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STOCKTON, Mo.- Add legumes to grazing pastures to improve cattle performance and forage production, says University of Missouri Extension regional livestock specialist Patrick Davis.
Frost-seed clovers and lespedeza now, Davis says. They grow well with cool-season grasses in Missouri and improve spring and summer pastures.
“Proper establishment is important to incorporation and persistence of these legumes,” he says.
He urges producers to work with their local MU Extension agronomist when seeding legumes. The MU Extension publication “Seeding Rates, Dates and Depths for Common Missouri Forages” is available at extension.missouri.edu/g4652.
Clovers and lespedeza can be seeded by drill or broadcast. Davis prefers drilling because it improves seed-to-soil contact for better establishment.
“If you broadcast seed, use cattle hoof action as well as the freezing and thawing process to work the seed into the soil,” Davis says.
“Legumes improve year-round cattle grazing opportunities when added to cool-season grass pastures,” he says.
Clovers enhance grazing in the spring while lespedeza improves grazing during late spring and summer.
Proper grazing management of legumes improves persistence and cattle performance. Davis recommends rotational grazing to prevent overgrazing.
Graze pastures to 4-inch stubble height and then rest pastures three to four weeks to maintain mixtures of white clover, fescue and orchardgrass.
“The best time to graze red clover is when about half the plants are blooming,” Davis says. “At this point, the forage will yield a feeding value similar to alfalfa.”
Cattle bloat can result from grazing high-protein, highly digestible legumes. To reduce bloat, incorporate white clover in a mixed grass stand or slowly adapt cattle to very thick stands of clover. Another way to reduce cattle bloat is to provide supplemental poloxalene or bloat blocks to cattle, he says.
Lespedeza is a non-bloating legume that improves grazing in summer months, Davis says. Lespedeza is a drought-tolerant, warm-season legume that provides summer grazing in cool-season mixed pastures.
Do not overfertilize pastures with lespedeza. Most fertilizer applications of more than 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre will reduce stands of lespedeza. Lespedeza is an annual but will come back each year if it reseeds.
Clovers and lespedeza also help to reduce fescue toxicosis in cattle by diluting fescue pastures, Davis says. Adding legumes results in better-quality forages, improved cattle production and higher profits.
To learn more about fescue toxicosis in cattle, see the MU Extension publication “Tall Fescue Toxicosis” at extension.missouri.edu/g4669.
For more information, contact your local MU Extension agronomy or livestock specialist. Find more resources on improving grasslands from the NRCS + MU Grasslands Project at extension.missouri.edu/programs/nrcs-mu-grasslands-project.
Writer: Patrick Davis