Benefits of Clovers: Cattle Health and Increased Production

In addition to Dr. Teutsch, we heard from Dr. Michael Flythe at the recent Forages at KCA session. Michael is a research scientist at the USDA-ARS Forage Animal Production Research Unit located on the UK campus in Lexington. He and other researchers at the USDA lab have now confirmed initial laboratory findings in the field showing multiple health benefits of red clover for livestock, especially when planted into existing KY-31 tall fescue stands.

This is the perfect time of the year to add both red and ladino white clover to existing pastures. The simple way to add clover is frost seeding in February. Our UK recommendation is to frost seed in mid-February when there will still be 4-6 weeks of potentially below freezing temperatures at night. With the uncertain weather we have had this winter, I recommend frost seeding as soon as possible. Simply make sure the pasture is grazed closely and then broadcast the clover seed on top of the ground. The honey-combing that occurs when the soil freezes and thaws will gently bury the seed.

Our standard recommendation is 1-2 lbs/acre ladino white clover and 6-8 lbs/acre of red clover. Once you are  into  March, then use a no-till drill to add clover because there will not be enough cold nights to bury the seed. After the clover has germinated and the grass is growing strong, then watch your pastures carefully. When the grass is tall enough that it is overshadowing the small clover seedlings, use a quick once-over grazing or flash grazing to reduce grass competition to the young seedlings. Remember that the only way to keep red clover in pastures is to use rotational grazing. It needs a rest period to build back it’s carbohydrate root reserves before being grazing again. Also, even the best varieties of red clover rarely persist more than 3 years, so regular reseeding is required. Read more detail about Michael’s research on the benefits of red clover at the UK Forage website in the Proceedings section. ~Dr. S. Ray Smith