By: Linda Geist, University of Missouri Extension
Cattle producers see more profit when they add legumes to fescue pastures and manage grazing systems properly according to Patrick Davis, University of Missouri Extension specialist in livestock.
Fescue remains the hardy mainstay of southwest Missouri pastures. Adding legumes gives fescue fields more nutritional punch and profit.
Davis says proper management is key to making grasses and legumes work well together. This begins with a management intensive grazing system (MIG).
Under MIG, cattle graze on forage between three to eight inches tall. Cattle begin grazing at eight inches and eat forage to three inches followed by paddock rest until the forage reaches original height. This strategy promotes stronger roots and cattle graze best quality forage.
Forage in this range also contains less ergovaline, a toxic ergot alkaloid. The highest concentrations of ergovaline are in the bottom two inches of the plant and seed heads.
Add legumes into fescue pastures for other benefits. Pasture quality improves and the amount of toxic fescue is diluted when mixed.
"Proper incorporation and management of legume species, including red and white clover, or lespedeza is important for their persistence into your fescue sod," said Davis.
Two seeding options are frost seeding or no-till drilling. Contact your local MU Extension agronomy field specialist for advice on seeding methods or download MU Guide G4652 from https://extension2.missouri.edu/g4652.
Legumes need time to grow without fescue competition and time to delay grazing pressure. Proper MIG allows both, says Davis. After grazing, allow a 4 to 5 - week rest period for young legume plants to improve chances of persistence.
Before planting, be sure to get a test soil. Make sure soil pH is greater than 6.0 for red and white clover and over 5.5 for lespedeza plantings. The local MU Extension Center and agronomy field specialist can advise on proper soil testing procedures and fertility for growing these legumes.
"Legumes are higher quality than grasses because of the lower stem to leaf ratio. This results in lower neutral detergent fiber and increased protein concentrations. This combination improves forage intake, cattle performance and operation profit potential," says Davis.
Total pasture legume coverage should be approximately 30 percent. If coverage is above 50 percent then cattle bloat potential increases.
Davis gives these tips to reduce cattle bloat potential:
Restrict grazing and allow cattle time to adapt to the legume field
Provide cattle dry hay before turning them out to legume pasture to reduce legume intake
Provide poloxalene to cattle through bloat blocks or other ways of supplementation
Contact the MU Extension livestock or agronomy field specialist in your area for more information. You may also find more information on how to improve your grasslands at https://extension2.missouri.edu/programs/nrcs-mu-grasslands-project