Many people consider sweet clover, which shows up naturally in Nebraska pastures each year, a weed. Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist, suggests how to make it a welcome grassland addition.
Graziers who ignore sweet clover in pastures will find it becomes coarse, stemmy and unpalatable. If it’s ignored in haylands, it could kill livestock if the hay gets moldy.
But graziers who manage sweet clover correctly can take advantage of its forage value, which is very similar to alfalfa's – provided it’s harvested before plants bloom and the hay is made dry and stays dry.
Sweet clover should be grazed before plants get more than 8” tall. Plants more mature than that will quickly become coarse and unpalatable.
“I like to start (grazing sweet clover) when it's only 3” or 4” tall, then keep enough animals on it so it doesn’t get much taller. Be sure animals also have other palatable forage to eat along with the sweet clover,” Anderson says. “This way bloat risk is low and animals will eat more. If grassy leaves, not just stubble, remain in the pasture from last year, this is good enough. Also good are bales of good grass hay or even clean, soft straw.
"Sweet clover does not need to be a headache. With wise management you can take advantage of this bonus feed," he adds.