Tef (Eragrostis tef (Zuccagni) Trotter) is a dual purpose cereal, valued for both grain and forage production in dry areas with a short rainy season. Tef grain is a staple food in Ethiopia and tef straw, the main by-product of tef grain production, is a basal component of livestock diets in this country. Since the late 1990s, the recognition of tef as a gluten-free cereal of good nutritional value has resulted in new found interest, particularly in industrialised countries (Baye, 2015). Both tef grain and tef straw are described in separate datasheets.
Tef is one of the fastest growing hay crops known, valued for its high yields and high quality. It is considered an emergency forage in drought prone areas (Miller, 2010; FAO, 2016). The use of tef for forage began in the late 19th century in South Africa during the Boer War, where it was used to feed horses and oxen (NRC, 1996). Today, while rarely grown specifically for forage in Ethiopia, tef is cultivated for hay in other countries, notably South Africa, Australia and the USA (Baye, 2015).
Tef is an annual, leafy, tufted grass that reaches a height of 150-200 cm at maturity. The culms are fine, erect, simple or sparsely branched, prone to lodging. The root system is shallow and fibrous. Tef is a leafy species. Its leaves are glabrous, linear, 25-45 cm long x 0.1-0.5 cm wide. The seed head is a long panicle, 10-65 cm in length, bearing 10-40 slender racemes, which may be either very loose or very compact. Panicles bear 30-1100 spikelets. Fruits are ellipsoid, minute (1-1.5 mm x 0.5-1 mm), yellowish-white to deep brown caryopsis (grain) (Tefera et al., 2006; Seyfu Ketema, 1997).
Tef forage, as pasture, hay or silage, is a highly valued forage, known since the late 19th century for its palatability, high nutritive value, high yield, rapid growth, drought resistance and ability to smother weeds (Seyfu Ketema, 1997). Tef may also be used as an ornamental grass (Tefera et al., 2006). Two ecotypes of tef are cultivated in Ethiopia. The Hagaiz type has white seeds, matures slowly (150 days), makes higher demands on soil and cannot be grown above an altitude of 2500 m. The Tseddia type has brown seeds, matures early (90 days), can be grown above 2500 m and is superior for fodder production (NRC, 1996). In the USA, tef is subjected to breeding programmes in order to improve frost tolerance. While primarily fed to horses in this country, tef forage also shows potential for all classes of ruminants (Miller, 2010).