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Holstein Steers Thrive On Kura Clover/Grass Pastures

Holstein steers can pack on the pounds grazing kura clover/grass pastures, trials at the UW-Madison’s Lancaster Agricultural Research Station have shown. Steers grazing kura clover/grass outperformed those on red clover/grass, and far surpassed gains on alfalfa/grass reported in earlier studies at Lancaster. The kura clover-based pastures had no problems handling intensive grazing pressure, according to researchers at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

A CALS agronomist, the late Jesse Scholl, ran grazing trials on alfalfa/grass/birdsfoot trefoil pastures at Lancaster in the 1960s and 1970s, seeking the best mix of forages for Wisconsin pastures. CALS agronomist Ken Albrecht and grad student Francisco Mouri?o conducted similar trials from 1998 to 2000, grazing Holstein steers on red clover/grass and kura clover/grass mixtures.

“Animal performance on our red clover matched the best performance reported in the Scholl trials, and kura clover has been 20 percent better than red clover,” says Albrecht. “Animal performance on kura clover during our first three years was better than the best single-year performance during trials in the 1960s and 1970s.”

The pastures contained a mixture of either red clover or kura clover, and orchardgrass, smooth bromegrass and tall fescue. The red-clover pastures were frost-seeded with three to six pounds of red clover each spring to ensure adequate red clover; the kura clover pastures weren”t reseeded.

Within each pasture system, the steers rotationally grazed six paddocks, making a complete cycle in 21 to 24 days. The animals were on pasture for an average of 169 days per year. Over the three-year period, steers on the kura clover/grass pastures gained an average of 2.65 pounds/day or 916 pounds/acre/year, compared with 2.26 pounds/day or 712 pounds/acre/year for steers on red clover/grass pastures. Kura clover/grass pastures supported 345 steer days/acre/year, compared with 313 steer days for red clover/grass pastures.

In these trials, both steers and kura clover pastures fared extremely well, even when grazing began early (mid-April) and continued until late in the season (mid-September to late October).

Grazing or harvest frequency from three to nine times per season won”t hurt kura clover, according to Albrecht. Since regrowth originates at or below the soil surface, the plants can be grazed to ground level with no harm to the plant. In fact, grazing to ground level actually maximizes yields.

Alfalfa, red clover and birdsfoot trefoil generally succumb to winter-kill or disease after two to five years. Kura clover, thanks to its rhizome system, can survive Wisconsin”s harshest winters.

For example, kura clover in research plots at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station handily survived two winters that killed half of the alfalfa in Wisconsin, and proved itself in an unplanned side-by-side comparison with alfalfa. “Kura clover survived the 1991-1992 winter while alfalfa in neighboring fields was killed,” Albrecht says.

Mixes of kura clover and grass can be managed to produce forage that matches early flower alfalfa in fiber and protein content, according to Albrecht. At Arlington, yields and forage quality from mixtures of kura clover and grasses remained stable over six years due to kura clover”s persistence.

Mixed kura clover/Kentucky bluegrass, kura clover/smooth bromegrass, and kura clover/orchardgrass all averaged about 19 percent crude protein, with neutral detergent fiber ranging from 37 percent to 44 percent. Forage yields in years 1 to 3 averaged about 2.7 tons/acre, increasing to 2.9 tons/acre to 3.3. tons/acre in years 4 to 6.

As with other legumes, kura clover contributes nitrogen to the pasture system. Mixtures of kura clover and grass can yield up to 50 to 200 percent more than a grass-only pasture. A grass-only pasture would require 150 to 300 pounds of nitrogen per acre for this type of response, according to Albrecht.

Kura clover originated in Caucasian Russia and is grazed in native meadows there. For more information about kura clover, go here .