Jon Reich recommends an investment for graziers that probably could beat most individual stocks and mutual funds.
“University research has shown that cattle producers can increase their average daily gains by up to 30% by broadcasting white clover into grass pastures,” says Reich, director of research for Cal-West Seeds, Woodland, CA. “They can spend $10/acre on 4 lbs of seed and see very measurable and dramatic results — possibly getting a 10- to 20-fold return on their investments.”
Reich says that's possible because interseeded clovers fix nitrogen, improve forage quality and yield, extend the grazing season and improve animal performance.
White clover offers other benefits, too, says Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin extension forage agronomist. “It's easy to establish — even by frost-seeding — and is more drought-tolerant than red clover,” says Undersander. “It's also more forgiving of overgrazing, though it doesn't yield quite as well.”
Another advantage: White clover does better than red clover in low-pH soils. “If the soil has a pH of 6.0 or less, I would recommend white clover because red clover likes a pH of 6.2 or higher,” Undersander says.
“Red clover is generally more productive than white clover in the first year,” adds Reich. “It has larger seed, so it germinates and establishes more quickly. Red clover produces more biomass, but it tends to thin out more quickly.
“In the South, overseeding clover into an endophyte-infected tall fescue pasture can be very advantageous,” says Reich. “Not only are you providing higher-quality forage and free nitrogen, you're diluting the effect of the fungal endophyte by producing biomass that's not infected.”
The benefits of seeding a legume into grass pastures aren't promoted as much as they used to be, says Reich.
“I think what happened is that nitrogen became cheap and there was a lot of chicken manure available from the poultry industry.”
With the cost of nitrogen escalating, he hopes more clover will be added to pastures. “I suspect we'll start seeing a renewal in the promotion and use of red and white clovers.”
Undersander points out the different types of white clover: small-leafed, such as common white — the type that grows in your lawn; intermediate or medium-leafed, such as Dutch white or medium white; and large-leafed, such as ladino.
“Generally, the small-leafed types are lower-yielding, but more persistent,” he says. “The intermediate types yield a little bit more, but they're a little less persistent. Then you can go to the ladino types, which yield a little bit more yet, but are even less persistent.”
“Between the different types, you see distinct differences in height, leaf size and stolon density,” says Reich.
Southern growers have a few new choices when selecting white clovers. Pennington Seed, Madison, GA, recently introduced Durana and Patriot. Extension specialists have praised those varieties for their improved persistence.
Cal-West Seeds will soon introduce three new ladino varieties — yet unnamed — that also offer improved persistence, says Reich.