Early February is the time to frost seed legumes into most Missouri pastures, says University of Missouri Extension state forage specialist Craig Roberts.
Frost seeding, a method of broadcasting seeds onto frozen pastures, improves poor pastures at a low cost, Roberts says.
Cattle raised on pastures with legumes show higher weight gains and better overall health, he says. Also, nitrogen-fixing legumes offer an alternative to fertilizer, which hit record high prices from 2019 to 2022.
Roberts and other nationally known forage experts will speak at upcoming Alliance for Grassland Renewal workshops, including one in Mount Vernon, Mo., on March 23.
The nonprofit Alliance works to teach farmers how to improve pastures and plant new grasses known as “novel-endophyte fescue.” Sessions will include discussions on toxicosis, establishment, quality control and cost share opportunities. Participants also can take part in hands-on drill calibration and variety plot tours.
Roberts gives four main reasons to consider frost seeding this year:
1. Legumes reduce fertilizer costs to improve profits
Legumes make their own nitrogen, reducing the need to buy fertilizer. Producers saw this benefit in recent years when anhydrous prices hit record highs. Prices dropped some in 2022, but legumes remain a good alternative to fertilizer, especially during unstable markets, says Roberts.
2. Cattle health and performance improve.
Cattle gain more weight with legumes. Clovers can increase gains on spring-grazed fields. Average daily gains increased 0.4 pound in studies. “It’s a significant bump,” Roberts says. In other studies, clovers produced similar results in spring- and summer-grazed fields when added to tall fescue. Legumes such as red clover also dilute the effects of toxins in Kentucky 31 grasses, which grow in more than 90% of Missouri pastures.
3. Forage yield improves
Legumes such as annual lespedeza extend the growing season and “even out” seasonal yields. They grow when cool-season grasses slow. Red and white clover dilute pastures but don’t perform as well during the slow-growth months of summer.
4. Forage quality improves.
Legumes provide cattle with more crude protein and minerals than grasses, according to studies. Cows like legumes, which are more digestible than cool-season perennials.
Roberts says producers can learn more in the MU Extension video “Frost Seeding Legumes in Tall Fescue Pastures” at youtu.be/zkYQo251xDQ.
Producers also can contact the MU Extension agronomist or livestock specialist in their area to learn more about how their pastures can benefit from legumes.
Details on the Alliance for Grassland Renewal’s March 23 workshop in Missouri are available at www.grasslandrenewal.org/events.
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