By David H. Samples
One of the goals of livestock grazing managers is to provide a high quality diet of forage species for their animals on a daily basis.
An important part of that diet is a pasture mix that includes a legume component.
Legumes (clover, alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, etc.) improve the nutritional value of the sward and capture atmospheric nitrogen that, in turn, helps feed the grass and reduces purchased fertilizer needs.
Legumes. Under most grazing systems there are usually some legumes present.
Volunteer white clovers are the most common and just seem to appear when the conditions are right.
Seeded species include almost any of the improved varieties with ladino and medium red clovers being the most popular in our region.
The major problem with most of our legumes is that they tend to play out in three years or so, and then the producer needs to reseed to maintain pasture quality.
Kura. Enter Kura clover. Kura or Caucasian clover is a species that was introduced from Russia in the 1950s. Improved varieties have an upright growth habit and are similar in appearance to a medium red.
The main and most interesting difference is that Kura spreads by rizomes and once established it is very persistent.
Work in Wisconsin and Michigan has demonstrated the ability of this clover to stay in swards for 15 years!
So why isn’t Kura present in everyone’s pastures? Establishment.
Establishing. Kura establishment has been characterized this way: “First year it sleeps, second year it creeps, third year it leaps.”
Much like the establishment of warm season grasses, it takes time, patience and good management to accomplish a desirable and persistent stand. But, improvements and discoveries are being made to shorten that establishment time.
Inoculate. In the early 1990s, researchers in New Zealand developed an inoculant that was specific to Kura and would improve the establishment rate.
In 1998, research work was initiated at the Jackson Branch, OARDC to compare this new New Zealand inoculant with the standard inoculants used here in the United States.
The results of that study indicated statistically significant differences between inoculants and the New Zealand strain did improve the establishment rate.
More and more. As important as that is, it’s not the end of the story.
Additional work in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio has looked at the post-germination application of nitrogen to stimulate early stem and leaf growth as a method to improve establishment.
The intent being to force top growth and increase photosynthesis the first year that would then speed up the establishment rate.
Some benefits have been seen but the complete answer remains to be found.
Increased use. What else can be done to increase the use of this potentially important legume?
All of the U.S. research that I am familiar with has been conducted in conventionally tilled and prepared seed beds. Obviously the research has demonstrated that establishment can be accomplished under these conditions.
The problem with this practice is the prolonged period of time that the soil surface is exposed and the potential that exists for erosion on sloping terrain.
And, if we are considering introducing Kura into large area permanent pastures, we probably can’t afford to lose the grazing area for an extended period of time.
Possible answer. Within our area of southern Ohio, frost seeding of legumes is a fairly common practice.
This is one method of pasture improvement that takes advantage of the natural freeze-thaw cycles that occur in the winter and does not require the soil surface to be mechanically disturbed.
This is one area of research that seems to be missing but does appear to have some promise.
It is the one method of establishment that may be the most acceptable way of creating a truly perennial, permanent pasture that doesn’t require the reintroduction of legumes every three years.
Question. Will it work? We think that it can and will work.
To answer that question, research trials are being established on three sites in southern Ohio this winter. We hope to see favorable results this spring and hope you will stay tuned for “the rest of the story.”
If you are around Jackson and want to look at an excellent stand of Kura, stop by the Jackson Branch or give me a call.
(The author is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent in Jackson County. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem OH 44460.)