor X sudanense) seeded with or without manure soil amendment. Two plantings of amaranth and one of BMR sorghum sudangrass and corn were established, and harvested for determination of yield, NDF, ADF, Hemi-cellulose, ASH, CP, and phosphorus content. Amaranth was the most digestible forage with an NDF of 30-35% an ADF of 22-28%, and a CP of 12-16%. Analysis of ash from all three crops showed that amaranth can contain up to 30% of its weight in dry matter as ash. Phosphorus content in Amaranth was double that of corn silage on a dry matter basis. The results conclude that amaranth is a phosphorus accumulator and could reduce the need of phosphorus supplementation in livestock feeds.


    Tightening margins in animal agriculture have increased the importance of incorporating low-cost and alternative feeds into the rations of beef and dairy animals. The use of high quality forages can decrease the needs for costly supplements while maintaining or improving animal health and nutrition. There is currently very little research focused on incorporating new, less common forages with high nutritional values into forage cropping systems in the Midwest.

    In addition to the potential benefits of including grain amaranth and quinoa forage in cattle diets, the agronomic properties of these crops make them viable crops to incorporate into forage production systems as a double crop. Grain amaranth is a fast growing crop that will exhibit re-growth after it has been cut. In addition, grain amaranth has been shown to be a crop that will accumulate phosphorus. Grain amaranth and quinoa require less nitrogen for growth than corn, reducing needs for commercial fertilizer applications. Grain amaranth and quinoa can tolerate droughty conditions much better than standard warm/cool season crops. Adding grain amaranth and quinoa into crop rotations has the potential to reduce phosphorus soil levels and improve nutrient balances on farms. Two members of the Amaranthus genus that are very closely related to grain amaranth, redroot pigweed and palmer amaranth have been identified as phosphate accumulators (Costea et al., 2004; Liang et al., 2009; Santos et al., 1998; Shrefler et al., 1994a,b). Due to the close relationships between redroot pigweed, palmer amaranth, and grain amaranth, there is a potential for grain amaranth to reduce phosphorus in soils. If grain amaranth is able to accumulate phosphorus, the crop would be beneficial to reduce phosphorus concentrations in soils with high phosphorus levels, as is common in soils around livestock facilities.

    Project objectives:

    The objectives of this trial were to assess the ability of grain amaranth to remove phosphorus (P) from the soil, determine the suitability of grain amaranth to Indiana production as compared to conventional alternatives, and to assess the yield potential of grain amaranth. Following successful outcomes from research projects extension related activities were planned to disseminate information about grain amaranth to interested producers.
    The success of grain amaranth production was determined by, whether the crop reached a stage at which it could be harvested as a forage, if the plant tissue digestibility analysis matched that found by previous researchers, and if successful fermentation of the forage material occurred. These were performance targets that were used to determine if amaranth was a successful crop. Methods were identified that would allow for the best assessment of these factors.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.