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 rich in protein, carbohydrates and fibre, and is mainly used for human food, particularly in Ethiopia where it is used for the production of bread (injera) and beer (tela). Until recently, little was known about the nutritional composition and potential health benefits of tef. This, along with technical limitations in processing tef, long prevented its widespread adoption as a cereal grain beyond Ethiopia (Baye, 2015). However, since the late 1990s, the recognition of tef as a gluten-free cereal of good nutritional value has resulted in new found interest (Baye, 2015). Tef straw, the crop residue of the grain harvest, is a major livestock fodder in Ethiopia. In other countries, including Australia, South Africa, and the USA, tef is principally used as a forage crop for ruminants and horses (Baye, 2015). For more information about those products, see the Tef straw and Tef hay datasheets.
Due to the importance of tef grain in the food security of Ethiopia, its export has been banned since 2006, and its use as livestock feed is unlikely in the short or medium term in this country. However, as the worldwide demand for this high-quality, gluten-free cereal increases there may be opportunities in the future to use tef grains as feed.
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 of 10-65 cm 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 is possibly the smallest cereal grain, with an average length of about 1 mm. The average thousand kernel weight of 12 tef varieties is 0.264 g (Geremew Bultosa, 2007). The word "tef" is connected by folk etymology to the Ethiopian Semitic root "ṭff", which means "lost", because of the small size of the grain.
Tef grain is a staple food in Ethiopia. It has a high nutritive value and is used to prepare several dishes, the main one being injera, a popular fermented and flattened sour bread (Tefera et al., 2006). Tef grain is one of the cereal grains used in the production of Ethiopian beer (tela). Due to the minuteness of tef grains, they are difficult to decorticate, and the cereal is consumed as a wholegrain (Baye, 2015). There are many varieties of tef. The Hagaiz type has white seeds, matures slowly (150 days), makes higher demands on the 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). Three major categories exist on the market: white (nech), red (quey) and mixed (sergegna). Wholesalers subdivide white tef into very white (magna) and white (nech), though these categorizations remain subjective (Baye, 2015). Consumers prefer white tef over darker coloured types, but red tef, which is believed to be more nutritious, is also gaining popularity among health conscious consumers in Ethiopia (Tefera et al., 2006; Baye, 2015).
In Ethiopia, a country of nearly 90 million people, approximately 6 million households grow tef. The production and consumption of tef grain are matters of national policy, since food insecurity remains a serious problem. Tef is now considered a luxury cereal and its consumption is mostly done by urban dwellers, as most rural people are unable to afford tef and rely mostly on less expensive grains to make their injera. The Ethiopian government banned the export of tef grain (but not of injera) in 2006 (Crymes, 2015). Demands for tef grain by African diasporas, health conscious and gluten intolerant individuals in industrialised countries have led to an increased production of tef internationally (Miller, 2010; Crymes, 2015; Baye, 2015). Though there is hardly any literature on the use of tef grain as a feed for livestock, its valuable nutrient composition could make it useful in animal production.