Forage of the Month December 2017

IMG_3156Forage of the Month    December 2017




I am finally getting around to writing a forage article about Clovers.  This was originally scheduled for October and I am finally getting it done on the 28th of December.


Clovers are vitally important in our Central Virginia cool season grass scenario.  Most cool season grass stands that are not carefully managed and rotationally grazed will eventually be taken over by Fescue.  This is in no small part dictated by most grazing animal’s preference for other plants and then leaving the fescue to be grazed last.  This reverse selection allows the fescue to get a growth advantage while other forages are inhibited and stressed and diminished by continual grazing.


As stated above, grazing management can and will alleviate this process in the hands of a knowledgeable grazier.


Clovers are a tool that can easily be used to enhance fescue pastures.  They do so by creating supplemental protein.  Since they are legumes they have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil if properly inoculated.  This nitrogen is available to the Clover and to other plants and life forms within the soil as well.  This can reduce chemical fertilizer purchases considerably.  Clovers can also reduce the impact of endophyte infected fescue on the animals by offering a diluting effect of an alternative quality forage.


Clovers are easily established either by conventional direct seeding in the fall or the spring.  They may also be sown by “Frost Seeding”.  In our area Frost seeding is simply broadcasting the clover seed over the field in late winter.  I personally use the time frame of 15th of February to 15th of March as my guideline for frost seeding.  Others offer a wider window of February and March.  Clover seed is small and the idea is that the freezing and thawing cycles of that time of year will get the seed to the soil.  I have had good luck broadcasting clover just before a rain or even during a snow event….CAUTION do not broadcast clover after a snow event as it makes expensive bird seed cast on top of snow.


In any event the existing forage should be grazed pretty close to allow the clover seed to get to the soil and to reduce competitive pressure from existing plants in the early spring.  In recent years I have taken to using a mix of clovers and even adding some Kobe or Korean Lespedeza as well as some chicory.


So let’s talk about clovers.  There are many types of clovers with many different natures.  Most are cool season but there are warm season clovers like Balsana.  Within the species there are many branded varieties as well.  But let’s stick to basics of the commonly used clovers.




Crimson Clover


From the SARE Learning Center


Trifolium incarnatum

Type: winter annual or summer annual legume
Roles: N source, soil builder, erosion prevention, reseeding inter-row ground cover, forage
Mix with:
rye and other cereals, vetches, annual ryegrass, subclover, red clover, black medic

With its rapid, robust growth, crimson clover provides early spring nitrogen for full-season crops. Rapid fall growth, or summer growth in cool areas, also makes it a top choice for short-rotation niches as a weed suppressing green manure. Popular as a staple forage and roadside cover crop throughout the Southeast, crimson clover is gaining increased recognition as a versatile summer-annual cover in colder regions. Its spectacular beauty when flowering keeps it visible even in a mix with other flowering legumes, a common use in California nut groves and orchards. In Michigan, it is used successfully between rows of blueberries.


Biomass. As a winter annual, crimson clover can produce 3,500 to 5,500 lb. dry matter/A and fix 70 to 150 lb. N/A by mid-May in Zone 8


In our area Crimson Clover is mostly used as a winter cover crop.  The heat of May and June usually does it in unless we are abnormally wet.  It

will reseed if left to maturity.


Also from the SARE publication Managing Cover Crops Profitably.


Trifolium repens

Also called: Dutch White, New Zealand White, Ladino
Type: long-lived perennial or winter annual legume
Roles: living mulch, erosion protection, gree

n manure, beneficial insect attraction
Mix with: annual ryegrass, red clover, hard fescue or red fescue
White clovers are a top choice for “living mulch” systems planted between rows of irrigated vegetables, fruit bushes or trees. They are persistent, widely adapted perennial nitrogen producers with tough stems and a dense shallow root mass that protects soil from erosion and suppresses weeds. Depending on the type, plants grow just 6 to 12 inches tall, but thrive when mowed or grazed. Once established, they stand up well to heavy field traffic and thrive under cool, moist conditions and shade.

Three types: Cultivars of white clover are grouped into three types by size. The lowest growing type (Wild White) best survives heavy traffic and grazing. Intermediate sizes (Dutch White, New Zealand White and Louisiana S-1) flower earlier and more profusely than the larger types, are more heat-tolerant and include most of the economically important varieties. The large (Ladino) types produce the most N per acre of any white types, and are valued for forage quality, especially on poorly drained soil. They are generally less durable, but may be two to four times taller than intermediate types.

Intermediate types of white clover include many cultivated varieties, most originally bred for forage. The best of 36 varieties tested in north-central Mississippi for cover crop use were ARAN, GRASSLAND KOPU and KITAOOHA. These ranked high for all traits tested, including plant vigor, leaf area, dry matter yield, number of seed-heads, lateness of flowering and upright stems to prevent soil contact. Ranking high were ANGEL GALLARDO, CALIFORNIA LADINO and widely used LOUISIANA S-1 (392).

White clover performs best when it has plenty of lime, potash, calcium and phosphorus, but it tolerates poor conditions better than most clovers. Its perennial nature depends on new plants continually being formed by its creeping stolons and, if it reaches maturity, by reseeding.

White clover is raised as a winter annual in the South, where drought and diseases weaken stands. It exhibits its perennial abilities north through Hardiness Zone 4. The short and intermediate types are low biomass producers, while the large ladino types popular with graziers can produce as much biomass as any clover species.

In Virginia it is a perennial with good grazing management.  However, under intensive continuous grazing the small type will predominate.

A healthy stand of white clover can produce 80 to 130 lb. N/A when killed the year after establishment. In established stands, it also may provide some N to growing crops when it is managed as a living mulch between crop rows. Because it contains more of its total N in its roots than other legumes, partial tilling is an especially effective way to trigger N release.  Grazed white clover is highly palatable and digestible with high crude protein (about 28 percent), but in heavy stands, it can pose a bloat risk in ruminants without careful grazing management practices.

Locally you can buy White Clover also called White Dutch, and you can buy branded Ladino Clovers.



Red Clover

From the Sare Publication     RED CLOVER
Trifolium pratense

Also called: medium red clover (multi-cut, early blooming, June clover); mammoth clover (singlecut, late blooming, Michigan red)
Type: short-lived perennial, biennial or winter annual legume
Roles: N source, soil builder, weed suppressor, insectary crop, forage
Mix with: small grains, sweetclover, corn, soybeans, vegetables, grass forages
Red clover is a dependable, low-cost, readily available workhorse that is winter hardy in much of the U.S. (Hardiness Zone 4 and warmer). Easily overseeded or frostseeded into standing crops, it creates loamy topsoil, adds a moderate amount of N, helps to suppress weeds and breaks up heavy soil. Its most common uses include forage, grazing, seed harvest, plowdown N and, in warmer areas, hay. It’s a great legume to frostseed or interseed with small grains where you can harvest grain as well as provide weed suppression and manage N.


Crop fertility. As a cover crop, red clover is used primarily as a legume green manure killed ahead of corn or vegetable crops planted in early summer. Full-season, over-wintered red clover can produce 2 to 4 T dry matter/A and fix 70 to 150 lb. N/A. In Ohio, over-wintered mammoth and medium red clover contained about 75 lb. N/A by May 15, increasing to 130 lb. N by June 22.



Red clover, a short-lived perennial, usually produces two or three hay crops per year. It is characterized by rapid spring growth and low winterhardiness, which contributes to its short-lived nature.

Growth habit varies from erect to prostrate. Numerous stems with large trifoliate leaves arise from the crown region each year. Red clover has a thick tap root that grows to a length of 24-36 inches. Lateral roots arising from the tap root are concentrated mainly in the upper 5 inches of the soil. Small ovoid, pinkish, nitrogen-fixing nodules can be found on the lateral roots if the plant is actively incorporating atmospheric nitrogen into protein nitrogen.

From Best Forages

The most widely planted forage legume after alfalfa. Red clover performs better than alfalfa on acid or wet soils. Faster establishing than alfalfa. This legume is often used in grass mixtures predominantly for a cutting regime. Clovers are best cut for hay when in full bloom. If cut earlier, it is more difficult to cure. Cut later, it loses palatability. Red clovers are more drought tolerant and productive than White Clover, but not quite as high quality. Use some of each for grazing! In Penn State’s trials, the average yield of all the Red Clovers was a little higher than the average yield of the leafhopper resistant Alfalfas, the year after seeding!