The Power of Clover in Beef Pastures
By: Joy Beam Yoder
First, let’s discuss the ways that clover boosts forage yield per acre. The first benefit most people think of is nitrogen fixation. While it is true that clover produces nitrogen and can decrease the amount of fertilizer needed, it must be noted that most times it is not as much, nor is it as readily available as most people think. Clover adds nitrogen to the pasture through nutrient recycling that happens through feces and urine discretion as well as the natural cycle of plants dying and being decomposed back into the soil. It takes time for protein within the plants to be broken down to its original nitrogen building blocks. Because of this, adding clover to a pasture should be thought of as a long-term investment for increasing nitrogen availability. However, if maximum production is desired, other sources of nitrogen may need to be considered and phosphorous and potassium should be applied as indicated by soil testing. This is true especially in pastures that are harvested for hay once or twice a year.
Beyond its fertility advantage, clover also offers other advantages. White clover spreads by stolons and can fill in gaps between bunch type plants like orchardgrass while persisting high grazing pressure. Red clover offers drought tolerance and can still performs well in soils with low pH and below optimal fertility. Because of these different advantages between red and white clover, it is good to have both in a pasture.
Nutritionally speaking, clover’s protein benefit is a large cost savings for beef producers. Most beef cattle protein needs can be acquired with approximately 30% of the pasture stand in clover and therefore minimizes the amount of protein needed to be supplemented through other sources like soybean meal. Clover is also later maturing than most grasses and therefore offers greater palatability and fiber digestibility throughout the spring.
In fact, recent research has shown even more extensive nutritional advantages to clover. In the fescue belt where fescue toxicity is a problem, adding clover to the diet has been found to reverse the effects of blood vessel restriction and as a result increases average daily gain by up to one pound per head per day! It has also been found that red clover can increase protein efficiency by increasing the amount of rumen bypass protein so that any protein consumed is digested to a fuller extent. To read more on this, check out Jim Henning’s article in the Progressive Forage magazine titled “The ‘Super Powers’ of Clover”.
With so many benefits to clover, it is important to evaluate your pastures for ideal clover proportions. Thankfully, if more clover is needed, it is easy to introduce to pastures through frost seeding or interseeding with a drill. Check out the Premium Clover Mix for a combination of high quality red and white clovers. King’s pasture mixes also include the proper ratio of clover for the associated livestock and can be used when establishing a new pasture.